When Hearts Open Wide


When Hearts Open Wide

Somehow I feel more whole, as if some missing piece of me is now restored. I just got back to the hotel a little while ago from seeing my brother from my dad’s second marriage for the first time in almost thirty years, and meeting his lovely wife and two amazing children. The family that my heart has ached for all these years, kept apart by the old hurts and fears of our parents.

We met for dinner at The Chimes Restaurant in Baton Rouge, as I am in town for ClarinetFest, and Andy lives an hour and a half away in Slidell. I am still blown away that until just a few months ago, Andy and his family lived twenty minutes away from my home in Birmingham, Alabama. We both talked of the loss we felt in that we could have begun this whole process of reconnection sooner, had we only known. Regrets serve no purpose, though, so we are doing our best to be thankful that we have each other, and look forward to the memories we will build together…instead of those we have lost.

I will never forget the evening just a couple of months ago when I received Facebook friend requests from my brother Andy and our sister Leanne. A tenuous connection that had been lost so long ago, instantly reignited. Soon after, requests came from my newly found niece and nephew, Drew and Niki. We have lost so much, but gained so much, too.

As I walked up to the restaurant, Andy and his family were waiting to cross the street ahead of me. We made eye contact and all broke out into big smiles. As soon as they reached me, Andy and I embraced- one if the most wonderful hugs I have ever felt. I felt overwhelmed with emotion, with gratitude to finally be with my brother. I hugged his beautiful wife, son and daughter. What could have been a very awkward situation felt completely comfortable and precious.

We stood outside of the restaurant, words rushing from both of us, so many things we wanted to say. Andy handed me two year books from the beginning of our dad’s Army career. He wanted me to share the albums with my mom, in an incredibly kind and sweet gesture. I handed Andy’s wife, Sheila, a bag containing Godiva chocolates, and then handed Andy my special gift- the small metal covered bible that our dad wore over his heart into battle. Andy immediately teared up, and that started all of us crying. Wearing our hearts on our sleeves seems to be a family trait.

We went into the restaurant, filled with some of the fourteen hundred clarinet players attending the conference. Even so, that professional world faded away as we began talking, getting to know each other. I saw before me a tight-knit and loving family, easy to talk with and very easy to laugh with. They had my goofy sense of humor- I felt right at home joining in on their banter.

All through the evening, I would periodically turn to Andy, we’d both burst into a big smile, and we’d have another big hug, whispering words of love and gratitude. I felt so happy for my brother for the wonderful family he and Sheila had created, proud of the good man he had become. I was also shocked at just how much he looks like our father- just a younger, healthier, and sweeter version.

My sweet nephew and niece, Drew and Niki.
My sweet nephew and niece, Drew and Niki.

I fell completely in love with Sheila, Niki, and Drew. Niki is a bright light, with a strong creative bent. She told me of her love of theater, of how much she loves to draw. Drew found a crayon on the floor, and Niki began sketching on a napkin. I told her she had her Aunt Sharon’s artistic talent. Drew, who is headed to basic training for the Army soon, shared his love of photography, and shared some of his lovely photos. I told him we shared that love. It was fascinating to see so many similar traits, thanks to our shared genes.

We made plans to see each other in November after Drew graduates from basic training. I can’t wait to have them visit Chez Gainey, meet Dan, share with them the people and home that I love so much.

At the end of the evening, the whole family walked me part way to the car, we hugged, more tears spilling, and then Andy walked me the rest of the way. We embraced, again sharing our love and gratitude, acknowledging the importance of this meeting and our hopes for the future.

We parted, both feeling that an important piece of our hearts that had been missing was now returned to us. Healing had begun for events that were out of our control, for which we had paid such a steep price. The future holds so many more gifts, so much more beauty. I am so grateful.

My family!
My family!

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