What did I realize in the course of my searches? These seven things among many others:

First, That it’s possible to change the present outcome of past sorrows in my case the traumas of war, family feuds and mental illness. Delving into and coming to understand the inter-generational effects of these trauma for Mother, for the family and for myself has made me more accepting and free of the tensions of family secrets and prohibitions.  I am no longer a girl looking for her father; I know who I came from  and I have a more accurate sense of who I am.  Finding Mother’s sisters has given me a greater feeling of belonging than I’ve ever known.  This is intergenerational healing -true for for my children and their children as well as for myself.

Second, You don’t have to see someone to know them. In fact, you can know them in ways you might not if you had known them in person. The unseen, invisible connections count; at certain times I felt as if my father was helping me find him. The heart knows things the head doesn’t.

Third, Perceptions may seem true but are simply the result of learning and conditioning.  They are one person’s or society’s attempt to feel safe, to heal, or to make sense of something and they may not be true for another person and may be harmful. I had to question many of the perceptions I’d grown up with before I could open the silence. There are many ways to cover up pain. I was told to “avoid pain, be happy and don’t upset anyone.” When I opened the silence I too felt pain, but it was healing like a bone that aches as it mends. Slowly, what was hidden became full of life and meaning and connection.

Fourth, Being completely present allows space for love to grow. With Mother’s older sister, Elinor, abandoned to state institutions for 72 years, I could have easily brought guilt and sorrow into our time together and that would have affected and likely blocked our relationship. I wanted her to feel loved and accepted so I chose to be as open to her as I could be and our relationship was filled with ease and affection and humor rather than fraught with tension and worry.

Fifth, Finding the missing has shown me that I inherited unfinished parts of Mother’s life.  Looking back I now see that many of my life choices and actions came from an unconscious awareness of and the need to face into the troubles Mother wasn’t able to solve.

Sixth, often in the course of my searches what I’d imagined would be difficult turned out to be healing.  What struck me over and over and was stronger than the painful emotions were the moments of deep connection all along the way; when I saw tears in the eyes of the men who had served with my father and they told me stories about him, when I saw the bright eagerness in my mother’s eyes as she welcomed me back into the family, when I visited Elinor for the first time and rather than rejecting a member of the family who had abandoned her, she placed her warm hand on top of mine.

Seventh, The most surprising and encouraging thing I discovered is that what I was actually looking for in addition to all the missing people was the love that had been lost with the cut-offs.  I’ve learned that love still exists underneath all the hurts and tragedies and disappointments and can continue to grow even after death.