An important dream
Early on a Saturday morning in January of 2012, I abruptly awoke from an intense and vivid dream. In the dream my mother was showing me my father’s will. My father had passed away nearly 18 years earlier, so it was an odd dream to have at that time. My mother was trying to keep my attention on the top part of the will, but I had noticed that further down the page was a name I didn’t know: Lorie – spelled L-O-R-I-E. My name is Laura, and I have never been called Laurie, always Laura. And certainly, even if I was nicknamed Laurie, it wouldn’t have been spelled that way given that my name is spelled L-A-U-R-A.
The thought instantly came to me that my father had another family. My mother trying to keep my attention away from that part of the will, told me it was a secret. I immediately got up and went to the computer to search on Ancestry.com.
Some background: my father was 15 years older than my mother, and nearly 35 when they married. Given his age at the time he married my mother, there had been occasional questions by extended relations and friends as to whether he had been married before, and the answer was always “no.” However, somehow in the back of my mind, I had always continued to wonder.
Additionally, I worked with someone about 10 years earlier who had discovered when she was in her 40’s that her mother had a child she had given up for adoption before marrying my co-worker’s father. After hearing her story, I always had this feeling that I had an older half-sibling. Just a feeling. No evidence or proof. But still the feeling had remained.
Discovering my father’s first family
Within an hour of beginning my search on Ancestry.com, I found my father married to a woman who was not my mother on someone else’s family tree. I wasn’t shocked, because it confirmed something I had already known at some level. I then tried to discover if they had had any children but did not find any evidence.
Part of the problem is that census results are not released until 70 years after they are taken to protect the privacy of people who are still living. The 1940 census was the latest that was available and given that my father had married his first wife late in 1937, it was quite possible any children would not have been born before 1940.
My father’s first wife’s name was Lois, which could have been distorted as Lorie in my dream, but I felt sure that there was a child from that marriage, named Lorie, who was my sibling.
After exhausting my online search options, I called my father’s sister, my Aunt Nancy. My father was born and raised in Oklahoma and had 8 brothers and sisters. He left Oklahoma in the early 40’s, and had eventually settled in the Seattle area, after marrying my mother in Kodiak, Alaska in 1949. Our family had never visited our Oklahoma relatives, and so I had met few of my aunts and uncles. My Aunt Nancy, however, had moved to Tacoma in 1967, so I knew her rather well. I was born on her 30th birthday, so we had that special bond, too.
I began the conversation with my aunt with, “I was searching online and found that my dad was married to someone else before my mother.” She said, “Oh Lord. I don’t know if your mother even knows.”
Do I have a sister?
She told me the story of how my father left Oklahoma abruptly in 1942 or 1943 without any sort of farewell, and that the family didn’t hear from him again for 20 years. I asked her if my father and his first wife had any children, and she said, “No.” But I didn’t believe her. I knew in my heart that I had a half-sister. Somehow, I knew it was a sister, not a brother. I suppose, the same way I knew that she even existed.
Given that the marriage was this big secret, it wasn’t too far-fetched that a child would be a secret as well. Additionally, my Aunt Nancy would have only been 10 when my father married, and they lived in another part of the state, so it was possible that she wouldn’t know of a child, especially if the child had been stillborn or died as a baby.
I wasn’t sure what to do next. I didn’t want to talk to my mother about it, given that she might not even know my father had been married before. I decided to consult a woman I met at a business marketing function, who was a psychic and medium.
She told me that there had been a child that was born with severe birth defects and institutionalized. It made sense that my Aunt Nancy might not know this. The psychic also told me that this situation is what broke up my father’s marriage. That also fit with what I knew about him leaving Oklahoma abruptly, and for a reason no one seemed to know.
But I still wanted definitive proof. I looked for institutions in the Tulsa area, where my father last lived, and found nothing.
Connecting with family
In the meantime, I had connected with some of my Oklahoma cousins on Facebook in the preceding years, and in the spring my cousin Joyce contacted me. She told me she had come across some pictures of our fathers (her father, Tom, was my father’s brother), and wondered if I would like copies. I emphatically responded with, “Yes!”
It took several months for her to get the copies of the pictures to me, and in July I received a packet in the mail. She had identified who all the people in the pictures were, and to my surprise there were photos of my father and Lois! I had not discussed my discovery of my father’s first marriage with Joyce, so she didn’t know I had only recently learned of it. I guess 2012 was when I was meant to find out about this marriage – whether through a dream or through these photos shared by my cousin.
It turns out my Uncle Tom, Joyce’s father, was married to Lois’ cousin at the same time my father was married to Lois. Tom and his first wife had no children and soon divorced. Obviously, these two marriages were no secret in the family, since Joyce knew all about them. So why was my dad’s marriage a secret in our family?
The photos prompted me to search again on Ancestry.com, and I found a woman who was searching for anyone who knew my father. I contacted her, and it turned out she was Lois’ granddaughter through her second marriage. I was so excited! Here was a direct connection who could tell me about my half-sister! She shared what she knew of Lois’ marriage to my father but was unaware of any children from the marriage. Her mother, Lois’ daughter from her second marriage, was mentally ill, and it was impossible for her to communicate clearly, so she would not be a source of information for me. I had reached another dead end.
More unconventional evidence of my sister
In November I spent a month in Edinburgh, Scotland, and became friends with a Scottish woman who was a psychic and medium. Without giving her any information other than that my father had been married prior to marrying my mother, I decided to ask her if there were any children from that marriage. She told me a very similar story to the one the psychic I had first contacted told me, about a child – a girl – born with severe birth defects and institutionalized. Although I had no proof that would stand up in a court of law, hearing the same story again gave me the certain knowledge that I did have a sister, and that my feeling had been correct. I also feel certain that her name was Lorie.
So why was 2012 the time I was meant to learn of my father’s first family? I don’t know the answer to that for sure, but I can say that it set me on a path of growth in several ways. Maybe I was just ready to do the work that it led me to do.
First, I had to process the anger that I felt. I was angry that the secret kept me from knowing my aunts and uncles and cousins in Oklahoma. I had a huge extended family that I had never met because (I imagine) my father was afraid his secret would be exposed.
I also had to deal with a shift in my perception of who my father was. My father was a wonderful dad to me and my (full) sister. A model of unconditional love. How could such a man abandon his child? This was not the father I adored.
Finally – and I think this is the primary reason for my discovery at that particular time – the timing was such that I was ready to help my father. In early 2013 I began doing some work with an energy healer. My focus was not related to my father directly, yet he kept appearing. It turns out that he was so ashamed and full of self-recrimination, that he had not moved on from this world. With the guidance of the energy healer, I quit judging him and let go of my anger and resentment towards him. Together we were able to help him to let go of his own fear and self-judgement and finally complete his transition.
A visit from my father
A few months later I was at Sunrise on Mount Rainier – a favorite place of my father’s. I have wonderful memories of Sunrise from my childhood, and as an adult have made a yearly pilgrimage there. It was the day before the 19th anniversary of my father’s death, although I didn’t realize that until later. I had gone for a short hike and was returning to the lodge. There was a spot along the trail with a magical, up-close view of the mountain. I stopped and stood taking it in. I felt intense gratitude for all my father had given me, including this connection to Mount Rainier, and began to speak out loud to him, thanking him.
The trail ran along the steep side of a mountain. I heard a rustling below me and stopped speaking to better hear. I heard some noises like wood breaking, such as when you step on a log and part of it breaks off. I stood still for a few moments and listened, then looked where I heard the sound come from and saw a flash of brown in a small group of evergreen trees: it was a black bear.
He was about 50 yards down the hill from where I was standing. He ambled along the meadow and didn’t pay a bit of attention to me, although he had been close enough that I‘m sure he must have heard me when I was talking out loud.
I knew almost immediately that this was a message from my dad. He had heard me and was thanking me in return, letting me know that he was with me in spirit at this place where we had spent so much time together, and that meant so much to both of us.