We Are Family . . .

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Earlier this year, I received an email from my birth Father, Steve.  I haven’t had any communication with him since I moved away from him in second grade, except once when my step-dad adopted me, and we needed permission.  My Mom left him when I was around 4 years old, and then got custody of me when I was around 2nd grade.  Let’s just say he wasn’t the nicest person back then, which kept me from contacting him.  Over the years, during “major” events in my life (graduation, marriage, birth of kids), I had thought about contacting him.  But didn’t for two reasons.  One, if he was the same person he was when I was young, I certainly did not want him in my life.  Second, John, my step-father has been wonderful in all aspects of my life, and I truly consider him my “real” father, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by contacting Steve.  As the years went by, I just thought of us (Steve and I) as too much of strangers.  Imagine calling your mailman’s father to talk . . . yeah, that’s how I would feel, wouldn’t know him from anyone else.

I think in the last few years, my Mother has spoken to him, and his girlfriend Tracey.  Over the next few months we share a few emails, and I even got my first birthday card in 25 years from him.  I had known he had been sick over the last few years, but received a phone call one night before we left from our cruise.

It was from “Chris”, who is Steve’s dad, my Grandfather.  He said that Steve was quite sick in ICU, too sick to be moved to the VA hospital across town.  Over the next few days, I debated whether or not to fly to Phoenix for a few days, and then to fly back into New Orleans for the cruise. But the ticket price was too much.  I spoke with Tracey and told her to do what she thought was best.  After speaking with the nurses in ICU, I discovered that Steve had ARDs, amongst other health issues. If you are a healthy person, with no co-morbidities (other health diseases) ARDs is hard to over come having a 50% mortality rate.  But a person with prior multiple health issues has an even less chance of survival.  So with this knowledge and other things the nurses told me, I knew he didn’t have a good chance of survival.  I told Tracey that I wouldn’t be able to make it time to do any good, and not to keep him alive on the ventilator, but to let him go peacefully.

Sometime during this week, I got a voicemail from Shawn, who is Steve’s son, my older brother. I remember seeing pictures of him when I was little.  He was blonde hair and blue-eyed and a little older than me.  I don’t think I ever met him when we were little, but often wondered where he was in life.

It was the week after our cruise I was able to go to Phoenix.  Mom came with me, as I was scared and nervous.  We first went to meet Tracey, who was at her and Steve’s house, with her sister Maude.  We hugged and said hello. I was the first to sit, and was told I sat in Steve’s chair.  Maude had made a couple of posters for the funeral, which I looked at with sadness.  We went to eat dinner (Mom, me and Tracey), and then went to go see Grandpa Chris and his wife Evie.

Grandpa Chris is a jovial fellow, quite funny.  We chatted for a bit, but didn’t stay long.  One conversation  we had was about the flag from the funeral.  Since Steve was in the Navy, serving on the USS Ranger, he was to have a military funeral.  Chris and Barb (Steve’s Mother) thought I should have the flag.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about this, since Tracey was his “real” family for the last 8 years.  Back at the hotel, Mom said that I should ask Tracey what she thought about it.

The next day, we met everyone at the funeral home, where Grandpa Chris worked at for the last 30 plus years.  It was very emotional seeing him in the casket.  Mom broke down really hard.  Knowing that if she had never met him, she would have never been in the place she is now, or have the life (kids, etc) that she has.  It’s hard to imagine them together 34 years ago, as a young couple.

Family.  Holy Family!  I vaguely remember my cousins, but got to meet them again, along with their kids.  Everyone said, “The last time I saw you . . .” then they’d put their hand at knee height.    It was really cool, and eye-opening to see everyone.  I even met my niece, Amber (Shawn’s daughter).  It’s so hard to remember all the emotions and comments that occurred that day, and I wish I had recorded all my thoughts back then.

Thankfully, we took lots of pictures, exchanged emails, etc.  I hope to keep in touch with everyone, but know it’s hard as we live so far away, and life keeps us busy.  I  have communicated several times with my brother, which I hope to keep up with, and to get to know him better.

Here’s an email that touched me (From Steve) . . .

Hi there,
It was just so good to hear from you!!!!
I met Tracy when I was singing one night. Yes, I said “singing”!!! She made a request and I danced with her as I sang. We have been through a lot. My health went to hell and Tracy stood beside me constantly. She’s so sweet. We have been together about 8-9 years now.
I hope you and yours are fine.
The pictures that I’ve been able to get show me that you are a beautiful, smart, mother of 3 boys.
I remember going aboard the airplane when you were only 32 days old.
I tried teaching you to swim at an early age. First time I put you in 10 feet of water you were 11 months old. By the time you were 3, you had no fear of water.
I really wish I could see you again so I could hug and kiss you. I have really missed you all these years.
I didn’t want to “rock” the boat while you were growing up.
Your mom and I have talked numerous times every month and still do.
I’m so happy you contacted me. Well, for now, I gotta rest a little bit.
Please drop me another letter. I’ll answer as soon as I can. I just got out of the hospital again. That’s why I didn’t answer right away.
Well, honey, please write me again soon.
I love you,
Steve “Dad”.

By the way, I did keep the flag.

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