Beginning the End of a Journey By Terri Lee
Within a week, I missed the pan, breaking an egg on the stove! Made multiple email mistakes I had to correct. Then broke 2 of my favorite ceramic Genie Swanstrom mugs! Nutty things happen when your life changes forever!
Beginning the End of a Journey
Journey Indeed... Part 1
Since my mom was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2014 and passed away in 2015, I've ridden a roller coaster of emotions, activity and unpacking, not only of her physical things, but much of my past. The last 6 months have held a particular swell of intensity. I've shared before the decision she made in 1962 to give me life and make life possible for that of my children and generations to come, during a time when being an unwed pregnant women held shame and judgment. What you may not know is that she never told my dad about me! For 55 years, I've been unknown to my earthly dad. This Christmas my life and family changed forever and my hope in sharing is that my story bring hope that it's never too late to act, there's a way of healing whether or not all our unknowns are resolved and that you, your identity and your story matter. To give it context and I'll be sharing in parts over this week.
Hawaiian Surprise... Part 2
Upon returning home from 2 years of living in Hawaii, my mom found herself pregnant. Due to the loose fit of Hawaiian muu muu's, she was able to "hide" her pregnancy until shortly before I was born. Like about a week before I was born!
Living with her and my grandparents gave me a stable and loving home. I had unending love, support, encouragement and opportunities that I'm so very grateful for. However, growing up without a dad was not normal in the 60's. The feeling inside of being an oddity, like a fish out of water, wondering if I measured up...being different, became my normal. My sweet grandpa, Jesse, took me to the Father-Daughter dinners, he let me work with him in carpentry and gardening in our backyard. He did all he knew how to do to be there for me, as did my grandma. Still, I'd struggle inside with my identity and belonging. Convinced for awhile, I must have been adopted as I didn't think I looked like any of my family, I became angry at my mom for not telling me the truth, or so I thought. Insecurity, doubt and fear, all rattled beneath the surface of my thoughts, yet I pressed on, kept busy, performed well and sought to control my life and sometimes that of others in grasping for normalcy, figuring out who I was and truth.
The void of having real relationship with my dad certainly impacted me in ways that I'm still discovering today. It gave me some interesting challenges in marriage as well! Yet, even when it was hard to see hope ahead it would always rise again, even among the ashes. Psalm 68:5 about God being a "father to the fatherless" has often been a comfort to me. Despite my doubt and fear, I knew somewhere deep inside, I wasn't alone, abandoned or without a father that loved me, God loved me. I may not have been known by my earthly dad, but I was always known by my heavenly dad.
Should I or Shouldn't I? Part 3
In high school, despite my shy personality (Yes, I was shy!! I used to hide in my room when we had company, even family!) I did finally get the courage to ask about my dad. My mom's answers were short and dispersed over periods of time, I mean like over 30-35 years of time! Her answers, "He was Hawaiian." "I didn't know I was pregnant till I came home but if I'd known I would have stayed in Hawai'i with him." "He was a good man." "Lil introduced us (her friend from Hawaii)." "We lived in the same apartment complex." "I didn't tell him I was pregnant because I didn't want to hold him back in the Navy." "Lil told me he married and had several kids." That's the sum of what I've known about him.
After one of our first conversations in high school she gave me his sailor hat and told me his name was Joseph Alonzo. "J Alonzo" was stamped on his hat with a number. No Google in the 70's! The dream of actually finding him always simmered in the depths of my heart, but to actually be able to search for him seemed impossible, time consuming beyond belief while raising a family, a betrayal of my mom's decision not to tell him and frankly, a little scary, well, a lot scary! Besides, I thought, "I don't really need to find him. I'm ok. I've been blessed with a wonderful family, opportunity and love." If I did find him, what would I say, what would he say, what would he be like, what would his family say?! These things don't always turn out so well." There were too many unknowns and too much risk for me. Any thought of really searching ended quickly. This was totally uncharted territory for one who had built a cocoon to keep hope safe and secure without risk. Plus, once there was Google, nothing promising ever came up...I was in my 40's at this point!
2016 near the end of October my mom passed away. Despite her bout with Parkinson's she was pretty healthy so it was a very sad shock. We spent a couple different weeks in November sorting and moving her things into storage near our house. Near the end of our time in Nevada I found in a file cabinet, menus and cocktail napkins from Honolulu, letters from Lil, her plane ticket home in February of 1962 and more miscellaneous items that appeared to be related to Hawaii. We were trying to stay ahead of the winter snow in Eureka, Nevada so I couldn't look through everything. I did, however, put all those items in a big bag and stuffed it in an old black metal trunk of my grandparents. I latched the sides as there was no key and thankfully, the middle latch couldn't be locked, or so we thought! It went at the bottom of one of the 3 storage units we ended up with. Early 2016 we'd been planning to sell our home and downsize with little time to sort through more. March 2016 we listed our home for sale, May we closed and moved 2 times to rentals until we finally made it into our 2 bedroom home November 1st! Yes, only 2 bedrooms but in a beautiful 55+ community called Eastmark. Let's say, "Simplify" has been our word the last couple years.
For Christmas 2016, Breana gave me a DNA Test. Months later the results showed up...East Asian: Philippines and Guam-29%, Scandinavian-17%, Polynesian-16% and Europoean-15%. Closest relative was a 2nd cousin on my mom's side, nothing on my dad's. That spring, I finally located Lil, my mom's Hawaiian friend, only to discover that she'd passed away 2 months before my mom in Las Vegas. To think all the drives my mom and I had done through Vegas the last 2 years and Lil was right there. I grieved more over her passing and for letting my mom down in finding her. I knew she longed to reconnect with her for years. She was also the last possible person to know anything about my dad and their story, outside of my dad, of course.
After a few months we were able to empty our storage units into our garage. At last, I could go through the black trunk. The time came and I braced myself, it was like I was opening this unknown part of my mom and therefore my life. Ed pulled it out and gave me the news...the middle latch had so much weight on it in the U-Haul, it had LOCKED! We searched out and tried every key we could find! No luck. I know you're thinking...WHY didn't I get a locksmith right away??? I wonder that too, but I was still working, settling, doing life and family and a little hesitant. To the back burner it went. Once summer came and after multitude of attempts to unlock that trunk, which by now I'm beginning to despise, I asked Ed to take it to a locksmith. He and Austin came in rather quickly from the garage and said, "We picked it up to load it in the car and it UNLATCHED!!! We have no explanation!!
Days later (I know, I know...), I held in my hand a tiny pink card, sent to my mom in April 1968 announcing the birth of a baby girl from, Joe Alonzo! Time stood still as I stared at his name and the return address of a Naval Base in the Philippines. Could it really be from him? There was his name in his own handwriting. Maybe she knew another Joe Alonzo?! This was the first correspondence I'd ever seen from him. Excitement seemed like the appropriate response yet, unbelief, tears, shock...he actually did exist...could he still be alive...I have a sister??!!
Time to pull out the stops! Part 5
Breathe Terri... Through how many episodes of our life do we wander, in a bit of a daze unable to see a way out, a way forward, grasping for a foothold or rock to pull ourselves up and out? A seemingly impossible situation before us then piercing through the darkness there is light, spreading ever so gently like rays breaking through the clouds in the dark skies before us. Or in moments like the power of a sunrise, the serenity of a sunset...it appears, a key... a revelation into your situation, others or yourself! Eyes are opened to a place of frailty in your thinking, in your humanity, you couldn't see or face before. All of the above have been true for me in this journey. But then maybe, a piece of information comes to light, that changes everything! That's what the petite pink, 49 year old birth announcement was for me. Illumination, a wake up call, movement forward, but to what, where, how and who? Suddenly, this turned from the hope of a dream to a compass guiding me toward a pathway home.
Although her name with her birth date was unique, tracking down how to contact a person, isn't all that easy. A lot of resources cost money and it's hard to know what's legit and the White Pages, well, they aren't what they used to be! Somehow, my first words to my sister being, "I Facebook stalked you," just didn't seem the best way to reach out! LOL I soon began to feel as Alice did when flying down the rabbit hole. Hours inputting what I had, searching for threads, looking at her photo to see if there was a resemblance and any connection to Joseph Alonzo. To this point, I hadn't yet talked with anyone that could fully understand what it must be like to actually not know who their dad was and thus not know parts of who they are. I've been blessed with a wonderful family and some amazing and dear friends that have listened, prayed for me and cheered me on. Yet, I felt broken, at times lonely beyond belief. Loneliness as an only child, you become accustomed to, in fact, you embrace it to degrees others can't comprehend. I've often drawn life from being alone, but this, this was different. The belief that no one can possibly relate to the craziness in my head, my heart, it was overwhelming. I could not proceed without someone else 's input that had walked this journey before.
It was time to pull out all the stops! I was making myself crazy not knowing if what I was finding was accurate or where to go with it and how in the world to process it. I prayed a lot and vacillated frequently in what I'd do if I could actually make a connection. What approach, what story would make up THE conversation? Over the next several months I contacted several friends. One had found her birth parents and at last I knew someone else really understood the fear, anxiety, intensity and emotion that consumed me. Amy did that for me.
I thought of my friend Eula that had ancestry experience and Kim that might know some genealogists, even Jeff who had grown up in Hawaii. They not only helped me unpack the excitement but also the worries of what may lie ahead. I'm serious here, it is so RISKY to put yourself out there with people you don't know and don't know you or your motives! I certainly wasn't eager to sign up for rejection, who is? I'd dealt with not feeling like I was enough for most of my life, still do at times, this sounded like a recipe for disaster. Yet, oh my goodness, the very real possibilities, I could almost taste them. Those won out!!
Lots of long chats live and over email and Facebook filled the times I could carve out. I'm eternally grateful for them sharing their own journey's, connecting me to others that would help, explaining DNA (whew, I don't know the half of that yet), and listening as I sorted out what to do next and how to approach my dad once finding him. We looked at census reports, military yearbooks, I learned how to upload raw DNA to other sites, sift through "matches" and find past addresses and numbers. Walking a tightrope has never been on my bucket list yet there I was, with a lot of information yet unable to walk the rope and make the calls.Late November it hit me, 2017 is coming to a close! I've been at this more seriously for almost a year! Make the calls, Terri!! I started with every number I found for Joseph. Wrong numbers, disconnected lines, a man that had never heard of the Alonzo Family. My notes were a mess! Each time I had to gather another dose of huge emotional gumption and prepare myself for the worst. Push the buttons...breathe...NOTHING! Next, I tried another potential sister, disconnected, wrong numbers, she doesn't work here anymore, blah, blah, blah. I let it go for a couple weeks, it was almost Christmas and perhaps I needed to buy some gifts or maybe even decorate!
For some reason, in the messiness of my notes, the holidays and who knows what, I thought I'd tried the numbers for my sister on the baby announcement. It's a week before Christmas and I realized I hadn't called her numbers or I had hesitated, I don't remember which. So I hit more buttons...disconnected, wrong number then 2 seemingly active numbers with computer generated messages. Beep... Hang up! My speech was for a real person not a message!! Day before Christmas Eve, as the afternoon waned, I talked myself into calling again! It's another message. I left the same basic message on both, "Hi, my name's Terri Lee and I'm trying to reach Brigitte Janice Alonzo. I think you might be the daughter of Joseph Alonzo? He actually knew my mom when she lived in Hawaii in the early 60's. I'm trying to locate friends of hers to find out more about her life there. If you could give me a call, even if I have a wrong number, and let me know, I'd really appreciate it. Thank you." DONE! WAIT!
Talk about anxiety, lurking beneath like a pot of water threatening to boil over but never fully reaching top. I prayed, wrapped gifts, prayed, cleaned, prayed, cooked, prayed, wrapped more gifts! Hawaii is 3 hours behind us. It's 11 pm Arizona time, 8 pm Hawaii time. Surely she'd be home by now. If she doesn't call today it will be Christmas Eve tomorrow and who's gonna call me back then?! Pray, wrap more gifts, pray, sleep for goodness sakes!
A restless night...deep sleep comes reluctantly in the wee hours of the morning. Jarred from a dream, it's almost 9 am Christmas Eve! I drag myself out of bed, start moving at a leisurely pace, beginning to think about breakfast, definitely need green tea!
Out of the silence the phone sings, it's my phone...it's an (808) number! I take a breath, "Hello?" A young man's voice on the other end asks for Terri Lee. "Yes, That's me."
"Hi, my name's Brendon and you called my mom. My mom's been real busy with getting ready for Christmas and wanted me to call you back." "I hear you're trying to reach my grandpa?"
My mind is racing, thoughts are exploding, he does exist, he's speaking of him in present tense, or is he? I relate a short version of why I'm calling.
"So, you're grandpa is alive?" Ugh, really Terri? How awkward! But Brendon doesn't seem phased.
"Yeah, He's actually been pretty ill though and just got out of the hospital last week. He's got some dementia, too."
More mixed emotions, anxiety, fear...I'm not sure what to think or feel. "Brendon, I'm really sorry to hear your grandpa has been so ill." Brendon says, "Thank you." "I'll check with my mom and Uncle Harold, my grandpa's brother, and see if he remembers your mom. What's her name again?" "Nancee Scott."
"Ok, my mom will call you back when she can." I try to sound positive and not worried although desperation is on the edge of my voice. Will they really call me back? "Ok, sounds good, thank you Brendon, I'll look forward to hearing back from her." We say good-bye. I'm flabbergasted, he's alive but really sick, Dementia, oh no, but maybe he'll remember...MORE WAITING!
My pre-occupation with Christmas helped quell the anxiety and the depression that resided underneath...I don't think it shows, too much! Christmas comes and goes. It's December 26th, my phone rings in the morning again. It's the same (808) number!
"Hello?" I answer. It's a woman on the other end! "Hi, is this Mrs. Lee?"
"Yes, I'm Terri Lee" "This is Brigitte Alonzo, you'd called the other day and my son returned your call."
"Oh yes, how are you Brigitte?" "Well, I called my mom to ask if she knew your mom and she had no idea at all. But she met my dad in San Francisco." "So Terri, I called my Uncle Harold, and he remembers your mom."
"As soon as I said her name he said, 'O00hhh!' He said she was a lieutenant for medical in the military. Is that right? "
"Hmm, I don't think she was in the military. My understanding is that they all lived in the same apartment complex.
She says, "Well, even though my uncle probably got it wrong, as soon as I said her name, he knew it and said he could tell you more." I just need to ask, "Are you possibly looking for your biological father?" WHAT?? Breathe, don't sound crazy...Settle... "I Am. I was going to be frank when I talked to you but uncomfortable with sharing that with your son."
She starts to interrupt..."Well..." I interrupt, "Do you, do you already know that?"
Brigitte continues, "As soon as heard your message something told me she's my older sister!"
Oh my gosh, breathe, breathe. As she starts to talk more I hear the welling up of tears, that long breath you take when you're about to cry, undeniable. I'm doing the same thing!
She says, "I'm sorry, I'm going to cry." I say, "So am I!" "When I talked to my uncle and his first response was Ooohhh, yeah I know her, then I asked, were they an item? And he didn't want to answer." I knew." Now the tears are flowing for both of us.
Brigitte continues, "I'm so sorry, Terri, I don't think my dad knew about you because if he did, he would have stayed in contact with you, I'm so sorry."
"Oh no, don't be sorry, I've found you, I've found him!"
For the next hour and a half we laugh, cry and share our stories. They live just outside of Hilo, HI in the Puna District. She tells me all kinds of things about my dad's service in the Navy, that he made Chief Petty Officer, he's the oldest of 7 children, always took care of and felt responsible for his brothers and sisters. He just turned 80 years old on Christmas Eve. Dad was married three times. To Brigitte's mom, then a lady named, Paula. They had my bother, Ezekiel and twin sisters, Iris and Elizabeth! Zeke lives with my dad down the street and takes care of him. Iris and Elizabeth live in Washington State. He got married once more for a short time. She reiterated several times that he would have gotten to know me, loved me and been there for you if he'd known. He's a very giving person, helping out anyone that needs it.
She tells me about his Diabetes and how it runs in the family, his heart attacks and recent stay in the hospital. Now I know why I'm always borderline diabetic no matter how well I seem to eat! Near the end I find out that Uncle Harold will be coming to the island in a couple days. She'll talk to him more and he'll talk to my dad about my mom and I. She'll let Zeke know, too. I say good-bye to my sister, Brigitte. She'll keep me posted and Uncle Harold may call me. I'm no longer an only child! I've got 3 sisters and a brother! But my dad is really ill. From inexplicable joy to sadness and regret that I didn't make the phone calls sooner. But I've found him and my family! Surreal. Not sure what to do next or what to say. I'm undone.
Wednesday? Those next two days seemed like a lifetime away! I talked to MY SISTER! Wow! She was so kind and welcoming. In fact, when she called her mom to ask about me, her mom said to tell me "Welcome to the family!" I pondered over pieces of our conversation. Did she say she had Brendon look me up online? Oh yeah, and they think I look like Aunt Betty, my dad's younger sister. Yep, you're an Alonzo! In a Facebook message Brendon told me, "I figured you were my Aunty honestly, after I saw your picture." I've never really looked a lot like anyone except my kids and then, they did get lighter and lighter in coloring! LOL Occasionally, when someone could look past the differences in our skin and hair color, they could see my mom in me and I agree.
For me it begged the question, does it matter if I look like someone? Did it matter growing up? Teasing over my slanted eyes or skin color was rare but once is enough to plant a tiny seed of doubt that there must be something wrong with me. With no one that shared my obvious physical traits, I felt alone and certain I never divulged those experiences or feelings to my family. I silently struggled, denied and buried the insecurities. Ha, like that's possible! Approaching mid-life and the impeding empty nest, in my 40's through counseling, I uncovered my belief that I had been a burden to my family. I was unexpected and unplanned in the very beginnings of young adulthood for my mom (she was 24 when I was born), my grandparent's were in their mid 40's and empty nester's prior to my mom's return home. My grandpa had worked as a carpenter and was nearing retirement before I was 10! All of their lives were radically altered when I was born. Both my mom and grandpa succumbed to trying to deal with their sorrows and regrets, in what they drank. We didn't talk much at home, not deeply, authentically. No place to unpack the sometimes harshness of life. As I sat in the acknowledgment of what impact my life had with each of them, my need to be "OK" popped out larger and louder than life. Could this underlying insecurity have been a catalyst for my need to always be right, to run the ongoing performance track and to control my life and that of those around me? Absolutely!
Etched in memory forever is the counseling and prayer session with my friend, Nancy, where I heard from the Lord in my heart and mind, words of freedom that reverberated like a sledgehammer pounding apart the ball and chains of my soul. They resound to this day and every day I question my identity or my worth. In the midst of facing some of the deep pain of this impact my life had on my mom and grandparents, this is what I heard, "Terri, you weren't the downfall or destruction of your family, you didn't ruin their lives. You actually rescued them from themselves. Your birth and life gave them hope...purpose...someone to sacrifice and live for. They saw My beauty in you." The words my mom first said when I thanked her for choosing to give me life came next, "You had to be." It was true. I sat in that awhile. The power of truth, not just the hearing it but a profound knowing of it can break the years a lie has embedded your heart, mind, spirit and thinking!
I was freed that day in a way that has significantly changed my life and relationships. I've continued seeking to find my identity in who I am, as a woman, uniquely and masterfully created by God. My worth...found in simply being, not in what I do or how I perform. More of the time, I trust in the extravagant love that's been lavished upon me when I'm questioning my life, decisions, my mistakes. I believe that all my experiences and struggles are not wasted. In the midst of them I can draw closer to God, to others and to the purpose I walk in daily. When we know who we are, how we've been made, it's revolutionary to the negativity and the lies that surround us each day in this world.
How those of us unplanned, unexpected and perhaps even unwanted can have purpose and meaning is a mystery and then, it's not. No matter what our story is, we all end up scarred and wounded but are not without hope and meaning.
"For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well"
So, does it really matter? Resembling someone, anyone, having identity with your tribe of people...I love what my brother told me, "Here in Hawaii the concept of family, or 'Ohana' has never really been defined by blood but by the community an individual forms around himself. In the past few weeks so many people of this family have come to see dad that it has reminded me how many aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters that I have come to consider family. Regardless of the test results, your mom was a friend of my father's and that makes her and you family to both of us and the many others who make up dads true family."
Here's photos of my tribes. Side note: I can barely find a photo of the 4 us while I was growing up. There's a few later - at our wedding! Don't forget to take those photos, too soon the years pass.
Two days never seemed longer. December 28th finally arrived and a three hour time difference is killer when waiting for the call! Late afternoon a new (808) call came through and it was Ezekiel! He'd heard from Uncle Harold that I was his sister that none of them knew about. He didn't waste anytime. "My, our dad is here and he's not doing so good. He just turned 80 on Christmas Eve. I'm a little surprised to hear about you, where are you now, are you still in Hawai'i?" I shared a little about my story and that my brother-in-law has lived in Kona for about 28 years so although we've visited I've never lived there.
"Ok, well, would you like to talk to him?"
"Yes that would be great, thank you!" Uh...I'm on the phone with my BROTHER about to talk to my dad? What do I even say? Ezekiel added, "He's got some dementia but my Uncle Harold explained it to him."
Breathe some more...
Envision this, my dad at 80 just out of the hospital, his younger brother Harold of 2 years and their cousin Tony... all shootin' the breeze "talkin' story" around my dad's bed. I'm next up, on speaker, the moment of a lifetime, not knowing if I'll ever get to see him face to face. Is this real?? I'm usually not at a loss for words, but he's got me here. Zeke says, "Hey Dad, this is Terri Lee, you're lost daughter. My daughter? Yes, her mom never told you about her." She's the one Harold told you about.
I say, "Hi Joseph, this is Terri. It's good to talk to you.
My Dad says, "Hi" I say, "Hi Joseph." :)
"I guess you know my mom, Nancee Scott?"
There's some talking in the background as he tries to explain. "Oh, He doesn't remember her. He says he has dementia."
He sounds so sweet and gentle though. I'm at another loss for words. My hope of finding my dad is here, I'm talking to him, yet the dream of knowing their story, my story, is gone, lost to dementia.
Yet, the next 40 minutes we all talk. They ask about me and my family, where I grew up and where I live. Turns out, Tony used to live in Mesa and his daughter is still here! Zeke shares about "our family." I learn more of my twin sisters and their life growing up in Hawaii. Every attempt is made to discern the connection of my mom's friend Lil, to my Dad. Theory is that Lil's brother probably fished with Dad in Honolulu and that's how they met. Harold says they knew a lot of Kalelo's (Lil's maiden name). My dad was a Throw net fisherman, one of the few that still know how to repair them. Our grandpa came from the Philippines to work in the sugar cane fields. Aunt Penny and Uncle Roy still live in Hilo, Aunt Betty is in Vancouver and Uncle Harold is on Kauai. Everyone was welcoming and friendly, sharing their lives and history, wanting to tell me more of My History!
Zeke says, "I wish you'd gotten to meet him even a month ago, before this last time in the hospital. He was a good dad and if he'd known about you he would have welcomed you and your family with open arms." First, from Brigitte, now the same story of the type of man he is from Zeke. My dad would have loved me, no questions asked. Peace settles over my heart. I try to get out some words of gratefulness for him, this opportunity to meet him...not even sure what I blubbered out tearfully. Nor do I know if he could even hear well enough or understand. The phrase, "Do you have any last words" came to mind, my chance to say whatever I could think of to express my love for him without ever knowing him. Still breathing. Pause. I apologize. Zeke says, "It's ok, you've got a lot going on here. No worries."
In closing, I learn even more about my dad's health, eating lots of wild pork most of his life :) Darn, I do love pork! His onset of diabetes was 10 years ago. How two of his brothers and one sister whom have already passed, suffered and died due to diabetes and its complications. He's had several heart attacks and is permanently on oxygen. He's getting worse to the point of family and friends being called to come see him while they can. I'd like to come meet him in person, not sure that I can but..."So, if I came that would be ok with you?" My thoughts are racing again, Ed and I hadn't even considered the possibility. The doubts of ever getting to talk to him ruled until 40 minutes ago! "Yeah, the gates open and anyone can come." I learned later that the gates are usually closed because of Zeke's dog but she's staying at his mom's so anyone can come visit. I say goodbye and that I'd let him know if I can come. What just happened? That was my dad on the other line. I must be living another person's life.
The next few days are a blur. Even though I'm starting to battle a cold, I'm shooting a parade in a couple days, Ed's vacation ends January 1st and our "To Do" list is a mile long. I get off the phone and after some discussion there's no question, we have to go!!
Searching for tickets to Hawaii 4 days before leaving! Let's say big dollar signs. Gotta call Ed's brother Kraig, do they have room for us? What about the Hilo side, where my family is, not a hop, skip and a jump from Kona! Ok, Miriam and Jeff live near Hilo, we think. We've got the miles to fly just have to finagle when the flights are available. Hours later, we've got tickets for New Year's Eve! Kraig and Leslie's cottage home is now occupied by her dad but their next door neighbor is gone next week and we can stay there with our niece Sarah, that's house sitting. Miriam and Jeff are more than welcoming to stay with them while visiting My Family! Now I've got to get well and not let this take hold. Stress doesn't usually help healing! And neither does last minute packing for a life altering trip!!
Despite the intense stress for the next 4 days we do make the super early flight and hop a plane New Year's Eve to the big island of Hawai'i to meet my dad! On a plane...still dreaming! We fly through Honolulu first. I gaze down at Pearl. That's where my dad served when he knew my mom. This is where I began. Whatever their story, this is the island where it all took place. The two other times I've flown into Honolulu it felt like it was mine, a part of me, their place, my place. Now, I knew it was true.
Kraig, Leslie, her dad, Sarah are all excited to see us and excited for this adventure we're on. New Year's Eve in Hawai'i and I'm full-blown stuffed up and coughing, taking every immuno-boosting thing possible. Can't make it anywhere close to midnight! And it's cold, unseasonably cold for Hawai'i. Did you know that hardly anyone has heaters in Hawai'i? Ha, don't usually need, heaters. In the rush we forgot to double-check the weather the day before. We packed according to the mid 70's to 80's I'd seen several days ago!! It's now in the mid 50's-60's! No trip to the Big Island can be complete without a trip to Costco for what we forgot - for me, another jacket.
The plan was to drive over to Hilo on New Year's Day. Needing to recover more, I rest instead. I mean, the wait is too long but what is one more day, I've waited my whole life. Bundled and immuno-boosted I try to sleep. Eh, I'm mostly cold but coughing a little less. January 2nd comes and we are driving to Hilo! I'll keep my distance though. Hate to be the one that gets my dad sick and back in the hospital!
Surreal, have I said that before? I'm still not sure I know what it means but it's the only word I've got. As we turned from Saddle Road onto the Hamakua Coast, again I have the sense I was coming home, a home I'd never known, could never quite reach, yet, mine all the same. This wouldn't be the first time I'm convinced I'm living a movie.
Miriam had to travel for work this week but Jeff was gracious and such a blessing to us. We got keys to the house, grabbed lunch and drove to Hopaku Drive in Kurtistown outside Hilo. Lush tropical green rolling streets greeted us on Hopaku Drive. Eventually, (made a couple u-turns :) found Brigitte's. She and Brendon greeted us before we made it to the door. Our embrace was long, we are sisters. I'm her big sister. Too many words trying to pour out all at once. LOL We visit for a while. She's gathered old photos and stories of our family documented by Aunt Betty. Time to leave for Dad's. Brigitte will come down when Uncle Harold gets here.
Time slowed down as we crept along the half-mile down the street to his house. There it is through that fence. It's the top story of an old plantation house from the early 1900's. Moved from the land cleared for the Hilo Airport. A gift to my dad from my grandpa, Ariston! It's seen better years but Zeke has fixed it up so dad can spend his last days in his home. Alonzo Farms was once a bustling foliage and tree farm until about 10 years ago. After Dad retired from the Navy he fished, farmed and did a lot of ballroom and swing dancing!
Zeke greets us and takes into his bedroom. He had a pretty hard night, not much sleep so real tired today. Zeke wakes him and explains I'm the long lost daughter he never knew about, that her mom never told you about. This is Terri. He has to repeat it couple times and there's a couple puzzled looks but then he looks at me and says, "Hi." Gives the hang loose sign. And well, now he gives me a hug! He's hard of hearing but we talk and Zeke repeats things so he can hear and understand. I showed Uncle Harold photos of my mom, but I guess she wasn't who he thought she was. I don't want to linger too long with coughing the way I am. We'll be back tomorrow.
The next day he was sitting up in the living room, we talked again about who I was. I showed him his hat and he took it and put it on right away. :) Zeke led our discussion of his fishing years, being in the Navy and serving in Vietnam. Not too long about the war. He'd lost friends. I showed him a couple photos of my mom but he still didn't remember. He said he's got dementia. :) We're smiling about that now. He gave me a hug and several hang loose signs. He loves that! He looks frail but his spirit is one of tenderheartedness, fun, a kidder, I'm sure. I look like my dad.
This is a pretty overused line but what else can I say, a year ago I'd say you were absolutely crazy if you told me I'd be sitting here in Hawai'i next to my dad.
I'd like to introduce you to my dad, Joseph Alonzo and my brother Ezekiel.
Whirlwinds, Disappointments and Paternity Part 9
noun 1. a column of air moving rapidly around and around in a cylindrical or funnel shape.
Rapidly moving around in a cylindrical shape... Ha! That was us! From Kona to Hilo to meeting Brigitte and her family face to face then Zeke, my Dad and Uncle Harold. Zeke set up lunch with Aunty Penny, her daughter Loki, cousin Tony and Zeke's friend and business partner Fabienne, then back to Kona...
Picture this... Ed patiently driving every mile around that Big Island, always alert to what I'm thinking, feeling, needing for my cold care and yes, driving! There I was in multiple layers of clothes, boxes of Kleenex, cough drops, vitamin C, sleepless nights and constant coughing. Each of us endeavoring to take in the stories and build relationships with a whole new family! At each visit I toted around my dad's sailor hat and Brigitte's tiny baby announcement preserved in an archival sleeve, of course! (once a Creative Memories consultant, always a Creative Memories consultant :) Telling and retelling my story of finding them all, adding details to one that I overlooked with another. How can one feel so small and funky, then larger than life at the same time?
Brigitte didn't know she even had a baby announcement! I told Brigitte, "I'd like to give this to you, but I'm not ready, not sure when I'll be ready." I can "Will" it to you for sure though! LOL In the meantime, can I send you a copy?" So, I'm very happy to say they all have a great sense of humor!
How selfish I feel about that though, especially after she's opened her home, family, her heart and story to me. Graciously, she totally understands and says a copy would be great. I even had to take my dad's sailor hat off his head when I left. These 2 things, even though they're only "things", are what I physically possess of my dad's. Relationship with my brother and sisters has begun and will continue. They are precious. I can remember the presence of my dad, his hugs, kisses, acceptance of me as his daughter, the bits and pieces of conversation we have, the time of talkin' story he engaged in, looking through a photo album I gave him and reminding him again and again about who I am. Our relationship is a precious gem that no one can steal but looks very different. Who I know my dad to be is primarily through the eyes of my siblings. That's a gift that enlightens me to parts of who I am and even who my children are in some ways. I can never repay and will always treasure these gifts. For now though, I'll hold onto the sign posts that directed me to them. Whew, better to get it out there rather than letting my guilt lie "dormant" much like the lava flow of volcano rumbling under the rock bursting through the surface. Guilt and condemnation never lie dormant, do they?
We said our goodbyes after a couple days as I wasn't feeling much better and the overflow of experiences as beautiful as they were, were tiring me greatly. Zeke said he'd give Liz and Iris a call to tell them about me. My twin sisters! They both live in Washington with their families. What would they think, how would they react? "Ok, just let me know how that goes, Zeke." Nerves, stay still...like there was ever a need to worry, yet, being one foot on one side and one foot on the other...the waiting...exhausting. I hope you can handle me being so real about all this. With the logical part of my mind, there's no place to feel anything but ecstatic joy. Where we live in reality, even in the best of circumstances though is somewhere between the brink of joy and sorrow, if we're truthful. To tell this story without the raw emotional and logical swings of it would be dishonest. The unpacking, processing, facing those hidden thoughts and bringing them into the light is where true freedom comes. God knows what lies in the deep. Exposing it, calling it for what it is and allowing His grace and grace of those that care and love you is the key to not just unlocking the prison cells of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, we find ourselves in, it's the way to walk out and forward.
With all the joy my heart contained I was processing disappointment as well. Not in anyone but in the circumstances of being ill, being in this place of beauty experiencing a literal hope and dream fulfilled but knowing I won't ever know my parents story. As much as I press it down, knowing my dad can't remember is tough. I think on it, let it go, remember this reality is what's important, I pray my heart be focused on what I've been given. My family is incredible and trusting of me. No question of my intentions. Let it go, Terri! Where's the camera, this is a real life film of epic proportions for me! Thank you Lord!
We close our time back in Kona with Kraig, Leslie and their family. They took care of us so well. I felt good enough to go to the beach one evening for take out as we watched the sunset. No whale watching or volcano hikes. Fabienne offered a hike as her and Zeke give tours and it broke my heart to say no. In 2013 we'd scheduled a hike to the lava but it switched directions a couple weeks before we arrived and it turned into an 8 mile trek in. Plus, at the time we were there the National Parks had been closed! Not even a visit to the now smoldering caldera! Oh man, we kept debating, praying a miraculous recovery but hiking 5 miles in my condition, at night and with the Vog (yes, it's a real thing when you live near Volcano) probably would be a disaster. We rescheduled for whenever I can come back. That flight home was longer than ever. Gazing at the tip of Mauna Kea as we left, Pearl as we landed once again in Honolulu and the endless ocean we crossed brought peace, fatigue and turmoil all at once. Another week of waiting, really! I hope the box claim is true, "Guaranteed results in 24 hours from receipt."
Legacy of Love and Ohana Complete Part 10
Through a friend of a friend I met McKell. Over several months she counseled me on how to upload my DNA to other sites, she examined it and the matches that came up, even found a gentleman in CA with similar results as mine and they both looked for connections on my dad's side. Nothing. From locating and verifying contact information to research and teaching me about DNA, McKell was there. Once we decided to hop a plane for Hawaii I talked with her and other friends about how to know beyond a shadow of doubt that he is my dad. With no DNA proof we were aware of and no time to order from an online retailer it was suggested I get a cheek swab test. In a mad dash the day before we left all I could find was a paternity test. My hope, that my dad would be willing to do it. The box said, "Guaranteed Results within 24 hours of receipt." Our last day visiting with dad ,he and my brother were totally good with it. Zeke told him we're 95% sure she's related to us so this will make it certain.
We mailed it on Friday January 5th. A very drawn out week and a half later the results came in! It's 99.9999% that he is my dad! Relief can't come close to what I felt. A huge weight had just been lifted off my shoulders and I let the tears flow. I called Brigitte then Zeke with the news. My twin sisters now knew about me and Liz was due to arrive that day and Iris might be coming next week.
Since leaving the first time I'd thought about going back. I was healthier now. I wanted to be more myself with my family and have more time with my dad. Now, Liz and maybe Iris would be there! There's no way I can make up for all the years apart but if there's anything I've learned by 55 it's that you hesitate less and go for it. I rounded up some additional work and made the reservation!
Soon I received texts from Liz and Iris! A couple days before leaving Iris and I got on Face Time to meet. Such a sweetie she was. I noticed as I looked into her eyes as I did with Brigitte and Zeke, I see my own. I shared my story and the crazy circumstances that brought me to her. We talked about our resemblances, my dad and his service, the large Alonzo family. Ed and Austin came home and I introduced them and I met her husband Joel and their kiddos, Marina and Parker. I've got another niece and nephew and they are the cutest!! Iris told me how if he'd known about me, he would have loved me and been a part of my life! He'd always wanted lots of kids and grandkids and was a great father to us. Wow! Third time I've heard this about him. Bittersweet to know what a wonderful father he's been and so sad that I missed out on that relationship with him. Regret be gone, time to move on!
Flying back to Hawaii for the second time, I go with assurance, confidence, freedom to connect more fully. Every view from the plane now holds significance I can't explain. Hawai'i really is a part of me. The islands are mine, my family's, my home away from home. Rain is predicted this week! Well, braved the cold at least this time I brought my raincoat! Flying to Hilo I reminisced about my first 2 trips to Hawai'i. May of 1980, high school graduation with my best friend Paula. 5 days, 6 nights in Waikiki. Greeted with flower leis, I'd arrived in Paradise. Then 1998, Kraig and his family were Kona coffee farmers (still are) and our whole family got to tag along on Ed's work trip with family to stay with. They all greeted us at the airport with flower leis. A symbol of affection, aloha, it's a magical feeling to have it placed lovingly around your neck.
We landed safely in the storm. Finding my way towards Enterprise car rental I was gliding down the escalator, love those! Suddenly, I glanced up and a young woman that looked a lot like my sister Iris was holding up handmade sign with a name on it. It was a little tough to read at first but then I saw it, my name, Terri Lee!! It was my sister Liz! When my brain put it altogether, I yelled, "Terri Lee, that's me," and I raised up my hands in excitement and practically leapt down the escalator. We hugged, she place the most beautiful flower lei around my neck and handed me a coconut she skinned for me! What?! Sweet tears flowed again. Yes, I'm certain I'm living a dream. She said, "You look like an Alonzo." Her eyes, my eyes, I do look like an Alonzo and now I know that I am!
We grabbed food and shared our stories. Her and Joey knew each other since they were 5 years old when he would ride the bus that dad drove. Grandpa Alonzo started a busing service for those that worked on the sugar plantations. It eventually grew into busing kids to school as well. I bet you can guess it, Liz let me know how much dad would have wanted to be a part of my life and been in contact with me if he'd known about me! A friend today said, you've got to know that he really was a great dad to have them all tell you the same thing. Truly, I was struck how he would have been an incredible grandfather to my kids. A legacy can be passed down in many ways, I choose to possess this legacy of my dad's through my siblings. Part of how I love my family and others is a legacy from him.
Dad was our next stop. I showed him a photo album I made with photos of my first trip and of my family. Liz told him my story again...she's the daughter you didn't know you had, dad. He likes looking at the pictures and asks about who everybody is. Liz got him going with the jazz some beats. Their fingers are snapping and he's moving to the music. He really likes swing dancing and jazz. He made it a practice for a lot of years. I love to dance, too! Liz and Ezekiel spend the next hour telling me different stories even ones that each other didn't know about. My dad was a fisherman but didn't swim! Zeke would be so scared when he'd watch him go further and further out! They used to have a lot of goats and wild pigs apparently run rampant on the island. I'll spare you the stories of well, preparing them to eat.
The next day I met Paula, her (Iris and Zeke's mom, too) mom and their Uncle Pekka at breakfast. Then, in monsoon type rains, Liz took me for a memory tour of where he grew up, went to school, lived, worked and fished. We went to the home near the beach in Kapoho that he and their mom built. Mt. View Bakery was on the path for their double-crusted coconut pies. I had to order 4 to bring home! Pretty sure they're my family because hey, we all seem to love history and talking about it! In the afternoon, Iris arrived and we enjoyed a lovely dinner together. I did let Iris know not to ever change her highlights because I'll never be able to tell them apart! Spending time with each of them was like I'd met up with long time friends I hadn't seen for ages. We were able to jump in, catch up and move forward. I'm very much at ease and it seems they are as well. For two days we sat with dad, shared meals, talked more story, took pictures, reminded dad of who I was. :) We connected the dots in many areas. How we all seem to be introverts that make ourselves be extroverts. I learned that my dad, brother, one sister and my nephew all have Dyslexia like my son, Austin. We could never figure out where it might have come from. We all lament that we 'should' live as pre-diabetics! LOL
All my kids got meet their grandpa, aunts and uncle via Face time which was great fun. My dad doubled his grand kids in less than a month! Iris and Liz had to leave a couple days before me but we talked of trips to AZ and WA. I had lunch with Brigitte and met her darling mother-in-law Margaret. I'm missing them all already. My last full day I spent the whole morning with dad while Zeke took care of some things in town. We looked at the album a few more times, talked a little of fishing and faith, he rested a lot, I just sat with him, cared for him, was a daughter to him. We kissed good-bye and I knew this might the last time we see each other. My heart is breaking, my spirit is full, it aches that I'll be so far away. In January the Pacific Ocean began to seem very small, not anymore, it seems vast and impossible to cross. Isn't that rub of loving those so physically far away. A month ago they were all a distant and unreachable dream. Today my heart is theirs and my family is huge! I can only imagine how overjoyed my mom would be to know I found them. I am beyond grateful and blessed.
My dad is hanging in there. He's started to eat a little more but still in bed a lot. If you pray, I'd ask you say a prayer for him and his health. We'd all love to see him recover miraculously.
Thank you for listening and following my story, for falling in love with my family as I have, for cheering me on and sharing your stories. We were made to walk together, not alone. Where you face fears, anxiety, challenges that seem impassable my hope is that you'll hesitate less and go for it! Maybe it's finding a family member, mending a relationship or courage to make life-altering decisions. Whatever the mountain is you need to climb, it's not too late and you're enough. You've been masterfully created, delighted in and are cherished. I'd love to hear your stories and cheer you on!
None of this would have possibly without the people that have loved, supported and encouraged me to pursue my desires for a lot of years. Ed, Breana, Sharaya and Austin, thank you for always cheering me on and listening! There are so many old and new friends that also carried us in their prayers, researched and guided me. Thank you!
Now, I'd like to introduce you to my sisters, Liz and Iris and share more photos of my new tribe, The Alonzo's!