By Kristine Madera
Alex Haley, author of Roots, said, “In every conceivable manner, family is the link to our past, the bridge to our future.” But what happens to these connections when family links are broken?
Asheville entrepreneur Lin Sharp knows first hand. Separated from her brother and two sisters as children, a reunion only last year brought together all the sisters. A few months ago, she reunited with her younger brother after not seeing him for 50 years.
A Family Divided
Lin has just snippets of memories of her family life, mostly of life with her younger brother and sister before the family broke up. A series of personal and relationship challenges caused Lin’s mother to adopt out Lin’s older sister to an aunt and uncle, give custody of her younger brother to his father’s parents, and send Lin and her sister to foster care. “My sister Julie and I went to the first foster home together, but then she went to her dad’s parents, where our brother Jack was living. After that, I was mostly on my own in the foster system.”
Far from complaining, Lin believes that being in such diverse environments helped her see how belief systems rule over people and dictate their lives. “In my first foster home, we weren’t allowed to wear shoes. We had to take them off right when we got home and put on slippers. At another home later on, it was considered improper to not wear shoes, so I wore them all the time.” The expectations were totally opposite, and both households felt that their way was right.
The many sets of rules, beliefs and expected behaviors in the homes she lived in taught Lin that there are many different ways of being in the world, many different systems, and that mostly people learn to get along, if they try. She also sees the freedom of letting go of belief systems altogether, because of how they narrowly define you or limit your life.
Julie was with Lin in the first foster home, and Lin briefly met her older sister Susan at their grandmother’s funeral when she was a teen. For just under a year, Lin lived again with her mother at a family member’s home, but the arrival of a new baby meant there was no more room for the two of them, and Lin went back into foster care. Over the years Lin and her sister Julie have had limited contact, but weren’t very close, having spent so much time apart and having lived such different lives. The most cut off from Lin was the youngest and only boy, Jack. He saw his mother only twice after he went to live with his grandparents, and Lin didn’t see him from the time Jack was four and she was seven or eight until this past November, 50 years later, when she and Jack finally reconnected.
Facebook brought the siblings into virtual connection with each other, and they kept tabs on each other from a distance. Then last year, Lin and her two sisters reunited in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was the first time that older sister Susan met younger sister Julie. The three sisters are very different, with Susan being social and outgoing and having the mannerisms of their mother. Julie is much more private, a trait that comes out in her choice of work with classified defense projects. Lin is open, but introspective, most interested in discussing the big questions and mysteries of life.
Susan, Julie and Jack got together this past summer, which was the first time that Jack had met Susan. Lin didn’t attend that reunion, but when Jack mentioned to Lin that he wanted to go on vacation, she asked him to come to Asheville, and he did.
Lin and Jack Reunited
A guitarist and luthier who is currently restoring a violin, Jack turned to music to work through the challenges of his life. When he was younger, he even played in bands that opened for some of music’s big names, before turning to a quieter life.
On the surface Jack and Lin, too, are very different. Lin has owned an interior design store, a web and graphics company and recently launched her own publishing company. Jack is more mechanical as a field service technician for Hewlett Packard. Jack turns to music to express his creativity, Lin to design and writing. Jack joined the Latter Day Saints for spiritual nourishment, and Lin is letting go of beliefs in general as a path to spiritual growth. But what all the siblings have in common are their roots.
Meeting Jack proved to Lin the strength of the DNA connection and the healing power of family. “There is something so healing in realizing that you have a family, that you belonged somewhere,” even if the structure of that family is long gone. Reuniting with the last person in her family root system has given Lin a fuller sense of the family that she started life with, the family that she carried with her quietly through the bumps and bruises of her early life, as an invisible presence that was always with her, even if she recalled only fleeting memories.
One of the things that Lin and Jack did when they met was work on genealogy to connect Jack to his mother’s family line, one that he had never really known. “I think that coming to see me gave Jack a sense of peace, too,” Lin says.
Circling Home to Heart
Meeting Jack slipped the last of Lin’s family foundation into place in her adult life, and brought her full circle back to the roots that seemed severed 50 years ago.
“I think my mom is smiling down from heaven about all of us getting back in touch with each other,” Lin says. Despite having been raised away from her siblings, Lin feels grateful to have escaped a bad situation at home. She knows that her mother had a deep sadness about being unable to raise her children herself. “I know she loved us, but the circumstances made it so that she couldn’t raise us,” Lin says. She wonders how many other women there are who really love their kids, but who have to give up custody because they don’t have the personal, family or financial resources to raise them.
As Lin’s story demonstrates, broken families don’t necessarily mean broken people or broken lives. It also shows that no matter how long ago family ties were severed, the people who inhabited your early life are never truly forgotten. They continue to pull you into an orbit that you may not even realize, drawing you back to your roots to retie the lost threads of home and to heal the longing in your heart.
Kristine Madera is a speaker, clinical hypnotist, best-selling author based in Asheville, who helps you read your personal story like a book, so you can break free from stories you’ve been confining yourself to, write the next chapter from your most empowered self, and live from the wild heart of who you are. For more information see JourneyoftheWildHeart.com.