This past week, I lost two people in my life. I tell you this, not for sympathy, but to share the strange connection they shared and to give you a peek into their lives.
The first was my cousin Diane. She was the newest member of the family, even though she had just turned 70.
Let me explain.
In early 2019, I signed up for ancestry.com. I don’t remember if it was a killer deal that I couldn’t resist or what inspired me, but I thought it would be fun for at least a year.
Not far from where I live, there was a woman whose son, I believe, bought her a one-year subscription to Ancestry as well. The son knew of his mom’s life situation and thought it might cast a little light on any possible relatives out there, somewhere. And it did–me.
Diane lost her parents over a decade ago. First her dad, then her mom. When her mom went to her heavenly reward, she left behind a note revealing that she had, in fact, been adopted. Mind blown. Having known several adoptees over the years, I know that some think, “Well, that she my BIRTH mother, but my mom and dad will always be my real mom and dad.”
And then there are those who are curious and just need to find out, “Who is out there?”
Diane had already exhausted the obvious attempts at having the birth records reveal who her parents were, so off she went to Ancestor.com (and to my dying day, I will always be grateful she did). When Diane signed on, I showed up as a relatively (pardon the pun) close connection, like at the cousin level. How could that be?
By comparing notes, having members of the family do some thinking, tossing out some theories and ruling out the dumb ones, we came to the conclusion–she really was my COUSIN!
How can that be? Well, it turns out her mom was my dad’s sister. At the time my aunt was in a place where she could not keep the baby, so she gave Diane up for adoption. We think there was some back-door dealing when it came to how the adoption happened, as Diane was born in Long Beach, California….but ended up being adopted by a family not far from my aunt’s house and was raised in the same city where my aunt lived. One of the theories tossed out there was that my grandfather was in the same gambling circles as Diane’s adoptive parents. But we’ll never know.
And to top it off–she was living just across the Puget Sound area in Washington state, over near Bremerton.
Bottom line–Diane was thrilled at our connection! We were able to round up pictures of her mom from my old photo albums and tell her all about the life of the mom she never knew. When my mom and sister, Debbie, flew up from California that summer, we gathered and chatted and all of us could definitely see the Hunter family resemblance.
As we occasionally checked in with each other over the past two years, she never stopped expressing her gratitude for connecting with her and it brought her such happiness. It just helped fill in so many blanks.
Unfortunately, the clock was ticking and our time together would be limited. She had been battling cancer. Diane actually beat it once, but as I’m sure you’ve heard, it’s a mean son of a bitch and this time around, it eventually became too much. Our time together was just shy of three years which points to the classic life lesson, you just never know how much time we have.
In recent weeks, I knew life was fading for Diane, but when we heard the news, I was still surprised. Yet, relieved. She was in a lot of pain and life, I’m sure, it became less and less of a life to look forward to waking up to. God blessed her with an amazing partner, her high school sweetheart, Russ, who helped her every way he could until the end. To get to know both of these kind, caring people AND to be able to know we were related is one of the things I will always treasure.
One of the last projects she tackled in her final days was finding a home for her beloved horse, Beau.
My friend, Paul, has been in my life since I married my wife, Victoria. Paul, and his partner, Rod, all lived together with my brother-in-law, Kris. Paul was known for many things–his incredible Christmas tree collection that would go on display in their home every year. Oh, I have to show pictures.
Paul also an amazing gambler. He could go to a casino (Angel of the Winds among his favorites) and bring home winnings in the tens of thousands! When health allowed, he had a meticulous backyard and could identify almost any of the beautiful plants growing back there. He loved to cook and create new masterpieces in the kitchen.
And he also was quite well known around the Seattle area for his alter-ego, Asia Cache.
Yeah, there was another side of Paul that his close friends knew about. To be honest, it was a world I had not previously been familiar with, but was so fun to hear about whenever those stories surfaced.
Sadly, Paul, like my cousin Diane, was also relentlessly pursued by cancer. Towards the end, there were good moments, surrounded by lots of bad days and so, with doctors’ approval, he chose to leave the building on his 66th birthday.
I’ll forever be able to hear his laugh.
I was only recently made aware of the connection of these two souls. While in Long Beach, Washington, earlier this year to scatter the ashes of a cousin who passed last year, I had an extended opportunity to reconnect with another cousin, Bonnie. Bonnie was adopted by my Aunt Jan and for my entire life, I’ve always known here as “Cousin Bonnie.”
The woman that adopted her, my Aunt Jan, was the woman who gave up that baby, my cousin Diane, 70 years ago.
It turns out that back in Paul’s drag “Hey Day” as Asia Cache, he, his partner Rod and their friends would make the long drive to Puyallup to party at a bar called Trax that was owned by my cousin Bonnie and her partner.
Talk about a small friggin’ world.
A world that is now minus two of the more amazing people whose paths I’ve crossed during my lifetime and so, I just thought I would share.
It really is a long, strange trip.