A Holiday Short Story – Excerpt from the Santa Next Door

Merry Christmas!


What’s your favorite holiday memory?  Is it the food, the parties, or the music that you look forward to most each year?

I’m only just beginning to enjoy the traditions. For years, the sound of Christmas music was as welcoming as splashing acid into my eyeballs. It punctuated what I believed I didn’t have.

If you’re alone this holiday season, look around you. There are soup kitchens looking for volunteers, gatherings at faith communities that welcome strangers, and a host of other people around you who may be sheepishly hiding their own discomfort about the holidays. https://lameredith.com/2012/12/holiday-hater-make-grinch-return-your.html

I’ll be serving up food at the homeless shelter this year, paying it forward for the time that strangers sponsored my daughters and me for gifts when we had nothing.  I wrote the story below which will be available for free on Kindle for five days. If you’d like to read it in it’s entirety but don’t have a Kindle, email me and I’ll send it to you after Kindle’s exclusive promo period.

Thanks always for stopping by. Connecting with you, even online, is a perfect reminder that we’re never really alone.

This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.”
—Taylor Caldwell

Christmas can be a mean holiday for so many people.

People who are single. People becoming single again. People who’ve lost a loved one. People who are broke. People whose families are in all states of disrepair.
 In the family I grew up in, holidays were punctuated by flying plates and the arrival of law enforcement. The single wrapped present under the Christmas tree was no surprise; I would always recognize the giant Hershey Bar with almonds immediately.

The only holiday tradition I’ve stuck to as an adult is falling into an annual fog of depression around the end of October, which begins to lift the second day of January. So when an unexpected knock at the door came a few weeks before Christmas of 1991, I opened it with a sense of dread.

In addition to it being the holiday season, I lived in Anchorage, Alaska, where the combined effect of the darkness and cold in December can flatten the bubbliest of personalities. I wasn’t feeling bubbly; I was in the middle of a divorce and custody battle. In my youth, I traded in my controlling mother for an even more controlling husband: Grigorios- Gregory for short-an older Greek immigrant who made my mom look like Mother Teresa. Had I known a year earlier that nothing good would come of leaving him, I would have stayed put. But the final strangulation in front of our two year-old daughter forced me to roll the dice. I left.

In doing so, I apparently bruised his larger- than- life- ego beyond repair. I embraced the homelessness, the food stamps, the restraining orders as necessary losses that would secure a safer future for my girls and me. I was the twenty-seven year-old mother of two pre-school aged toddlers; with any luck there would be time for love and happiness later on. But there was so much I couldn’t have predicted. And so much of the unpredictability seemed to appear at my front door.

Who could it be this time? There had been so many visits in the past.
Once I opened the door to a female police officer. Gregory was peering around from behind her, grinning like a Chesire cat. She served me with paperwork, saying she needed to remove my two sleeping daughters because their father complained he had been denied visiting them-allowed by court order-for several weeks. Had he bothered to tell the officer that he hadn’t shown up at the appointed visitation times, or called to announce his unavailability?
Then there was the day I opened the door to a public assistance worker. “We’ve got word that you’re working and not reporting your income. And you’re living with a man, and haven’t reported that on your monthly report…Can I have a look around?”
Before I could answer him, he was in my crappy apartment, looking around at my crappy life. Opening drawers. Rifling through closets. “Do you have Swiss bank accounts? Are you working and not reporting the income? …Well whose ski boots are those?” After he compared my large boots to my large feet, he was gone.
Another knock. What did he forget? I wondered.
But it was a different man altogether, and a social worker, no less. “I’m John Lovering,” he offered, kindly handing me his business card. “I work at the Division of Family and Youth Services. There have been reports that you’re abusing your children. I can’t tell you who’s been making the calls, but it’s the same person. I’ll need to take a look at them…can you remove their shirts, please?”
I was pretty sure I knew who that same person was who kept calling the reports in. No matter. Time-limited stress, I told myself. Soon, I would put this mess behind me. Finish college. Get off food stamps before my oldest started grade school. Rent a nice home with a yard for the girls and me.
So whose knock was this, anyhow? Stop with the panic response. I inhaled deeply and opened the door.
Before me stood a tall older man with long white hair and a long white beard. His cheeks were rosy, and his large round belly threatened to pop the buttons of his tight red and black flannel checkered shirt. He was holding a saucer of sugar cookies, which he pushed in my direction.
“I’m your new neighbor,” he said, smiling. “My name’s Chuck. I’ve got the two bedrooms right next door.”
Taking the plate of cookies, I looked down and saw his bare feet. Temperatures hovered around 10 degrees above zero that week. His toes were red and swollen, and he had long yellowed toenails. He put his cigarette out when I invited him inside for a cup of coffee.
“Who have we here?” he said, smiling at the girls.
My oldest daughter Marianthi smiled sweetly back at him. Her light brown hair and blue-grey eyes were complimented by her turquoise dress. Slight in stature and build, she still looked like a porcelain doll at the age of four.
“Hello, nice to meet you,” she said in her munchkin voice.
Meredith was another story entirely. At two and a half, she was in the thick of her Terrible Two’s. Her dark brown hair formed angry ringlets around her plump cheeks, and her near-black eyes stared at our visitor accusingly.
If he noticed little Meredith’s reaction to him, our visitor didn’t let on.
His name was Chuck Emplit. He had worked as a cook, but medically retired a decade earlier. Cooking and baking were still his passion. He said he had never married, had no children, and had no living relatives. “I’m not lonely, though,” he said, probably noticing my concern. “I’m playing cards with Victor and the guys on Saturday nights. Great group around here.”

Victor, my Mexican landlord, was the single father of a teenaged girl. He doubled as the cruise director for a number of the lonely old men who lived in our low income apartments.

Chuck said he would be moving from his two-bedroom apartment next door to a studio apartment in the same complex as soon as one became available in order to save money. But until then, he assured me, he was available if we ever needed anything. “Don’t forget, Girls,” he said before leaving, “I’d like for you to call me Santa.”
Both girls lit up. I never believed in Santa as a child myself, but I wasn’t ready to burst their bubble.
Every day afterwards, when I returned home from classes, I had to pass by Santa’s living room window to get to my own apartment. And every day, approximately five minutes later, he was at my door- holding some special dish he cooked up for the girls and me- waiting expectantly for me to invite him in for coffee. I always obliged, silently stewing at times, coaching myself to be thankful for the company and food. The girls were always delighted to see him, and by our second cup of coffee, I was too. We certainly ate better meals with him than we had since I had become my family’s primary cook, and the diversion from my meal-in-can was a welcome break. And it was obvious by his smiles and laughter that the visits meant a lot to him.
When Christmas came a few weeks after we met, Santa brought a wrapped present.
“Me and the guys were talking at cards the other night,” he explained. “We wondered why you haven’t remarried yet. “She’s not ugly,’ one of them said.’ She doesn’t seem too unpleasant. Anybody would love those girls of hers.’”
Santa thrust the package in my hands, which I unwrapped. A Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book.
“I think this’ll help,” he said, clearly proud of himself.

If only it were that simple. 


Read more at http://www.bookdaily.com/book/3672570/the-santa-next-door-kindle-edition#hSaWEt11fVYxf6ML.99 


Finding Family, Steve Jobs Style

What if you found out you were living a lie?  That a family secret had kept you away from a sibling or parent that you did not even know existed?
Mary Lou Lockhart, printed in Anchorage Daily News 12/9/12
Today’s Anchorage Daily News article What is Never Spoken        http://www.adn.com/2012/12/08/2718214/julia-omalley-what-is-never-spoken.html&c=5QFBm_wdIAjK_AMYPubz_4jaHLWo7b20bguacyqRB7g&mkt=en-us introduced an Alaskan family whose world was turned upside-down recently after a random Google search. Bill Popp learned that his 76 year-old mother was listed on an adoption website, looking for a baby she’d given up more than fifty years before.
 (See tomorrow’s follow-up article to see how their search turned out–adn.com).
Last week, while I was out of town at a business meeting, I chatted with two coworkers about this very topic. One coworker located his father and siblings in a different part of the country a couple of years ago. The second coworker found a sibling, but chose not to meet his missing father. “Where were you when I needed you?” would be the only thing I’d want to say to him,” he told me, “and it doesn’t matter now. I’m grown.”
It doesn’t matter when we’re grown? Really?
It’s matters to me. Meeting my missing family, a process that began at age 20 and continues throughout my forties, matters a whole lot.
It mattered to Steve Jobs, too.
 In a 1997 New York Times article about Steve Jobs, the Apple/ Pixar/iPhone guru spoke of finding his family missing parents and sibling in while in his twenties. Adopted by a wonderful couple as a baby, his search for his biological parents ended abruptly at 27 when he learned that they had a daughter after giving Jobs up for adoption and raised her.
While Steve Jobs was no longer hoping to forge a relationship with his parents, he did meet his sister, who turned out to be best-selling author Mona Simpson of Anywhere But Here fame. In his  interview with the New York Times, both siblings spoke of their instantly close bond:
 ”My brother and I are very close,” Simpson says. ”I admire him enormously.”
Jobs says only: ”We’re family. She’s one of my best friends in the world. I call her and talk to her every couple of days.”
The Locator’s Troy Dunn had a phrase I appreciated, “You can’t find peace until you find the pieces.” 
I’m a big believer in finding the pieces. Still, I think it’s important to be at peace with yourself before find those pieces. 
In short, my advice when conducting a search for family is–
Be at peace with yourself before inviting strangers, even long-lost family, into your life.
Keep in mind that although your missing parents or sibling may not be what you expected, as in the case of Jobs, they may be more than you ever hoped for.
If your missing loved one doesn’t want an ongoing relationship with you, you’re no worse off than you were before you found them. Yes, it can be devastating, but often there’s an aunt or uncle or cousin waiting in the wings who wants badly to know you.
Don’t give up the search.
P.S. Thanks to the anonymous person that nominated my 49 Writers Best of Blog. I live a small life, but after I read that, I shoveled the snow with more vigor, bleached the towels with more joy.
You can vote at 49writers.blogspot.com. Look for the names in the right hand columns.

Secrets of A Thanksgiving Survivor: Guest interview with Jack the Turkey

I met Jack the Turkey  last spring when I visited my sister’s farm in New Mexico.

I was smitten immediately. Outside of his obvious good lucks, I loved the way Jack walked with us around the property, keeping up with our conversation, interacting with the other farm animals, and becoming despondent any time I shifted my attention from him to a baby goat or to my sister. The guy had a lot of charisma.

I later learned that as a farm turkey, Jack’s was only expected to live a year or less. And yet, here he is, living out loud at age seven in Eastern New Mexico.

Jack’s early life story is sad. Raised by a single-mother who died when he was still a babe, Jack grew up without ever meeting his father. He was separated from his siblings at a young age, and found out that they, along with most of his childhood friends, met their demise in large ovens.

But Jack is a success. A survivor. He’s defied the odds. I interviewed Jack in May of 2012, and he had some words of wisdom that are worth passing on.

Q. You’ve outlived your turkey peers by far. What do you attribute to your success?

A. Thank you. I know this may come off arrogant or self-centered, but it occurred to me as a young guy that I’m better looking than the average turkey. And people really respond to that, so I started taking care of myself. I began walking a lot, and although the people who raised me gave plenty of food, I refrained from eating everything in front of me. I don’t want to get too big. I groomed carefully, and kept my feet clean by washing daily in the dog’s water dish.

Tip: Be a good steward of your given strengths

A.But after the first year, I could see my looks begin to slip. My feathers thinned and my wattle drooped. Then I met Molly. As a dog, it looked to me like she had a great advantage. People have always called dogs Man’s best friend. So I decided to copy Molly. She follows her owner everywhere. She likes to show affection. She chases things thrown to her, and hangs out with cats, dogs, humans, and me. Molly helped me understand that family isn’t just who you’re born to and with. Family can be created through any relationship where love and commitment exist.

Tip: Find a mentor to copy

A. That said, I’m not unaffected by my circumstances. I don’t like Thanksgiving, or Christmas. or New Years. Any of the holidays when my less fortunate relatives might be slaughtered. But every January 2nd, I’m reminded that life is a gift that I’m grateful for. I try to take nothing for granted, and I tell the younger turkeys I meet to take care of themselves, to value their relationships with friends and family, and to promote eating chicken for the holidays whenever possible. Or tofu.

Tip: Every Day Can Be Thanksgiving 

Happy Thanksgiving to Jack the Turkey, and to all of us survivors. 

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Lessons from My Father(s)

My father Kova Meredith

Today is Father’s Day.

It’s  a time when those who have one remember and (ideally) honor their fathers, those who had one remember their fathers, and those who had none mourn their losses.

In my work with juvenile delinquents, it’s common to talk to kids who’ve never met their fathers. Sometimes, their moms don’t know who or which one he was. Other moms, like mine, deliberately cut contact between the child and father.

Such a shame. Everyone needs a father.

What is a father, exactly? I looked at Dictionary.com today http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/father and found the following:


[fahther]  Show IPA



a male parent.


a father-in-law, stepfather, or adoptive father.


any male ancestor, especially the founder of a racefamily,or lineprogenitor.


a man who exercises paternal care over other persons;paternal protector or provider: a father to the poor.
My first father experience was my mother’s final husband. He appeared in my life when I was two or three years old and didn’t technically leave until I was finishing high school.  I say technically because never fully there. Many years younger than my mother, uneducated, and a hard drinker, this father inflicted a lot of harm. I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean to,  but he couldn’t ever seem to stop himself.  He wasn’t cut out to be a role model, but he did provide financially, and I’m confident he loved me. And because of his greatly negative impact, I made up my mind to never expose my kids to out of control men with good intentions once my marriage collapsed.  So that was good.
When I was twenty, I met my real father, Kova Meredith. He was seventy by then, and didn’t say too much.  But when he did speak, it was worthwhile. “No one has the right to hit another person,” he once told me.  That was a stunning departure from how I’d grown up, and this simple sentence later inspired a lot of change for me. My father wasn’t perfect, but he was transparent and accountable. He was a hard-working, plain-spoken man, happily playing with his kids long before it was chic for fathers to do so. He had to work at being a patient parent because it wasn’t modeled to him by his own dad.  To that end, he was a successful man, and I admired him for it.
Several years later, I met Hank, or Charles Henry Rosenthal. 
Hank Rosenthal
 Then, deep in my twenties and already a single parent, I hadn’t realized truly wonderful life could be.  I met him through his wife. Hank had been a prolific writer and successful oil lobbyist, and I met him just as he was about to retire. There was something about being around him. I felt safe and at peace. Hank was ornery, greeting me regularly with , “Hi, Guy! That extra weight you’ve put on looks great!”  Ouch.
 But he shared more comforting messages, too.  “Never worry,” he’d tell me. “My mother always told me worrying is just borrowing tomorrow’s trouble.”  Or perhaps my favorite, “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut,” which appeared at the top of Anchorage Daily News’ Finance section two years after his death.  Hank had great impact on a lot of people. 

But so do all fathers.

To my daughters, I wish for you a borrowed father like Hank.

To those who haven’t met their fathers, I sure hope you can find yours. 

And to all dads, Happy Father’s Day.

Your importance can never be overestimated.


Finding My Family/ Interview With My Favorite Locator

In late May of 1985, I received the gift of a lifetime when my dear friend, attorney Ira Uhrig, located my biological father. Kova Meredith was living on a farm in rural Kentucky, and had recently rented a home in Louisville. I was twenty. My father was seventy.
 Thanks to Ira, I gained a father, siblings, aunts, and uncles that I’d never known.  Now a judge in Washington, Ira Uhrig tells about the experience that changed our lives, and restored my birth name, changing me from Libby Ponder to Lizbeth Meredith.
Q. How did you become interested in reuniting families?
While in my second year of college, I had the opportunity to hear of an organization that was forming for the purpose of helping adopted parents and children reunite.  They were originally called “Birthright”, but they changed their name when they learned that a pro-life group already used that name.  They became W.A.R.M., for Washington Adoption Reunion Movement.  I knew my roommate and his sister were both adopted, so I convinced him to attend the meetings.  

Within a short while, through the considerable efforts of many people (and I am honored to have played a small role), he was able to locate his father.  When he and his father reunited and I had a chance to spend time with them, I was struck with awe as to how much they were alike – not just in physical resemblance, but in posture, speech, mannerisms, and in every way imaginable, yet they had never had any contact whatsoever or spent one moment of time together before the reunification. I then took it upon myself as a mission of sorts to do whatever I could to help facilitate this type of reunification whenever possible.

What were the first steps back then in finding a missing family member?

Back in the ’70s and ’80’s, it involved a good bit of detective work…numerous phone calls, searching out newspaper articles, mailing letters to possible relatives or even past business contacts.  It sometimes took many months to even come up with a clue.

Of course, things like the WARM Confidential Intermediary System make this all much easier, but I dealt with many cases as an attorney where the adoptee or the parent did not want to use the services of any organization, perhaps because these organizations were still relatively new back then and there was still a large degree of societal opposition to reunifications.  Fortunately, these organizations are much better-known these days there is less hesitance for the parties to seek out their parents or children, and society is recognizing these reunifications as something that can be very important to the birth parent, to the child, and to the adoptive parents as well.

When my friend Libby told me she had been adopted, I asked her if I could help her search for her father.  She had very little information about him …only his name and her city of birth.  Libby was one of my best friends in the world, and I would have done anything for her, so though this seemed a daunting task with so little information, I set out to find her dad, thinking all the while that I might meet with failure, but not accepting failure as an option.

I’d like to say that it was my brilliant investigative techniques that led me to finding Libby’s dad, but it was simply luck and/or divine intervention.  The very first thing I did was to call directory assistance in the town where I expected he might be living (thinking I might find some relatives who could help me), but I was completely surprised to find that he had a listed phone number.  Imagine further the joy I felt when I called that number, spoke to him, and told him that his daughter would like to meet him.  He told me he had been looking for her for 20 years.

Oh…about the divine intervention part, I should add that had I made my call to directory assistance just an hour earlier, I would have come up with nothing, as he just had his phone service connected that day and it was a brand new listing.   In fact, my call was the very first call to that number, and he had assumed it was the phone company calling to see if the phone was working properly.

I have done many reunifications that were far more difficult, but I can tell you that reuniting Libby and her dad was quite probably the most rewarding thing that I have ever done in my life.  To this day I keep in my desk a copy of Libby’s Name Change Order that was entered on June 7, 1985 (exactly 27 years ago to the day as I type this) which allowed her to once again bear her birth name.

First reunion with my father and some of my siblings, June, 1985.

How has technology changed the location process?

In the years that have passed, the Internet makes these type of searches much easier…I suppose that is obvious.  And the  widespread use of the Confidential Intermediary System in my State is a great help as well. 

When I was sworn-in as a Superior Court Judge (coincidentally, in the same courtroom where I got the name change for Libby), I became the Judge in my county who is primarily responsible for all of the Confidential Intermediary requests.  And each time I sign one, I am able to re-live to some extent the joy I shared with my college roommate, with numerous friends and clients, and, most of all, with my friend Libby, in reuniting parent and child — sometimes for the first time ever.

The Honorable Judge Ira Uhrig
The Meredith Family Reunion, June, 2011.


A Mother’s Day Thank You to the ROSE Fund

Mother’s Day last weekend was especially terrific.

My youngest daughter graduated from college in New Mexico the day before, so I was there to spend it with her.  It’s been at least five years since we were together for Mother’s Day, and she went to great lengths to make it special. We agreed it would be more convenient to celebrate in advance of the actual day, when restaurants and the like are over-crowded.

The morning began with coffee. Then pedicures. We got a massage together, followed by an ionic cleanse, and lunch at a Turkish restaurant. Such fun.

On the actual Mother’s Day, we drove to my sister’s gorgeous farm in a nearby town and relaxed with her and her husband. Again, so special.

That night, back at the dorms, I caught up on emails and blog links. I read about the R.O.S.E. Fund’s success in helping Crusita Martinez reconstruct her entire face after a former boyfriend threw battery acid on her face as a punishment for leaving her when she was just 18 years old. Now, seven years later, she is mother to a little girl who understands that her mother’s strength is her beauty.


What a wonderful story of survival.

I’m partial to the R.O.S.E. Fund.  They helped me reconstruct my life, and, as their acronym indicates, they’ve helped scores of survivors in Regaining One’s Self Esteem.

Founded it 1992,  the New England-based  non-profit has directed resources to helping survivors of domestic violence while raising public awareness about the issue. In the 90’s, the R.O.S.E. Fund gave awards to a few nominated women a year, and in 1998, I was one of those lucky few.

At the time, I worked as a domestic violence advocate full-time, but couldn’t afford  medical insurance for my daughters. I hoped to complete a graduate degree in psychology and write a book about my experiences.

Then came the call. I had won a $10,000 R.O.S.E. Award. The girls and I were flown to Boston, where we were presented with the award at a banquet. I gave a talk in front of 500 attendants, including the entire team of the New England Patriots. It was a dream come true.

Thanks to the award, I finished my degree in psychology, which allowed me to get a job that provided medical benefits for my daughters. That allowed me to give up my paper route and focus on writing. Which allowed me to complete my book.

Today, the R.O.S.E. Fund focuses on helping victims of domestic violence who need reconstructive surgery,    and assists educators with tools they can use in high schools to prevent and/or address teen dating violence.

To me, their gift was enough to give me a leg up without promoting any kind of dependency upon them.

Thanks to the R.O.S.E. Fund, I had the courage to chase a dream. And watching that transformation  helped my daughters chase theirs.

Would you like more information on how you can help?  Feel free to peruse the link below.


Happy Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to all.


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.

Holiday Joy

This holiday season passed by much better than I’d ever hoped.
Every year since I can remember, I’ve dreaded the holidays. By October, I’m praying I could wake up and it be January 2nd. Forget Halloween, Thanksgiving. Really forget Christmas, and skip the Happy New Year. Please.
But at the end of 2011, not only was I looking forward to traveling to Vietnam and Laos, I was in the thick of planning an in-service for some of the kids at the youth detention center I work at who would be spending their own holidays in custody.
Some of them come from loving families with rich traditions. Most do not.
On any given day in our detention center, we house juveniles who are orphaned, abused, and/or neglected. A good percentage of them don’t know who their father is, or haven’t seen him for years.
So getting some local artists to give workshops to motivate our detained kids and teach them a new skill seemed like an easy way to make a positive difference in their lives, and remind them that one day they would be released to a community that cared. After meeting with detention staff, we titled mini-conference for kids Bring the Outside In.
Did I say it would be easy? Not so much.
It turns out, a lot of people are busy or traveling on holidays. Who knew? So although I know many talented writers, artists, and musicians, it looked as though my hope would never materialize due to scheduling challenges.
But in the end, several amazing and generous volunteers came forward. Restaurateur Barry Yabyabin from KLT Diner showed the kids how to cook a healthy and inexpensive Filipino dish, pancit. My dear friend and comic genius Lee Post taught drawing. Amber Rose and her assistant Anne Freitag led the kids in Scottish Country Dancing. And Trey Josey and Kima Hamilton from Brave New Alaskan Voices mesmerized the kids with the art of the spoken word.
The kids were thrilled. But what I loved most was watching the volunteers, tentative at the beginning of their workshops, get energized teaching the kids a skill that might very well contribute to the staff’s rehabilitative efforts.
We all have some gift to offer the people around us. The trick is finding it and connecting it with the person(s) who need it.
Christmas of 2010 helped me turn a corner. Gifts versus presents. Memories versus madness.
I’m already planning Christmas of 2012.
Much appreciation to the volunteers.