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Finding my long lost family in California

Updated on May 10, 2011

Family Lost

Somewhere around the age of three, I lost my mother. Not like in a mall or at a big grocery store but like a very fast moving Camaro smashed the life from her.

According to the police report, we had become stuck in the mud in southern california and she was walking up the road looking for help, I was waiting in the car. Approximately 100 feet from the Jeep she left me in a car struck her as she was waving it down, she died on impact.

No charges were filed.

My father had been deployed in Germany at the time and had to come pick me up from California and find a way to care for me while he finished up his enlisted time. I was left in New York with his parents while he completed his time.

Unfortunately, but understandably my mother Jana was not a very common topic of discussion, I knew very little of her and her memory faded from my everyday life.

The Middle Years

I was not what you would call a perfect child, I was thrown out of Pre-Kindergarten, Christian Academy and Elementary school, around Middle School I matured, i only spent every other day in the Principals office.

As I was the product of a broken home, I rarely was blamed for much.

Eventually, they skipped me ahead a grade and I seemed to better for it. Eventually, My father remarried, I didn't get thrown out of school anymore, but I was thrown out of the house, in 7th grade I was sent to live with my grandparents. I did well at school, got a full scholarship and moved away as far as I could, while still staying with in the state for financial aid reasons.

The point? I never had much consideration for family, my grandparents were (are) old fashioned, not very father, a saint...but a bit of a space cadet, family was a dictionary term, not something I was really a part of.

But love, it does conquer all, in college, I had my first experiences with real love, I was accepted and adopted into a family, kicking and screaming, trying to seem aloof and cool, but to no avail, I finally saw first hand the joys of family, saw and felt the love of a mother (in law..but whats the difference, Ill never know at least) saw brothers and sisters grow up. These experiences left me changed, a slight yearning developed, the mystery that was my mother began to gnaw at me.

My Grandmother (my mothers side) had attempted to keep in touch with me, we spoke on the phone occasionally, we sent letters back and forth, but when I was 12, a letter came back "return to sender"...and that was that, it didn't seem like a big deal at the time., I was concerned, but what to do...their were more important things, girls, friends, mischief to be had.

Find lost family: Family Found

Fast forward to 2008, 23 years since the death of my mother, 14 years since I had last communicated with my Grandmother. I have graduated from college, I run several small businesses on the side and I finally make the jump to working at home full time.

October 2008, as many online junkies and work at homers can attest, its very hard to stay completely focused when working online, as a web designer and artist, I am professionally interested in the google ranking of my own name, so during one of these ego searches, i discovered a new result. Now just to clarify, i had searched online for my grandmother before, I never found anything that wasn't a pay for results type of service.

But this time was different, an Obituary with my name in it! No, this isnt a surprise sixth sense story twist, Im not dead but my Grandfather apparently is, and there listed plain as day is my own name as a survivor, along with a complete list of surviving family members, including their city of residence! So thankfully, I discover that my Grandmother is very much alive and I have an Aunt! My mother has a sister! I never even knew this. I was exhilarated, I even woke my girlfriend (the one who helped show me the importance of family) at 2am to tell her the news.

Well, Im good at internet research, so within ten minutes, I had sent myspace friend requests to 5 cousins and held in my hands an actual up to date phone number and address for my very much alive Grandmother! ( as for the dead grandfather, apparently he had divorced my grandmother before I was born, so it was hard to really feel a loss there)

So this is it, what do I do, its been 14 years, since I last had contact, should I call out of nowhere and risk a depressing letdown, or worse a shock that causes a heart attack!

all images copyright Joshua Sunforged

A bittersweet reunion

News travels quickly through my girlfriends family, her mom actually cried in happiness, many times. But, with my initial exhilaration gone, I was merely scared, what will I learn? Will i be a happy surprise or just a reminder of old pain?

The next morning (well afternoon, i work at home, the only morning I see, is when i saty up all night) I decide to make the call, ring ring...ring ring...thank god, I get a machine...Of course Im not sure what to I just blurt it out.. Hi Grandma Karen, this is your Grandson Josh, i just finally found your number online, here's my number, I hope to get to talk to you soon.....hang up.

whooh, that was a relief, I really didn't know what i would say, keep in mind, I really know nothing about my mother, Ive barely even seen any pictures, I have so many questions about her, but I worry about bringing up old pain.

A couple of hours later, I get a call, caller id says California, it must be her (im in ny).. I pick up, she starts crying, shes says her prayers have been answered and she knew that one day we would be reunited. We talk for hours, she is an amazingly smart, quick lady, especially fro someone who closing in on 70 years old. I learn all sorts of awesome things about my mother, including many odd similarities.

Keeping in mind she died at 24, during her short life, she had hiked most of California, had hiked the grand canyon, hitchhiked much of the country, was a volunteer forest firefighter! Was a vegetarian and loved to pick on cops and had many stories about her adventurous exploits.

I couldnt be more thrilled, Im a vegetarian, have hiked most of the east coast, including over 100 miles of the Appalachian trails, half the peeks in the Adirondacks, blah, blah blah...I finally could see where some of my fire came from (My dad, is a minister...still an outdoorsman, but my vitality and spunk obviously was not from him)

My Grandmother is a very cool lady too, very much into religion and spirituality (as am I) a fan of Edgar Cayce, Holistic Medicine and very open minded.

Im very impressed and very happy to make the connection, I learn about my aunt and I speak to her too.

Now this whole time, I am planning and hoping to visit as soon as possible, but I just started working from home, full time, about 3 weeks in at this point, Im making money but a couple of hundred a week on eBay, a hundred in affiliate ads, and the occassional Graphic design Job does not compare to my previous income, it seems to get better every week...but without the steady paycheck my ability to buy and sell on ebay is limited to smaller items, the affiliate publishers only payout once a month...Im getting by, but Im not at vacation to California status yet.

Im a very happy guy, but then the clincher, the bitter, to my sweet reunion. My grandmother is very ill, she has been dropping weight very rapidly and the doctors really cant figure it out, the months go by we speak every week, usually a couple of times, the doctors arent figuring anything out...on Christmas day she is admitted to the hospital. My aunts exact words "you couldnt have contacted us at a better time, your giving her something to fight for"...hows that for a gut wrencher? And my grandmother states "I knew God would reunite me with you, praise god" ..In my head, Im thinking "praise google" but we all have are own outlooks I guess.

It was a little heartwrenching to hear her complain about her loss of mobility, she was very sad that her sickness was keeping her from working, and she was accustomed to being very active, gardening, tennis...not knowing what was hurting her, taking tests with no answers and losing her activity was really bothering her mentally she confided. I tell her that I will be visiting with my girlfriend as soon as possible (at this point still not sure, how i would get the money together, but it was going to happen, no matter what, I dont tell her this,the money part, because I want her to continue to be proud of her self employed artist Grandson) A couple a days later, I get a letter from her, its a check for hundred dollars and a note saying how she cant wait to meet me, I almost cried (thats not common for me) I felt so guilty, I didnt want her money, I decided I would never cash it. I would make it on my own.

In the meanwhile, my girlfriend discovers that she has a rare blood disorder, and any money that we had went to insurance co-pays and now she is not willing to travel by plane as she is concerned about being away from doctors while we wait on all her test results. So Im broke and flying solo, great.

As i write this, I am still very impressed with the strength she showed while being open about these vexing events, not only in expressing them to me, but the purpose and power that remained in her voice.

The doctors perform a procedure called a Whipple, which with my limited medical knowledge and a quick google search seems to mean,

"take chainsaw, open stomach, pull out everything you can see, sew back up, hope"

So the moment I find out she went into the hospital, I call her, it had been almost two weeks since I had last spoke with her as she had been staying at a friends house and would call me back when she got my messages, so we played a lot of phone tag. The moment she picked up, I can hear the difference in her voice, the strength is gone, but quickly I lighten up as although the strength in her voice is slightly faded, she is still full of jokes and sarcasm and humor about her experience. As I talk to her I am reading about "The Whipple Procedure" and I am absolutely mortified, as she explains it to me she states that if she knew what she was coming in for she would have walked out and took her chances.

This is distressing, obviously. I cashed the check, within one week, I turned the hundred dollars into three hundred. So there it is my entire travel fund 300 dollars, that will cover one way there, but thats about it.

Im doing much better in my ad campaigns, but my payouts are not until the 20th of each month, thats not going to help me either, I begin to stress, Its hard for me to feel stress, I read a few books about Buddhism back in college and quite frankly created a mindset that can handle just about anything....but struggling to cover bills, make my dreams of being self employed and mobile come true, watch my girlfriend stress and suffer with her new found ailment (much of it compounded by her own mind) ,,hear my grandmother decline, wonder if I will ever meet her, it added up....i worked non stop but my productivity was crap.

Yesterday, My grandmother is given the diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer, I find this out, not from her but from her Psychic friend (yes Psychic, these people do live in California you know)...she contacts me via myspace and says I should visit my Grandmother as soon as possible as she might not have much time left.

As my grandmother, tells me about the diagnosis she points out that Patrick Swayze had just came out on the news and talked about his experiences all negative, I can hear the further decline in her voice as she explains that will be starting chemotherapy.

As I am on the phone with her, I try to stay upbeat, I tell stories about my rabbits and my dog, how my dog burrows his ball in the snow, how my rabbit, comes when called, and how they snuggle together in the dogbed. I get her tell me upbeat stories, I try to keep the mood positive.

My Girlfriend beeps in on the other line, I quickly excuse myself and jump over, I wouldnt normally, but their is a winter weather advisory, its snowing pretty hard and I have to make sure shes safe. Shes calling to tell me to buy the plane ticket, her mom and grandmother had been asking when I was going to Cali and decided they wanted to cover my ticket, so I could go immediately, I could pay them back later! Sweet synchronicity!

I click back over, and tell my grandma Im buying a ticket right now, Ill be out on Tuesday (01/12/09). She is overjoyed.

And that's where the story stands, this story has no real point, but the anonymity of the net allows me this cathartic release, within 4 days I will be reunited with a family I never knew I had, but I will be forced to see my Grandma decline before my eyes.

I hate western medicine, it seem as if so little importance is placed on mental attitude, on positivity...the way they broke the news to my Grandmother hurt her spirit. The same spirit that needs to be strengthened so she can fight. Take it from me, Im to stubborn to get sick...I haven't even got a cold in 7 years now, im a vegetarian, but Im a smoker, for most of that time I was a binge/party drinker, I have terrible sleep schedule...I simply dont allow my body to be sick, when something hurts, my mind says "no it doesnt"..if I start to sniffle.."my mind says, not today, body" joke its worked for 7 years.

I hate Patrick Swayze too, he comes on national televison and says Ill be happy if I live two years, chemotherapy is not working and neither is the experimental drugs, great message of hope asshole, great timing too, the day before my Grandmother is diagnosed she has to read your pitiful loser story. So scew you Patrick Swayze.

Thats all I got...pretty cathartic, a little anger at the end..but otherwise its still a life and a story in progress

I very much suggest reading any of these books, dont buy from amazon, just get it from a library or a used book store, but all of these books have been very helpful in my own journey



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    • LeanMan profile image


      7 years ago from At the Gemba

      What a story Josh, I also found my Father online at the very end of 2009, he had left when I was around 8 years old, some 37 years ago..

      He found me via his sister who found me on my then new Facebook profile. He is also gravely ill with an incurable disease and I think wanted to make his peace with his family.

      He has a genetically inherited lung disease - that all us male children now know we have, thankfully I have never smoked or been in contact with any other chemicals etc which will have caused me lung damage or I could be heading down the same road as my father. Unfortunately one of my brothers is a heavy smoker and is already showing the symptoms of heavy lung damage (our lungs scar and will not heal properly!) so is now looking forward to a lot of future problems.

      My father has emigrated to the US (we are from UK) and remarried there, whilst I have no plans to visit him there he has asked if he can visit me, a visit that will probably never happen as he is too ill to fly and needs an oxygen cylinder at all times.

    • mistywild profile image


      9 years ago from Houston, TX (Proud Texan)

      thanks for sharing your story, and I'm glad you know what family is now.

    • tkgriffin profile image


      9 years ago

      I am impressed at the strength you BOTH show!!! I am in a similar situation right now, having just found 6 siblings, one thanks to my hubpage here and he found me by my posting and emailed me tonight. Keep your eyes to God and your hand to your heart. Those are the places your strength will continue to come from. I am speaking from experience as this has been a 20+ search for me for my siblings.

      I don't know when this was posted...but I am praying for you and your grandmother. God never gives us what we can't handle and he wouldn't lead us to something just to abandon us when we need to get through something. I hope this finds you and your grandmother in good spirits and with decent health. May you both have many years to get to know each other.

    • sunforged profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from


      Thank you for the positive comments, I realize that the tone turns ugly at the end of this writing, but I truly see the positives still in this situation...15 years has gone by without any communication between us, yet by some simple twist of fate I was able to reconnect with her now...if i had been two months later my message on her machine would have gone unnoticed during her stay at the hospital...perhaps even eventually erased by backlog of messages, perhaps a call from me, does really give her hope and strength to continue fighting. Four days from now, i will meet her...I would have much preferred to challenge her to some tennis or go for a hike in the deserts of socal, but simply being able to meet her and and here stories about a mother I never knew and the family I just found, is a much greater blessing than many ever have.

      thank you again, and I hope the new year brings you many pleasant surprises!

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      9 years ago from UK

      Hi Sunforged,

      I hadn't seen anything from you in a while, so I was pleased when I spotted this. My pleasure soon turned to sympathy and sadness as I read your hub, and I sincerely hope that you have some time with your Grandma, and that your worries about your girlfriends health are soon allayed. Good luck to you in 2009. I hope it's a better year for you. 


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