We’re so pleased to have Tom Bateman as our guest blogger today. Tom, besides being Kathy’s cousin, is a 1983 graduate of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ, the Choral Director of New Hope-Solebury High School and Middle School and the Organist and Choir Director of Saint Martin of Tours in New Hope, PA. Here’s his experience of our reunion.
-Julie and Kathy
From the time I was a little boy, I knew I had a very large extended family. My grandparents had five of six children survive to adulthood, and they were all prolific when it came to increasing the family numbers. When all was said and done there were 28 grandchildren, and for a spell there were 30. Each of the five families had as few as three and as many as seven children. As a result, I had 21 first cousins on my mother’s side.
All of my cousins were fantastic, but Kathy and her two brothers were extra special because they lived 1,000 miles away in Florida. Each summer they would head north to Philadelphia for a lengthy visit, and we were beyond thrilled. In fact, our summers together top some of my fondest childhood memories.
When we eventually learned Kathy and her brothers were adopted, it meant little to us; they were our cousins, tried and tested through years of camaraderie and closeness. Although the news intrigued my siblings and me, it didn’t change the way we felt about them. They were family, and nothing could change that — not even genetics (or lack thereof).
Over the years, we not only celebrated the big events, such as weddings, birthdays, graduations, and reunions, but we also relished in the more commonplace exchanges, such as letters, phone calls, and shared spring breaks. We were cousins, yes – but on many occasions, our relationship has felt like that of siblings. And like any other family, our lives were not just filled with joyous events; we also experienced great loss. Ours seemed to happen all in the span of one decade.
The 1990s took away our Wisler grandparents, two aunts, and three uncles (one of which was my father, and another was Kathy’s father). In addition, we lost many great aunts and uncles with whom we were equally close. It was a painful time, and often there was no time to grieve one family member passing before we faced the news of another loved one’s terminal diagnosis. We were beaten down, but we faced life and death together, as a family, and knew that the ones who had left us would have encouraged us to go on with the same spirit and zest for life that they bestowed upon us when we were children.
In 2008, when Kathy first shared with me the news of her possible connection to her birth family, I was thrilled for her. I encouraged her to follow her heart and to not be afraid— no matter the outcome. My deep fondness for her and desire for her happiness was key in the way I advised her, but I admit that I had tremendous fear that in some way a reunion could diminish the closeness we shared all our lives. However, in this case, I knew I had to put my fears aside and encourage her to move forward with her quest.
The night Kathy first spoke to Julie and Frank on the phone, she called me to share her news. And I– her impulsive and protective cousin– decided to send a letter to her mother exalting Kathy’s qualities and expressing my joy that they had found each other. I emphasize impulsive because it mortified Kathy and probably scared Julie to death! Here they were, after decades of wondering, trying to decide how to proceed, and this dolt (me) intercedes to throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings!
However, in the long run, I believe that all parties involved realized what I had were all good intentions.
As for my fears– they were unwarranted. I have met most of Kathy’s birth family and adore them. I admire what they do for their existence, for I, too, am in the fine arts. I fondly remember her sister Danielle and I coaching my niece on a paper she had to do on Benjamin Britten. I cherished when Kathy’s parents not only came to my hometown where they had rekindled their forbidden love, but also stopped to have dinner with my family and to visit my home.
When I met Kathy’s birth family, the von Zernecks, what I discovered was a family, much like my own, that loved one another unconditionally and that there was nothing more important in life than that. If Kathy and the Von Zernecks are living happily ever after, so too, are the Wislers. I look forward to when I will see the von Zernecks again, and I know that there are still many Wisler relatives who look forward to meeting Kathy’s family. Throughout this whole reunion process, all of our lives have been enriched– and blessed. For this I am most grateful.
I think the big questions have been answered:
Was Kathy loved and cared for? – Yes!
Do the von Zernecks care for Kathy as much as we? – Yes!
Divine intervention, in my opinion, is the catalyst for this newfound family relationship. I think this whole reunion took place because those we have lost, including the Mannix family and Wisler family, have sent their blessings from their resting places. I cannot ask for more.