Hello Father, Goodbye

Jack and I. (courtesy)

While I was blessed to have had the most amazing parents adopt me and give me a wonderful life, I could not help but wonder about the people who I came from genetically. Many adopted children have the same curiosity and questions, and each decides what they want to do about it.

From early childhood, I knew who my biological mother was.  Mom told me from the get go.  She talked about what she was like, where she lived and why she gave me up.

She showed me pictures, and I spoke to other family members from my birth mother’s side who gave me a pretty good picture of who she was.

That was comforting.  It was too comforting.  It gave me a sense of closure that was not true closure.

As I got older, I contemplated going to meet my birth mother, but my life was so hectic that while I wanted to meet her, I simply didn’t make the time for that visit.

She lived far away, she was unwell, I’ll go next year, — there was always another excuse.

And one day, unexpectedly, my aunt called to tell me that she had passed away.

I was in shock.  I had missed my chance.  I had always felt that I knew her when I never really did.

The guilt, the pain, and the regret were overwhelming.

I considered going to the funeral and was told that it would not make up for the lost opportunity of meeting her and would just be awkward for me.

I foolishly listened.

I missed real closure.

A few years later, I began contemplating finding my biological father.

The only information I had was that he was a sailor and his name was Jack Miller.

I couldn’t bring myself to start the search process with investigators and DNA testing that seemed like an overwhelming journey to take. But a piece of me warned, “Don’t lose your chance again, Miriam.”

My best friend and now fiancé, Jodi, had found her birth father a year or so before and was still on a high from having found him, having him accept her, having had her questions answered and from healing that piece of the unknown she had carried around for so long.

She encouraged me. She ordered a kit from “23 and me” and told me to spit into the test tube.

I explained that it was too emotionally draining to start getting my hopes up, and the likelihood of finding him was like finding a needle in a haystack.

She didn’t back down, she pushed me to do the test.  He knew that deep down, I needed to know.

I did the test and simultaneously began investigating on my own with the help of a detective.

My results from the DNA test came back and I was soon logging in to see if there was a match to a biological father or any family from my biological father’s side.

I felt an adrenaline rush.

Years of imagining meeting him one day, and now, I might find him. Or not.

I logged into ‘23 and Me’ and found plenty of relatives on my birth mother’s side.

Nothing paternal.

Not even a fifth cousin. Nothing.

I was disappointed and relieved at the same time.

Now what?

I figured I would wait and keep trying to find him on my own.

My investigations got me nowhere.  We had no idea where he was and if the name we had was correct and it didn’t help that the name was one of the most common American names imaginable.

Finally, after some months, I received a private message through “23 and me.”

A woman named Betty Miller sent me a message saying that she could see a close cousin connection on her “23 and me” login, and that she was wondering if I knew how we were related.

I told her that I was looking for my birth father and that his name was Jack Miller, — the same last name as hers.

I quickly went into my account on “23 and me” and compared her DNA to all other known relatives.

She didn’t match any, which told me that she was not related on my birth mother’s side and that she was my only paternal DNA match.

She messaged me back quickly and explained that she had a cousin who was in the navy and went by the name Jack Miller but she had no idea how to reach him as their families had not been in touch for a very long time.

I couldn’t believe it.

I asked her where they came from and she told me that they lived mainly around the Michigan, Wisconsin areas.

I continued my own research but now a torch had been lit; I was on a mission.

I found the Facebook page of a man named Jack Miller who was from Wisconsin and looked like me.

He had also clearly served in the navy according to his Facebook account.

I was ecstatic.

Betty then sent me the same Facebook page and wrote, “I think this is him”.

Before my excitement really exploded, I noticed that his last post on Facebook was a few years earlier and that he had explained to all his Facebook friends that he had lung cancer and was going into the hospital for surgery.

It felt like my heart stopped.

I had found a man who could be my biological father but who some years earlier had suffered with lung cancer and might not have made it.

He posted nothing after that.

It did seem that he had children, — a son and a daughter.

I messaged them both and hoped to get a response.

But I received nothing.

Meanwhile, Betty had taken on this case as her own personal duty to assist me in my quest to find my father, and that alone was so heartwarming.

A short while after, she emailed me, connecting me to her cousin, Melody Miller.

She said that if our assumptions were correct, then Melody would be my aunt.  Melody was Jack’s sister.

I emailed her and explained everything.

She emailed me back the most beautiful email that I could ever have imagined.

She was thrilled to hear from me despite the huge shock that it was, and was more than willing to help me.

She explained that Jack was alive but not well and that it might be best for her to tell me about him first and then for me to try and connect to his children.

I will never forget the email that she sent; it was so beautifully written and so descriptive.  It depicted a most amazing man who had served in the navy his whole life on behalf of the USA and who had experienced immense pain and complex struggles as a result.

I lost it.  I cried for weeks.  I finally had an answer to where I came from.

I read Melody’s emails again and again.

After a while, I offered to send Melody a DNA test for her to take so she would be able to see our DNA match with her own eyes.

She went a step beyond that and arranged for a different relative to take the test, instead.

When the results came in and I saw it say, “half-sister,” my jaw dropped. It was official.

I had found him.  I had found her and even more.

I was so thrilled but also somewhat bewildered.

Now what?

Now I would have to delicately navigate connecting to these people and hope that they would not be too offended by my very existence and just ignore me altogether.

What if they had zero interest in meeting me?

What if my father were to get angry and be furious to hear about me?

What if they all decided to never answer my emails and messages?

I did feel greatly comforted, because even if that would all be true, I had at least connected to Betty and Melody, and they had been so happy to meet me.

They had given me so many answers to so many questions already.

That alone was huge.

I had no choice but to wait.

Now my half siblings knew that I existed and would presumably need time to process that and then decide what to do about it, if anything.

I had no choice but to give them space.

Of course, I considered just getting on a plane and just showing up there.

I knew that could either be great or turn out to be an epic disaster.

So, I controlled that urge.  It was hard, though.

I waited months and months until finally I heard from both my half-sister and half-brother.

They were both quite shaken to find out that they had another sibling.

It clearly gave them a heck of a lot to think about and came with many emotions.

We corresponded a little and it faded out.

The message they conveyed was that they needed time and that our father was not interested in meeting me, let alone even hearing about me.

It was hard to swallow but I took it as best I could.

I could not blame them at all and wanted to respect their feelings.

This is how it remained until my half sister Kathy messaged me saying, “Our father has coronavirus and is in the hospital.”

The doctors had told her that he might not live much longer, and she felt the need to let me know.

Dread sank in.  It’s going to happen again, I thought to myself. I missed meeting my biological mother and now I’m going to miss meeting my biological father.

I was devastated.

Even if I hopped on a plane right then, I could miss him, and the family or the hospital staff might not even allow me to see him at all.

I could also expose myself to the coronavirus. And I would have to be quarantined for two weeks afterwards on my return home, unable to see my children for two weeks!

My fiancé told me that I had to go.

I was in shock, I couldn’t think about it at all. I was overwhelmed.

I spoke to my ex-husband and asked him what he thought.  After all, he would have the children alone for a long time while I was away.

“You should go,” he said.

I messaged Kathy and told her I felt like I should come.  I was so scared of what her response was going to be. Maybe she would regret telling me at all.

Instead she messaged me back to get on a plane.

I still wasn’t convinced.

Was this how I wanted to meet my father? On his deathbed?

Was this how I wanted to meet this new half sister and brother?

I decided to ask my eldest daughters what they thought.

I sat down with them, twelve and ten years old.

I said, “Remember how I told you that I found my birth father but didn’t get to meet him?”

They nodded as I continued.

“Well I just found out he is dying.  I want to go to say goodbye, but I don’t want to leave you and don’t want to be stuck in quarantine after the trip, unable to see you”.

My oldest daughter said, “That is so sad; of course you should go”.

My second daughter said, “Don’t worry about us. We will be fine”.

I could not believe my ears.  Who were these girls?  They sounded 40 years old.

Then my eldest added, “If you don’t go, you’re going to regret it”.

Regret.  She had nailed it.  Regret was what I feared most.  I was already living with regret from the last time I didn’t go out of my comfort zone to meet the woman who carried me for nine months and gave me life.

I booked a flight and left that night with everyone’s blessing.

I had no idea how this was going to go.  Maybe by the time I got there, he would be dead, or, maybe he would be drastically better, wondering why I was there at all.

Maybe my presence would take away from a son and daughter getting closure with their father.

Maybe it would help them.

Too many maybes, ifs and buts.

My brain felt like it was going to explode with all the thoughts racing around each other.

After I dropped my children off at their father’s house on Sunday evening, I drove back home, grabbed my stuff, and my fiancé drove me to the airport.

We said goodbye, and it was a difficult goodbye.

We had not been apart since we moved in together almost a year before.

I knew that I was risking getting the dreaded coronavirus, and I was thinking with some concern about Jodi being alone for a few days.

Worrying had put butterflies in my stomach.

When I got to the airport, the place was eerie. There were almost no people in the airport. I only ever knew the airport as a busy place with people all around.

The stores were all closed and there was just one kiosk in which you could buy a sandwich or coffee.

I made my way to my gate.

There was still time to just turn around and go home, and that was enormously tempting.

I was scared. Scared of everything, from the flight, to being alone, to the response I’d get for being at the hospital and to the sight of seeing my birth father for the first time.

I sucked it up and got on the plane, and perhaps because of the corona pandemic, there were very few passengers.

I had a whole row to myself and went to sleep.

I got off the plane in Chicago and found a cab outside, also eerie and empty early in the morning.  It was about 4:00am.

The Nigerian driver told me all about his life, and that was a great distraction for me as I started really panicking as we came closer to Kenosha.

I stopped at the hotel I had booked on hotel.com.

All the windows were boarded up, closed.  I was worried, wondering why my hotel would be boarded up.

Then I noticed that all the shops and stores in the surrounding area were also boarded up and there were signs that affirmed, “# Kenosha strong.”

Wow, this was Kenosha, Wisconsin that had suffered from extreme riots. The buildings had been burned and cars all around had been lit on fire.

It was scary, even in the aftermath.

When I got into the hotel, there was an issue with my reservation, and I had to walk to the next, nearest hotel.

It was 6am and so cold outside.  I was the only one out walking.  The sun was just coming up over the harbor.  It felt so surreal.  I felt alone in Wisconsin, going to do what I had imagined doing my entire life.  Going to meet my birth father.  It was never under such circumstances that I imagined it, and the reality of the situation hit me hard.

I went into the hotel and checked in.

I messaged my sister that I had arrived and was staying in the hotel I found nearby.

And then, I realized that the “closest hotel” was also the hotel that she was staying in.

Woah, I had goosebumps all over.  She was staying a floor or two below me.

She was also a little spooked. We both decided to spend an hour or so getting ourselves together, and then, we would meet.

I put so much thought into every message I sent. After all, I didn’t know this person or these people at all!

I called Jodi, trembling with nerves and excitement.

She made me feel so hopeful and calm. She believed that whatever happened, this would be a very healing experience for me.

She wanted so badly to be with me, and it filled my heart with warmth just hearing how much she wished she could.

I got ready and prepared myself mentally.

While yes this is my sister and a woman I want to hear everything about, maybe now is not the best time.

Her father is dying. Our father is dying.

I accepted that whatever came out of it would just have to be enough for me.

She knocked on the door.

I felt my body shaking.

I opened the door, and she was standing there.  Her eyes looked like she had been crying for days; they were the same blue as my eyes.

She was holding a bag.

I gave her a hug and she hugged me back tightly.

I invited her in and we sat down.

She opened the bag and let her sweet little dog out.  She called him Skipper.  Skipper let me pet him.

Kathy took a deep breath and so did I.

We started talking.  We had so many questions and so much to say.  It was hard to stay on any one topic.

We probably sounded like we both suffered from severe ADD.

We kept jumping from her story to my story, to our dad and how he was doing.

It was trying but fascinating.

After about an hour that felt like five minutes, we decided to go out to get some breakfast and continue talking there.

Kathy packed up her dog and we went out to a diner nearby.

It was an old-fashioned diner and the coffee smelled amazing.  She ordered food and I had coffee.

We kept talking.

I learned that this was not just a visit for her to see her father before he died.

She had actually moved to Wisconsin one week earlier, intending to reconnect with her father and had arrived to find him a sick man who had to be hospitalized shortly after her arrival.

And he was going to die.

She had packed up her life and moved all her things and now her whole plan was falling apart.

My heart broke for her in so many ways.

She then explained our brother’s perspective on meeting me.

He was very consumed by our father’s deteriorating state and said he didn’t really care if I was there or not.

He also said he feared that I was weird and annoying, but if Kathy said I was normal, he was willing to meet me.

Unfortunately, they also had a lot of friction between them as they had not spent a lot of time together for more than 20 years.

For them this was also a hard time to be reuniting.

I was nervous. I didn’t want to add to the friction or pain between them.

I prayed that my presence would be helpful for them both.  Maybe it would give them a broader perspective on what was taking place rather than just a highly emotionally loaded one.

I would only know when we finally met, all three of us, together.

Despite the emotions, Kathy spoke highly of her brother, she described him of having a heart of gold.  She said that the anger and frustration he was experiencing now was painful for her to see because she knew the kind, caring, fun David.

Kathy told me that she was waiting for David to invite her to bring me to meet him and that in the meanwhile she would reach out to the hospital so that we could both be able to go there and spend time with our father.

The hospital started giving me issues about entry despite having promised me that entry would not be an issue at all when I called them from Israel to confirm that this would not be an issue.

They had me answer a bunch of questions in order to decide if I would be allowed to visit.

I was horrified.  I had come all this way, and they were telling me that they might not let me see him.

But, I answered the questions and waited patiently.

Eventually after 20 minutes, my visit was approved.

The process, as I understood it, was quite extreme. I was intimidated.

It was scary after so many months of trying to avoid catching the coronavirus to suddenly and electively enter a corona ward.

Kathy and I left the diner to rest a bit before heading to the hospital.  I think we both needed some time to process our first ever visit before transitioning into the next part of the day.

Even though the hospital wasn’t far at all, it was so bitter cold outside that we needed to take a cab.

Our hotel ordered a cab for us, and a very talkative Kenosha native showed up to pick us up, — me, my half sister and Skipper.

He started with the usual chatter about the weather, the corona, the rioting, and eventually realized from our solemn dispositions that there was something serious about to take place.

After we explained a little, he felt bad for us and offered to come get us as soon as we were done and take us back to our hotel.

We took his number and entered the hospital.

The hospital staff knew Kathy by name already and greeted her when she came in.

She explained that there was another sister and pointed at me.

They thought they had met ALL our fathers’ children and suddenly there was another one.

They told us to wait and we did. Then, it hit me that I was about to meet my father.

I never, ever imagined it would be this way.

A nurse came to get us and escorted us to the corona ward.

When we arrived, that nurse handed us over to another nurse who worked in the corona ward.

She escorted us to another male nurse who helped us get dressed appropriately to enter our fathers’ room.

I was wearing two masks and added another mask and a visor, scrubs, shoe covers, a hair covering, gloves and before I knew it, I could barely breathe or move.

It didn’t matter to me; I was so eager to get inside.

We entered the room and I had in my hand a picture of my children.  I had written a message on the back.

It said “Dearest Jack, thank you for giving me this beautiful family.  We will all be forever grateful to you.  Love, Miriam.”

I also had a bouquet of fake flowers that my daughter Deena had given me to give my father before I left.

I came into the room with Kathy.  I placed the picture behind our fathers’ bed. In amazement, I looked at this man who I had wondered about for years. He was huge. He must have been six foot five.  He was so big, and he had huge hands.

He was unconscious.  His face was covered by a mask, giving him oxygen.  I was desperate to see his face.

I went to one side of him while Kathy went to the other.  She started talking to him.

She said, “Hi Dad. It’s me, Kathy. I am here with Miriam.  I know you weren’t happy to hear about her, but it turns out that she is really awesome.  She came all the way from Israel to see you, and she brought a picture of her five beautiful children.”

I was amazed by her ability to just speak from her heart.

It’s hard when you are speaking to someone who is unconscious. Although it can feel like your words are being taken in, it’s not the same as having a conversation.

She looked at me and clearly was giving me a chance to speak.

I moved my hand toward Jack’s and placed my hand in his.

His hand was so hot. Hot, but dry, and it was so large.  It felt like it was double the size of mine.

I held it as I began to speak.  I am usually a calculated speaker, but I just let myself speak from the heart as well.  I said “Hi Dad. It’s Miriam. I’m so sorry that I’m only meeting you now.  I wanted to come sooner, but the world has been so crazy.  I came as soon as I heard you are sick. I want to tell you a little bit about your incredible grandchildren.”

I continued to share about my children and about my life.

As I spoke about my children, his hand twitched. It felt like he squeezed my hand.

I felt like he was truly touched to know about these five gorgeous kids that look exactly like him living across the world in Israel.

I held the tears back, despite them naturally just welling up. Kathy would speak here and there and remind him of different things from her childhood and then add a few thoughts that obviously were important for her to articulate before his death.  I felt honored to be standing next to her while she used her time with him so beautifully.

We stayed for a total of 45 minutes.

I was relieved that Kathy made me feel so comfortable. She was patient, kind and just as normal as one could be in such a difficult situation.

Towards the end of that visit, I noticed my father’s many tattoos.  He had a beautiful tattoo of a ship on his right upper arm, — a vivid expression of his love of sailing and a reminder of having served in the navy.  The tattoo on his left arm was covered by an IV but looked like a navy symbol.

As I held his hand again before leaving him, I noticed his dog tag hanging from his left arm.

He was covered in reminders of how he had served his entire career in the US Navy.

I felt a deep sense of pride in what he had accomplished, in who he had saved, fought for and touched along the way.

As I stood there my mind went to so many places, envisioning the many accolades of this mans colorful life and how I so would have loved to hear about them from him.

He was clearly a very brave man.

He seemed so strong, despite being unconscious.  It was hard to really believe that this man was hovering between life and death.

A man of such size and stature, — he seemed invincible.

I gave him a hug and said goodbye.

I didn’t feel like I was really saying goodbye.

I had just met him.

It felt more like saying “hello” than saying “goodbye.”

Kathy and I left his room, took off the protective gear and left the hospital.

Our sweet taxi driver came back to get us.  He asked us how we were doing.  We needed comfort food and we knew it.  He asked us what we wanted to eat.  Kathy said she wanted Chicago pizza.  He said he knew of the perfect place.

Before I knew it, I was sitting in a pizzeria staring at pizza that I swear looked like it was upside down.

Kathy was anxious but seemed comforted by being with me. I was comfortable being with her.

I imagined to myself what it would have been like for her if I was not there.

Would she have been sitting somewhere eating pizza all alone?  It was so good that we were together.

We were waiting to hear from our brother David who was very upset and very depressed by the situation and was feeding us mixed messages all day.

He talked like he wanted to meet me, but also made it sound like he didn’t care that much.

Kathy wanted an answer from him, — a plan.  I was happy to just be in the moment.  She and I spoke some more.  It felt like Kathy was just an older version of myself.  She had the same humor, the same perspectives on life, the same challenges emotionally, and those same blue eyes as mine.

It was so easy to talk to her.  We kept saying the same thing at the same time.  We laughed.  It was good to laugh especially with all the crying that had led us both to where we were.

After a while she invited her ex-boyfriend to join us in the pizza shop.

He came by and I watched as he struggled the way many men would in trying to emotionally support a woman who was going through one of the toughest times in her life.  He looked unsure but tried to say the right things.  I suppose there are no right things to say.

Soon after we got back to the hotel, our brother agreed to meet me and Kathy at the hospital.

Kathy and I decided to rest until David was finished with work.  So we went back to our respective rooms to rest.

Despite the many thoughts going through my head, I fell asleep.  My mind was overloaded and my body just exhausted.  I fell into that really deep jet lag sleep.

I woke up two hours later to the sound of Kathy’s banging on my door.

I was confused, foggy and could barely wake up.  I told myself that I had to get up and move.  It was so hard.  The jetlag felt overpowering.

Kathy was all ready to head off to the hospital to meet David.

On the way, she confided in me as to how difficult their relationship was right then.  She said that the two of them just bring out so much anger and frustration in each other.

She told me that David drinks heavily and while his heart is huge, his anger comes out with a vengeance.

I was so curious as to what my presence would bring out in him.

I didn’t have much time to think about it.  We were there before I knew it.

David was sitting on the bench with a teenager, — his son, Ben.

I noticed that David was crying and moving in an uncomfortable way as if he needed to pull himself together because he was about to meet someone he had not wanted to meet.

He was about to meet me.  He must have been terrified.  I know I was.

I got out of the car and as if it had been preplanned and practiced, I walked right up to him and he came straight to me.  He opened his arms and I opened mine and he hugged me and I held him so tight for what felt like so long.

I burst into tears in his arms.  His whimpering grew into sobbing.

We cried and cried.

It was hard to understand why exactly, but it felt right.

There was a sense of mutual relief.  I wasn’t an alien claiming to be their sibling from oceans away, and he wasn’t an angry monster.  We were both just people needing each other, and our presence created a level of comfort for each other.

I found myself just repeating again and again while we hugged, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry”.

We finally let go, and he introduced me to his eighteen year old son, Ben, a mature looking young man who had tears in his eyes.

We all just looked at each other.  I could see in their eyes so much emotion.  David pulled himself together and took the lead.  He had a very comforting fatherly disposition, it felt safe with him.  He explained how this would work although I had already done it once earlier in the day.  He led us to the nurses who led us to the Corona ward.

When we got there, they told us that only two people could go in at a time.  I told David and Kathy to go in together and that I would wait with Ben.

They went in and I tried to make conversation with my new nephew.

He was easy to talk to and told me about his life.  It was not an easy one but he had such a positive attitude.  He said he was living with a friend and working.  He said he had no other siblings from his father but did have siblings on his mother’s side.  He talked about how hard this was for his dad and how amazing it was that I had come all the way from Israel.  I told him about my time as a medic and ambulance driver.  We talked about life and how delicate it is, — how vulnerable we are.

He was so mature and sweet. David had raised him well.

And then, Kathy came back and sent to join David.

I was nervous all over again.

I went to get suited up like I had earlier in the day.

I entered my father’s room. David was crying.  He was trying to speak in between his sobs.  He told our father that I was there. He told him, “She has done some really cool shit in her life.”

He told his father that I am a fighter just like he was, — that I also served my country.  He cried and cried.

David apologized that this was how I was seeing him for the first time.

He motioned for me to come over to his side.  He put his arm around me and cried some more. He looked at me and said, “You come from the land of prayers; please, say a prayer.”

I was a little surprised.  I hadn’t expected to be a source of spiritual comfort in any way.

I thought quickly.

It felt only natural to choose the “Shema” prayer to recite at his bedside.

I said it in Hebrew, and then in English, and then added my own prayer.

I prayed that we all be seen as God’s children. I said that no matter our religious differences or cultural differences, in the end we are all His children and Jack’s children.  I prayed that God take into consideration all of Jack’s accomplishments, his dedication and his sweat and tears in a lifetime of caring for others.

I prayed that Jack be blessed for his endless sacrifice.  I prayed that he would not suffer or endure any more pain than he already had.

David said “Amen.”

He then began his own heartfelt prayer.

He prayed at his father’s bedside with fervor and intense concentration.

I said, “Amen.”

We looked at each other and then we both reached over to give our father a hug and kiss him goodbye.

David asked if I could get Ben and send him in.

Our father’s head moved slightly as David said Ben’s name.  That was amazing.

I went to get Ben, and he and David had their time together with Jack.

I stayed with Kathy.

When David and Ben came back out, they asked us if we wanted any more time with Dave.

Virginia said she was content with her goodbyes and was too drained to go in another time.

I asked if it was ok if I did.

I went back in alone this time, alone with my father for the first time.

I called Jodi and put her on video.  She saw Jack and was able to speak to him.  She thanked him for giving me to her.  I spoke then and told him all about how Jodi had saved me when I was suffering, how we had fought for each other and how dear she is to me.  I told him about the life we built with each other and how happy we are today.

I told him about my children and that I will raise them with my heart and soul.  I told him how proud he should be of us for being who we are.

I gave him a kiss and left.

As I left, the doctor called us to confer with him.

The doctor explained that they would be putting Jack on a ventilator the next day and that he would most likely never come off of it.

He asked us if we wanted to “pull the plug.”

I felt like it was David and Kathy’s decision to make, not mine.

David was overwhelmed.  He said, “Let’s all go downstairs and have some nicotine and talk about this”.

We all went downstairs to the entrance near the ER, and David pulled out cigarettes for everyone except Ben who wore his E-cigarette on a necklace.

We talked and thought it through.

They decided that they would do it because he was suffering, but not that night as they were all too exhausted. They decided that we would all go back the next day and do it then, with all of us at his side.

The thought of that was a lot for me to digest but I respected their decision and agreed that we would all meet back at the hospital in the morning.

As we left through the ER, we all hugged.

I thanked them again and again for including me in such a difficult and meaningful moment in their lives.

They thanked me for being there with them.

I got into a taxi with Kathy, and we rode back to our hotel.

She went to her room, and I went to mine.

I rested briefly on my bed. Then, I went back down stairs to call Jodi.

I cried and told her how sad it was to see Jack so helpless and that my heart was breaking.  I had stayed strong and finally allowed myself to fall apart.

Jodi comforted me and reminded me of how lucky I was to be able to be there at all and how I would always know that I did my part and made it a priority to be there.

It comforted me to remember the great sacrifices I had made in order to be there and the incredible welcome I had received from my birth family.

I felt a sense of having accomplished that which I came for, even though the next day was going to be a hard day no matter how it panned out.

I went back up to bed and fell asleep.

I woke up with a jolt at 4:30 the next morning.

I felt a pit in my stomach.

I didn’t know why. I didn’t remember what I had dreamt, but I felt weird.

I made a cup of coffee and just tried to stay calm until some time passed.

At 7am, I told Kathy that I was going to the diner and she was welcome to join me.

While I sat in the diner waiting for her, I wrote down some of my thoughts, trying to remember if there was anything I had not had a chance to say or do before it was too late.  I felt calm, sad, vulnerable but at peace with myself.

Kathy came into the diner at around 8am.

She ordered food. Her eyes were swollen and red.  She had obviously had a very disturbed night.  I worried for a moment if perhaps she hadn’t had enough time with Jack, or if my presence was making it harder.

She told me that she was just sad that she had lost so many years of being a part of her dad’s life.  She had lived far away and had been busy with her own life.  She felt guilty for the anger she carried around towards him and towards her brother.

She told me that she was so happy I was there, because she would have felt so alone, otherwise, and would have had no one to talk to.

She also talked about her plans being ruined now that her dad was dying.  She had no idea what to do next and didn’t know where she would live or go.

I talked to her and tried to help her to not worry so much about the future but rather to just be present in today.  She had also made huge sacrifices to be able to be there and should not have had to let worry take away from her ability to just be in the moment.

She cried, and I moved over to her side of the cubicle and held her tight.  It was strange to be the one comforting her, as here I was, the younger sister.  But she needed it and it helped her.

A few minutes later, David messaged us to call him.

We were supposed to make a plan for the day.  So, we called him back, but he paused and said in a shaky voice, “Dad died at 4:30am this morning.”

That was it.

He was gone.

We were not going to be going back to the hospital.

We were not going to have to decide to keep him alive or not.

He had decided on his own.

He had held on long enough to be able to be with all his children, and then, he let go.

Kathy and I stared at our pancakes, not quite sure what to do next.

We both needed a bit of time to process the news.

Kathy needed to notify the aunts and uncles and cousins.

It hit me that we had really said goodbye last night.  It felt like even with our goodbye the night before, there was going to be another one, but that was really goodbye.

A deep sense of gratitude filled my body.

A heavy feeling of “there will never be another time with him” also set in.

I called my children and they asked me if Jack was all better, I told them that he had died early in the morning and that I was  so grateful that I was able to be there with him and with my relatives.

My children felt bad for me, I told them not to, but they couldn’t help it.

I changed my flight to the next day.

There would be no funeral in the near future and I needed to get home.

After all, I had done what I came to do.

I decided to spend the rest of the day trying to help Kathy and David as much as possible.

I helped Kathy book a flight back to California and helped her organize and pack her luggage.

We wanted to meet with David but he was in too much pain to want anyone around him.

We gave him the day to be alone and at night we went over to his trailer, — the trailer our dad had lived in while David cared for him.

We went inside and it was filled with smoke.  He had smoked more cigarettes than ever before I am sure out of pain and angst.

David was crying, and his voice was shaky and crackly from having smoked so many cigarettes.

He hugged me and I hugged him.  Kathy hugged him, and he hugged her.

He sat down and I sat across from him.

His strength shone through his vulnerability, again, I felt comforted with both of them there with me.

He opened a pamphlet.  He said, “Look at our father.”

In the picture, Jack was young and handsome, dressed in his Navy whites.

He looked almost regal.

He was training a group of cadets in the picture, and they all looked at him in fear and humility.

David showed me more pictures of our father and cried with each one he turned to.

He looked around the trailer from time to time and just sighed.

He was mourning.  He was forlorn, and he also couldn’t bear the thought of what would come next.

I encouraged him to allow himself time to grieve and be kind to himself along the way.

I offered to help with anything at all.

He thanked me.

The friction between him and Kathy subsided and there was a sense of mutual respect amongst all of us.

Whatever each of our relationships had been with our father didn’t matter.

Whatever history they had, whatever they did know or didn’t know about me, — whatever grudges or feelings of being misunderstood there were didn’t matter.

We said goodbye, feeling like we had created a family through our fathers’ death.

We had connected, accepted, and loved through his passing.

I could not have asked for more in my first and last meeting with my biological father.

Thank you to this wonderful family for giving me a memory I will cherish forever.

About the Author
Miriam is a U.S.-born Israeli therapist and psychologist specializing in trauma work, who speaks to women worldwide, and gives workshops around the country on the importance of mental resilience. She is amicably divorced with five children and is the Founder of United Hatzalah's Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit that provides psychological first aid at the scenes of medical emergencies. She was the recipient of the Bonei Zion prize for young leadership in Israel in 2018. Following her divorce, she left the Ultra-Orthodox community of Jerusalem and is now living in Tel Aviv with her girlfriend, Nikki.
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