Web of Friendship

Editor’s note:

The connections I’ve maintained with my childhood friends taught me how a lot about how family could be, and equipped me to find my missing family. I met Susan Sommer when we were in grade school, and am so pleased to have her as my first guest blogger.

By Susan Sommer

I’ve done battle with my share of remote controls, new TV set-up instructions, and computer software glitches, but I have to say, technology is my friend—especially the internet. Yep, I’m Googley-eyed and face Facebook daily, I’m LinkedIn and loving it, I cheer along other “losers” on LoseIt!, I read blogs from A to Z, and my comments are scattered across the globe.

Now, I’m not some loner dork who sits all day at the keyboard and doesn’t know how to converse at
parties. I have plenty of real-world friends and do get out enough to know, for example, whether it’s still winter or not.

Seriously, though, the internet is a thing of beauty, IMHO (and just a few short years ago I didn’t
know what that stood for). I’ve reconnected with people from my past who I thought I’d never see or
hear from again. And not just old boyfriends either, but true friends—people I’d traveled with, a
childhood pen pal, high school classmates who are now as (gulp) middle-aged as I.

I treasure my family and friends who live near enough to see on a regular basis—these are the people
who know me best and who I know I can always rely on no matter what. They are the base of my days, weeks, months, and years. Without them, I would be the loner dork. But getting reacquainted with old friends online—as well as making new ones who I might never meet, but could, if one of us happens to be passing through the other’s town or attending the same conference, and you never know who is destined to become your next old friend—has broadened my world.

I grew up in Alaska, sometimes in the far reaches of the Alaskan bush. I always felt sheltered. I remedied that by traveling as a young woman, but now that I’m married and stable and I work from home, I’ve once again become somewhat cut off from new experiences. The internet offers me the web of friendship outside my immediate sphere of existence. I trade thoughts on editing with LinkedIn members; I learn fascinating tidbits about farming from a Facebook group (like the best way to kill a chicken before plucking and processing, and that you can use goat placenta in a facial mask); I receive encouragement to keep shedding those extra pounds from my LoseIt! friends, only one of whom I actually know in person; and as a member of our 30-year high school reunion planning committee (which I sucked myself into by being the first to open my mouth online about the upcoming event), I can’t imagine trying to find old classmates by perusing the telephone book (you now, that big heavy paper tome plopped unceremoniously at the end of our driveways each spring?).

Despite the fact that for some reason my husband seems to think I’m just goofing around on Facebook all day (not ALL day, I tell him when I stagger down from my office and open the fridge and think hmmm, what am I going to make for dinner?), social media and search engines have changed my life for the better in unique ways. Our rural-ish neighborhood has drawn closer through use of a handful of closed Facebook groups—one for wildlife sightings, one for bartering, and another for general ramblings. I recently, finally, found my old pen pal from when I was ten years old. We’d met once, traded a few holiday cards over the years, then lost touch; turns out we’re leading very similar lifestyles, right down to how many and what type of pets we have. And just this week when I was doing research online for a freelance article, I “met” a woman who had visited Alaska several years ago and was familiar with my parents’ old trapping cabin from the 1950s.

It’s a small world out there. I don’t panic when I go off-grid for a few days like some people do. My
phone is dumb so I can’t check email. But if the internet ever disappeared, for whatever reason, I would surely miss its power to connect.

Susan Sommer is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Alaska.  She holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing & Literary Arts.  Visit her at www.akwriter.com


Celebrating a Gift

Today is cause for a celebration.
Exactly twenty three years ago, after nearly 70 hours of labor, my youngest daughter Meredith was born. At home.  The only attendants were her toddler-sister and her alarmed father.


The midwife set to deliver her had left to refill the oxygen tank and was side-tracked by a lunch offer.  I waited for her as long as I could, until the pain in my back took a sudden turn, and very quickly, Meredith was born.  The eight pound, bruised and battered baby looked up at me, and it was love.
Other mothers assured me that I wouldn’t ever remember the pain of labor.

I remember.  Like it were yesterday.     

But what I remember more was how quickly my squalling baby turned into a feisty toddler that turned into a rebellious teenager that turned into a kind, ambitious,  and gracious young woman.

Motherhood (parenthood) is a gift. There’s nothing I’ve ever wanted more, or been less prepared to do.  No job I have worked harder at, and still fumbled. And there is absolutely nothing that has given me greater joy.  I’m so fortunate to have been a part of this child’s life.
Happy Birthday, Meredith Eleni.

Three Reasons to Locate Your Missing Family Members

There are newer shows now. Like Long Lost Family. I boo-hoo, every time I see it.

My update since the first time I posted this: I published my memoir. 

And because I did, I met a still-missing brother and cousins and, more recently, had contact with an uncle I’d always wanted to know.

My family isn’t perfect. Neither am I. But they’re mine. And I am so happy to have them all.

Every day at my job, I work with kids who don’t have contact with one or both parents.  Mostly, it’s their fathers. Many of them can’t name who their father is or where he might live.

It’s an ache and a longing they can never seem to reconcile.

One day, I’ll have time to write more about the benefit of knowing one’s roots. But for now, I reiterate what I’ve said before in the post below.

 I have mega-exciting news to share in my newsletter, soon. I hope you’re signed up.

Thank you for being here.





Did you get a chance to watch the television show The Locator on We TV before it went off the air?  The one where investigator Troy Dunn found missing loved ones and filmed the reunions?  His tagline was You can’t find peace until you find all the pieces.

That was true for me. One of the best decisions I ever made in my youth was to find my missing father.  I was still young enough that I didn’t fully realize how much growing up without him hurt me. Or how growing up hearing scary stories about him shaped not just the way I felt about him, but how I felt about myself.

Of course, when I located my father (thanks to my attorney friend Ira) in May of 1985, I found out I had a whole passel of siblings I hadn’t known about; five brothers and one sister.  I had more aunts and uncles than I’d ever imagined, and cousins galore. And I learned that much of what I’d heard about my father and why my parents split simply weren’t true. I also learned that despite what my mother told me, my father had wanted me,  and didn’t know where I’d disappeared to the day he went to exercise his visitation and I’d gone missing.

Years later, I met a brother on my mom’s side I hadn’t seen since I was a toddler. Again, it was magic. I followed up by contacting family I’d lost contact with for one reason or another.  Each reunion was a gift all its own.Twenty-seven years after my first family reunion, the connections I’ve made with family continue to add color and dimension to my life, and I often tell others with missing family members, “Look him (or her, or them) up! What are you worried about?”

In truth, locating missing family comes with inherent risks of rejection, disappointment, and the likelihood that unsavory family secrets get revealed. But the reasons for finding missing family trump those, in my experience.
Wanda and Me 003
Sister Wanda in Anchorage
Aunts and Uncles, Kentucky

Vincent, David, LauraGrace, Gardnar, and Danny Meredith
Tana and Mere 024
Sister Maddy, brother Harold, and daughter Meredith

Three Reasons to Find Your Missing Family

  1. Because you want answers- to your family history, health history, and to know what part of you is due to nature vs. nurture.  For me, getting to know my whole family helped me know and accept myself easier.
  2. Because we all need connection. Without them, we become prickly, weird, and depressed. You might unearth more weirdness by finding your missing family. But you may very well expand your capacity to love.
  3. Because you’re dying. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we all are, beginning the process as soon as we’re born.  With your days being numbered, don’t you want to know who’s out there with your DNA?

When my oldest daughter began dating Vince, an old friend of hers from high school, I learned two things about him. He had cancer. And he grew up in a splintered family like I had. He told me his mom had been a young Filipina immigrant when she married his father, a tall and rough American soldier.

Vince had vivid memories of his father terrorizing his mother after they separated. He remembered her not being allowed to exercise her custody rights, and remembered her moving out of state.
“I want to know my family,” he told me. “I want to know them all, the Filipino side, my siblings, all of them. Can you help me?”
I was thrilled to be asked.

But before I got very far, Vince’s health took a sharp turn for the worse. In February of 2010, he told me he thought he was dying.  Within the next eight weeks,   his body was ravaged by tumors.  He lay in the middle of his family’s living room while they smoked cigarettes and played the television loudly. Unable to eat or speak, his face hallowed and his eyes sunk.  He was in much pain, and I privately wondered why he fought the inevitable for so long.

It turned out that his mother had been granted permission by his father to see him one last time. A dozen years had passed since she had seen him. Vince’s mother hadn’t been permitted access to Vince was a small boy, and though she called and sent packages irregularly, it wasn’t the same.

Vince’s mother arrived in Alaska on May 14th and was given an hour or more to visit. Though he could no longer communicate verbally, Vince relaxed into his mother’s embrace. He died many hours later, on May 15, 2010.


If Vince had some assurance he’d get to meet his Filipino family, be they good, bad or indifferent, would he have lived longer?  Lived happier?  We’ll never know.  I do know that finding mine changed everything, and like Troy Dunn promised, I found peace.

Do you have stories of finding missing family members that you’d like to share?  Or have family that you’re thinking about finding? Leave a comment below.

Not Judging Amy/ An Employer Responds to Domestic Violence

Tonight, I went to the University of Alaska, Anchorage’s (UAA)  screening of Telling Amy’s Story, a documentary sponsored by Verizon Wireless after their long-time Pennsylvania employee was shot at point blank range in her home by her husband while her parents and her children waited for her outside in an idling vehicle.

Long before Amy’s murder ten years ago, Verizon invested in employee trainings on family violence, teaching their managers the three R’s:

            1) Recognize the signs of domestic violence.
2) Respond in a manner that promoted respect to the victim and safety to coworkers.

3) Refer the victim to a local domestic abuse agency.

That’s more than most companies do, but it wasn’t enough to save thirty-three year-old Amy Homan McGee. After her life ended abruptly, her safe and sheltered Pennsylvania community was stunned. It wasn’t until police completed a fatality review in 2005 that family, friends, and coworkers interviews pieced together the pattern of control and intimidation she had been subjected to by her husband.

It’s surprised me that the film attracted more than fifty people in the Anchorage showing. It started at 5:30 at night, after work or school for most of us. But in Alaska, the prevalence of domestic violence is high in a state with otherwise relatively low crime rate.

Nationally, 1 of every 4 women in the United States has or will experience domestic violence, according to the Center for Disease Control’s 2008 data.

In Alaska, it’s 1 out of 2 women, according to UAA’s Justice Center figures from 2010.

Of all the women murdered in America, 50% were killed by their current or former husband or lover, according to the Department of Justice in 2007.

For murdered men, that figure is 5%.

Telling Amy’s Storygives those in her life who outlived her a chance to process their devastation as they struggle to find where missed points for intervention occurred.

Most of us will have a friend, a daughter, a mother, or sister who will experience interpersonal violence within their lifetimes. Do you know what local resources in your community can help?

Pennsylvania Detective Deirdri Fishel said it best; “If you can’t be safe in your own home, does it matter if your community is safe?”