This is a continuation of Part 1 from my previous post.
NEVER in my wildest dreams would I ever have guessed I would be faced with the fear of losing my brother just one year after we finally found him.
I had just found my brother a year earlier. He is 5 years older than I. The big brother I never had. We were all so proud to learn he was a NY City Firefighter.
September 11, 2001. Such a horrible day!
I had just put my children on the school bus and walked inside the house. The phone rang. My best friend said, “Turn on the news now!” I turned on the TV just as the second plane hit the World Trade Center Building right in front of my eyes. Panic went through my veins. I immediately thought of my brother Michael who was a NY City Firefighter, and my sister, Karson, who happened to be living close to the World Trade Center at the time. She sometimes had meetings down there. I picked up the phone and tried to call both of them. Nothing was going through.
I sat and stared at the TV in utter shock and horror. I pictured what Michael must be dealing with as a firefighter trying to help people. And what was Karson doing? I tried to call again. Nothing. By this time the rest of my family was calling each other trying to find out if anyone had information about Karson and Michael.
All of a sudden it was like watching a horror movie in slow motion only this was real life. The World Trade Center Building collapsed…right there in front of my eyes. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “Oh my God!” Surely there is no way that Michael could be in that building helping people.
I knew the odds were that all police and firefighters would be called down to help with such a catastrophe. “Dear God. Please don’t let him be in that building.”
Thoughts began to swirl through my mind. Thoughts like, “What if God allowed us to find Michael because He knew he didn’t have much time left on this earth.” And then I thought about “What if I never would have taken time to find him in the first place?”. I could have a brother that was born in this world, lived a great life, served as a NY City Firefighter, and then could possibly have just died helping people in the World Trade Center, and I NEVER WOULD HAVE KNOWN HE EVEN EXISTED. It’s crazy to think about. Small choices affect the course of our lives in powerful ways.
But here we were. So many small choices led to this day. A year earlier, I did follow that prompting in my gut that told me I needed to look more into the story I had heard from my grandmother. I knew I needed to find out if I had a sibling out there in this world. I made the choice to research. I found the birth mom. She told me about how her family made her feel she had no choice but to “take care of it.” She chose to move away and go live with her brother until she gave birth to her child back in 1968. She told me she had a son. She told me of her choice to place him up for adoption because of her difficult circumstances at the time. And then it was the choice of a family living in New York to become adoptive parents. They never were able to have biological children of their own. They welcomed this precious, new baby boy to their family which is what led him to be raised in New York. He was a perfect gift from God to them.
And so the story goes….
Here we are. So many choices by so many that led us to this moment. In the midst of such a scary moment, I am grateful that Michael’s birth mom chose life in the midst of feeling pressure, guilt, and shame back in the 60’s when getting pregnant out of wedlock was not acceptable. I’m grateful for the family that adopted him. I’m grateful I searched and found out that I had a brother, especially when my searching seemed endless and pointless at times from having no results. And I’m grateful that my family had gotten the chance to meet him and find out what an amazing man he became. I’m proud that he was a firefighter and served his city in such an amazing way.
Suddenly the phone rang. It was my father with a couple of my sisters on a 3-way call. One of them had gotten through to Tracy, Michael’s wife. Tracy had given birth to their first son just days before this. BY THE GRACE OF GOD, Michael happened to still be home with her on maternity leave at the time of this horrible catastrophe. She said all men of service in the city were called to duty. He left immediately and tried to get into the city but all the bridges were closed. He was stuck at the closed bridge outside the city and there was nothing he could do.
In the meantime, my brother-in-law, Will, got through to my sister Karson. Turns out, she did have a meeting at the World Trade Center that morning at 8:30 am. She woke up feeling sick at her stomach and called in and told them she would not make the meeting. She said she woke to a beautiful sunny day. She had just turned on VH1 on her TV and gotten in the shower. When she got out of the shower she immediately noticed that her cable was out and she heard mass chaos outside her windows. She looked outside and saw that the bright, sunny day had vanished. She said it was like a large gray cloud was coming toward her and people were running.
She tried calling friends but calls were not going through. She quickly got dressed and that is when the phone rang and it was Will, our brother-in-law. Somehow his call got through to her.
As Will was trying to explain to Karson what happened, the second building collapsed. She said that the reality started to sink in as she was looking out her window at people running and hearing Will talk about what happened at the same time. She started thinking about her friends that worked at the World Trade Center. She asked Will, “They got everyone out didn’t they?”. Will said, “No”. She started freaking out on the phone with him to the point that he said, “Let me bring your family into this call.”
By the time we all got on the phone call, emergency personnel were coming through the streets with megaphones telling everyone to get out of their apartments and run. Karson lived between the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center. They began evacuating the area in fear that the Empire State Building would be next. A lot of us were on the phone call by this time. My dad was kicking into some kind of post-Vietnam survival mode and telling Karson to start boiling water and pouring it into the bathtub in case she needed water to drink. Michael was on the phone and was telling Karson to get out of the apartment and run north. My dad and Michael started arguing. My dad was telling Karson to stay because she was on the top floor of the building and would be in a better position than if she left and ran and got lost in the mass of people. Obviously, everyone was losing their minds at this point. And evidently, my family tells me now that all I did during this conversation was just keep praying loudly, ha! I think I must have post-traumatic stress and have blocked it.
Karson thankfully kept her wits about her enough in the midst of her crazy family on the phone and got the heck out of dodge! They sent them all to the East River and made them wait there in case the Empire State Building blew up.
She said the worst part of all of it was that people kept frantically grabbing her and shoving pictures in her face of loved ones, asking if she had seen them, and then others were asking for medical help. She said it was truly the most helpless moment she had ever felt. She said the fighter jets were there within minutes and flying so low they would shake the buildings. She said they were circling like dogs marking their territory.
Karson likes to think that if she had gone to the meeting that morning at the World Trade Center that she could have gotten out before it fell because she would have been on one of the lower floors. We will never know, but again, by the grace of God, I am grateful for that.
Michael spent the next long months in the middle of what looked like a war zone. All hands were on deck, first for rescue, and then clean up. He said he remembers it was the worst thing he has ever seen or experienced. He has images of finding bodies and body parts among the rubble that he will never be able to remove from his mind.
My brother was spared that day. There were so many that he worked with that weren’t.
So what have I learned from this experience of finding my long lost brother?
I have learned that life is a gift. It is made up of so many different moving parts, inspired by individual choices. Sometimes we choose certain paths in our lives and sometimes choices are made for us that determine our destiny. Many times choices are made during difficult life situations and I have found this to be true in every adoption case. Whether you are on the side of the adopted child or the birth family, there is a sense of loss in one way or another. There is simply a missing link that makes up your history. I realize every case and life story is different and made up of all kinds of different circumstances. But in the end, all life is beautiful even though every story does not necessarily always have a perfect ending. Might there be hard things you must face along the way? Absolutely! Could you open a door only to find that the person on the other side is riddled with too much guilt and pain over the circumstances that led to their decision that they could actually reject you? You sure could. But that’s where forgiveness comes in.
There were raw moments that Michael faced that were hard as well. If you remember in Part 1 I mentioned that Michael’s birth mom gave me what information she had to help me find him but asked me NOT to give him her information. She STILL was carrying a secret from her past that not even her own husband or two children knew about. When we told Michael that his own birth mother did not want to make contact with him that was rejection in his eyes, which is a fear of every adopted child. It was something he had to manage and make peace with inside his own soul. But time brings healing and processing. I have to believe that after we told his birth mother we found him, the secret finally surfaced and had lived long enough. She finally made peace with herself. She told her husband and children about Michael and later made contact with him.
With God on your side, even the painful moments that you must face are there with a purpose in the end that makes you stronger. Again, it is about forgiveness. If you find forgiveness first, it is everything! It releases you from whatever painful answers may be out there waiting for you and it allows you to embrace whatever beautiful story may be out there waiting for you. It is about trying to understand the hard, broken moments that occur in the first place that would lead a birth mother to have to make the decision to give up her own child.
I see God’s hand in Michael’s story. I see how Michael was a gift to his adoptive family. I also see how Michael was a gift to our family, especially at such a crucial time when tragedy was about to strike us all again just two years later in 2003.
Before Michael came along I had one younger brother named Geier. He was my Dad’s only son at the time, born to his second wife. He was a handsome, sweet, kind young brother of mine. I was 15 years older than him. I will never forget the phone call I received one day when I was told that Geier was gone. For reasons we will never understand, my young brother took his own life at the age of 14. It was an unbelievable time of grief for our family. I still cannot fathom what it was like for my father to go through such horror of losing a child in this way. Our entire family dealt with guilt and the 1 million questions that come along with something like this.
Even in the midst of such grief, I still remember a moment I had at Geier’s funeral. I looked over at my father during the visitation as he stood trying to greet people after losing his son. And there, standing beside him, was his other son. My father could have just lost the only son he would ever know, but in God’s grace, there stood another son that God had placed in our lives. Michael stood proudly beside his father to show his love and support during such a critical time. I realized in that instant the importance of family.
To say that adoption plays a huge role in my life is an understatement. I now have four adopted children of my own. They each have their own unique stories and their own different types of connections to their birth families that are a result of their particular circumstances. Having gone through painful moments in my own past and come through it, I tell my kids, “Your story is your story… The good, the bad, and the ugly. All of it is used for God’s purpose to make you who you are. You must choose to see the good in it. It is your unique story and you must own it.”
For two of my children, their family’s whereabouts were unknown and we had to search for them. What I found was remarkable. It changed my life and the life of my children…for the better. But isn’t that what happened when we found Michael? Our lives were changed in powerful ways but so was his. We happened to enter his life just after his adoptive dad passed away. He was an only child and suddenly his birth father and new siblings entered his life. He happened to join our family giving us a brother just before we would experience the tragedy of losing our only other brother. You see, God has a purpose in mind. His timing is always perfect. You must learn to trust the process and listen to those small nudges.
It just so happened that my search for birth family continued, only this time it was for my children. I will take you on a journey with me to the far countryside in Ethiopia, Africa where we will search for my son’s Grandmother. We didn’t know if she was dead or alive. She was the only connection left to my son. He was 15, living in an orphanage, and I was about to bring him home to the United States to become part of our family. He had no mother and no father but he said he had a grandmother that he hadn’t seen since he was abducted from his village when he was 8 years old. Through my experience with finding Michael, I learned the importance of birth family. If there was one birth relative left in the world for my son then we needed to go search for her. So that’s what we did.
The story continues….