This is Part 2 to yesterday’s Essay on discovering a whole new heritage and family. Read Part 1 here.
It’s July 11 at 5 a.m. and I’m on a flight home to Canada after visiting Sweden and Spain. As we lift off into the sky, a peach sun rises auspiciously over northern Europe. My husband squeezes my hand, leans over and whispers to me, “Nothing will ever be the same.”
Now on this side of knowing, everything has been reconfigured: identities, histories, private narratives and, most certainly, the future.
I listen to personal stories for a living in my role as a psychotherapist, ones that under covenant must remain secret. But I am also a storyteller at heart, and this is one special story that just had to be told. The characters are real and have become my family.
After a lifetime of longing and a quest for closure, brothers lost to one another since birth were united for the first time in 50 years. I joke that I have become The Girl Without the Dragon Tattoo after my online sleuthing led to the discovery that my husband, an only child adopted in Israel, has three brothers living around the world. His birth mother was a Holocaust survivor who had to give him up as a teenager and went on to marry and raise a family in Sweden.
On June 30, we arrived at our hotel in downtown Stockholm, having barely slept during our flight from Vancouver in eager anticipation of meeting two of the three newly found brothers.
With less than an hour before we were to meet, we quickly freshened up and made our way down to the lobby. A man with my husband’s height and build, bearing an ear-to-ear grin, came walking toward us. I noticed a tingle start to rise under my skin, the first evidence of a chronic case of the goosebumps I developed during this unbelievable 10-day journey.
Just in time for me to grab my camera, the two men reached out for each other and in unison exclaimed “brother!” My husband Uri’s hand softly touched his brother’s cheek, a gesture as natural as a mother counting the toes of her newborn. Richard, the eldest brother, was the first to speak. “Come. Meet your other brother.”
Hanging back, I followed them into the lounge noticing their similar gait. Robert, the middle brother, rose to warmly embrace my husband. His overall demeanour was shy, but he had a mischievous twinkle in his eye – uncannily familiar to me.
That evening I was privy to the first of many deeply moving exchanges of their life stories. It was remarkable how these two “strangers” effortlessly became our instant and heartfelt family. What an astonishing discovery to learn again and again that these brothers are all intelligent, artistic, charming and accomplished in their related fields – more shades of the man I married.
Richard was told at the age of 10 that he had an older brother whom his mother had no choice but to leave behind in Israel. The news left him intrigued but with the disturbing sense that it could also, one day, be his fate.
My husband was told on his 10th birthday that he was adopted, a critical turning point in his development from which he never fully recovered – always haunted by the belief that he had “drawn the short straw.” An immediate empathy for each other’s childhood predicaments was palpable – eldest and only child merged into a shared twinship of sorts.
The brothers showed us treasured photos of their mother Eva. Again I felt goosebumps. The physical resemblance between her and my husband was startling. Having only seen one image of her up until that point, seeing so many of her taken over time was bittersweet. It was like manna for my husband’s soul, but at the same time he felt deeply moved by “so many years lost.” I watched him go from laughing to crying and back many times. The brothers tenderly reassured him that they shared his mixed emotions, reminding him “you’re here now.”
In the dimly lit lounge, the brothers drew our attention to a one- by one-inch faded photo taken in 1944. “We believe this is your father,” they said. Goosebumps.
As we squinted to make out his features, they told us what they knew of him. “He was the son of an English lord. … He was sent away when his military superiors found out he made a Jewish refugee girl pregnant. He was the love of her life and you were their love child.”
We came to learn more of Eva’s “disastrous childhood.” She witnessed things no child ever should, including at 11 finding her father after he took his own life, the atrocities of the Nazis and suffering the physical hardships and sexual brutality of Russian soldiers while on her way to another war zone, then called Palestine.
She married Swedish national Stig when my husband would have been in preschool. Together they attempted to find and adopt her relinquished baby. In fact, Eva returned to Israel many times over the years to find him. But that was not to be. They left for Sweden, had three boys together and went on to live rustically in Africa. When the boys entered their teen years, they were sent to European boarding schools, never to live as a family again.
The brothers shared that Eva was not always easy to live with, having two different personas – a brilliant, creative, charismatic one and a dark, withdrawn, tormented one, reserved just for family – no doubt the telltale signs of post-traumatic stress.
Near the end of our trip, our insightful nephew turned to my husband and said, “You do know that you just might have drawn the long straw,” resetting my husband’s private narrative forever.
Whether walking the streets of Stockholm with Robert or sitting peacefully with Richard in his garden in Marbella, Spain, our mutual sense of belonging and interconnectedness was unmistakable. We are planning a trip to Thailand to meet my husband’s youngest brother, Rodney, and, given we now believe in miracles, we are searching for my husband’s birth father, presumed to be in Britain.
On a magical Sunday, Robert took us to visit with Eva’s 83-year-old cousin, the only person left of that generation, a dear soul who was “over the moon” at meeting my husband. Together, we went to Eva’s resting place in the small, lush, Jewish cemetery of Stockholm. There my husband knelt and cried at his birth mother’s grave. “I’m back Mother. We’re together. My brothers are the best gift you could have left me. You can rest now.”
Nikita A. Crook lives on Vancouver’s North Shore.