October is Family History Month, and it reminds me of a recent search. Around 1965 was the last time I saw my half-sister Jeannette. I was 10 and she was 18. Now I’m 60, and an obituary is a sad place to end.
She died in 2012 at the age of 65. That same year an intuitive itch came over me to find her, but I didn’t know her married name and she wasn’t on social media. I made calls and wrote to possible addresses. Nothing ever came back.
Then my husband thought to hunt for an obituary through Ancestry.com. I said, “No way. She’s too young for that.” But there it was, a funeral notice.
It’s natural to regret lost opportunities, such as the years we might have spent stitching up remnants from our past through very different memories, but there’s something much deeper.
I’ve lost the chance to say I’m sorry. Jeannette left our home at age 15. I was 7. What do I have to be sorry about?
I’m sorry my father’s bitterness and my mother’s dismissal of Jeannette resulted in my own indifference toward her, born from a loyalty to my parents that never allowed me to search for her. Only now I see that.
My father divorced Jeanette’s mother and was granted full custody of my half-sister. Through an arranged marriage in the Philippines, my own mom arrived in America full of romantic dreams, but soon found herself with a resentful stepdaughter, and married to a man often absent as he served abroad in the U.S. Navy.
His ex-wife harassed my mom who once confided that fear and stress caused her two miscarriages before I was born. She blamed having custody of Jeannette.
As a budding teen, my half-sister was sociable and pretty, with an eye for fun, but our eight-year age gap did not make us close. By age 15, Jeannette went to live with her own mom to escape my strict father who viewed her leaving as a bitter betrayal, and who ranted, “She’s no good, just like her mother.”
At age 18, Jeannette returned for a visit. Through my ten-year-old eyes, she was 1960’s trendy in a blue mini-dress. Twiggy-style short hair, black eyeliner over flirty cat eyes, and a winsome smile with two dimples on either side. She told my father she had a son and was getting married. He called her a prostitute and kicked her out.
Now five decades later, I read her ever-so-brief obituary. Her parents are not even named. The last sentence reads: “her father and mother () ; ;” the incomplete section of a template someone forgot to delete.
That missing piece is a painful metaphor for unanswered questions. Now I understand my unnecessary alienation. I grew up accepting my parents’ long ago rejection of her. By tradition, it became mine. Everywhere, other half-siblings barely know each other, prevented by old feuds between exes. It’s a too-late realization and today I’m sorry I’ll never know Jeannette or her story.

Email Suzette Martinez Standring at suzmar@comcast.net or visit www.readsuzette.com. She is the award-winning author of “The Art of Column Writing” and “The Art of Opinion Writing” and teaches writing workshops nationally.