I heard a man's heart break last night. I heard it crack and splinter as blood flowed and love descended into the open spaces filling it with sorrow and joy, juxtaposed on the regret of time lost when two brothers lost touch.
And then they touched.
Thirty-two years later. They touched. Hugged. And cried together.
TP met his brother last night. Met his brother and two nephews and tears flowed and these four men leaped across the void of time lost not knowing where each other had gone. (I wrote about the brother's contact earlier this week, here.)
It was a beautiful sight.
Years ago, I yearned for my father to have such an experience. I was in my early forties when I learned I had an aunt I did not know.
My eldest sister called. "So, what do you think of dad's sister?"
"Dad doesn't have a sister," I replied.
"He does now," she told me.
I phoned my father. "So, who's Evelyn," I asked.
"My sister," he promptly replied.
"Um, and where has she been all these years?"
"In England. Where she always was," he said. And that was that. End of subject. End of the discussion about this sister whom none of we four children had ever known existed.
Over the next two years, bits and pieces of the story would emerge. He was nine, she was seven when their parents divorced. She may have been 'the cause' of the divorce. An affair. An offspring who's parentage might not have been my grandfather's. No one is sure. So much is conjecture. What we know -- when my father's parents divorced they shipped him across the Atlantic, all alone, where he was met in Montreal by a stranger, placed upon a train and deposited another 3,000 miles away at a Jesuit school in Gravelburg Saskatchewan.
The sister stayed with her mother. The mother remarried. The daughter, my father's sister grew up, married and never had children. As she entered her sixties she wanted to find her only family in the world, the brother she'd lost long ago. She sent a letter to the RAF veteran's affairs who didn't know where he was but did know after serving in the RAF had joined the RCAF. They forwarded the letter to the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) who did know where my father was. They sent him the letter and one day my father called. His sister.
Fifty-plus years after they were separated, they spoke on the phone for the first time.
For the next two years they would argue across trans-Atlantic lines about who would go see whom.
"She needs to come see me," my father told me. "She's the one who came looking."
"Does it matter?" I asked. "Don't you want to meet her after all this time? I know I do."
We'd always believed my father was an only child. We'd never met our paternal grandmother. Had only encountered our grandfather a couple of times, briefly, on journeys across Canada. Once I remember clearly. We were in Montreal. He came to our hotel room. There was heat. And anger. And confusion. I don't remember much else other than that he disappeared with my father and I never saw him again. Nothing was ever said about that visit, ever again, either.
My father was a stubborn man. But slowly, over those two years of speaking with his sister occasionally on the phone, he began to relent, to soften his position. He was 'thinking' about going to see his sister in England.
And then, late one Sunday night, the doorbell rang at my parents home and two RCMP officers stood at their front door.
"Are you Louis Gallagher," one asked.
And my father said yes and the officer replied, "I'm sorry to tell you there's been an accident. Your sister has fallen and died."
And they never got to meet. This brother and sister who were separated as children for no reason other than the adults in their lives could not give them what they needed most, their family union. In that moment of his sister's fall and death, all hope died of their ever getting to feel their hearts breaking wide open, ice melting, years flowing together into that one moment of reunion when what separated them meant nothing compared to what was meant to bring them together throughout their lives. Family. Love. Connection. Unity.
TP met his brother last night after thirty-two years apart.
I am grateful.