In the spring of 2000, we met Teri Green, seven months pregnant, at Sunset Beach, North Carolina. Teri was then separated from her 7-year-old daughter, Samantha, who lived in Oklahoma with her grandmother. Teri told us she could not care for the child she was carrying and that her goal was to reunite with her daughter Samantha. Journey Falco was born on May 18, 2000, and placed for adoption with John and me. We stayed in contact with Teri and visited her in the summer of 2001. After that, Teri disappeared. As Journey matured and we visited the birth family members of her older siblings, Journey grieved the loss of Teri and the sister she knew of but had never met. Finally, in December 2008, Journey received a letter and gift from Teri – but no return address was included. I had secretly been searching for Teri for years, but her letter prompted me to increase my efforts. By 2013, we had found Teri and discovered that her younger sister, Kristi, also knew of Journey’s existence. We went to meet them in Oklahoma. Thanks to Kristi – who understood that making connections to her biological family was very important to Journey – a way was paved to gradually reveal “the secret.” In 2015, Journey met her grandmother, Marty. Nine days ago, Journey was finally to meet her sister Samantha and share a week of experiences at the place where it all began – Sunset Beach, NC.
How does it feel, as a 17-year-old, to meet the older sister you’ve always known about when that sister only learned about your existence a short time ago? (This is a question only Journey can answer.) How does it feel to meet your younger sister, now 17, whose existence was kept a secret from you until recently? (This is a question only Samantha can answer.) How does it feel to be the ambassador between sisters raised in different families when their mother is not able to perform that role? (This is a question only Kristi can answer.) How does it feel to welcome a new sibling and aunt into your ever-expanding open adoption family in the close quarters of a beach house? (This is a question only the Falco siblings can answer.)
How does it feel to arrange and coordinate these interactions as a parent who instigated and maintains this ever-changing family of open adoptions? This I can answer: It feels pretty great!
All parents want what is best for their kids. But we don’t always know what “best” is. And we certainly don’t know what drama or unplanned-for-events may occur as a result of our well-intentioned plans. I could provide a very long list of unintended consequences in this family!
Thankfully, this past week will be for all of us, I believe, a set of treasured memories. It’s a given in our family that there will be some illness, some grumpiness, some heated disputes, some unwillingness to participate, and so on. However, the overall tone of our week at the beach was JOY.
A few highlights of the week include the following:
*walks and runs and bike rides
*shopping for souvenirs and birthday gifts (Emily and K.J. have July birthdays)
*sunrises, sunsets, and “chasing seashells”
*celebrating the 4th of July
*laughter and meals together
*hanging out on the beach
*playing in the waves
*spending time with Skye and Kinsley
*quiet time and naps
*attempting family photos (well, maybe not for Becton)
*celebrating Emily’s 23rd birthday
*telling our stories, finding commonalities and differences
In the end, the visit was not an “end” but a beginning with hopes of more time together in the future. There is always loss in adoption. In Journey’s story, there is pain related to losing her first mother and being a secret in her family of origin. In Samantha’s story, there is also pain about losing a mother and not knowing a sister. And Teri continues to struggle in ways that are both known and unknown to us. None of this changes what I believe my role to be. I will say again what I wrote in Everything In Its Own Time: What I know for sure is that honest expressions of love toward another person are mightier than any exertion of power. And I will keep offering a safe place for the truth of our experiences.