Craving Kin

By Kevin West

Kevin largeI’m writing this blog from my Pappy’s (grandpa’s) house in Pennsylvania. I came out here to visit my brother JR, who lives with Pappy, for JR’s birthday. The last time I was out here was 4 years ago, when our grandma was dying from lung cancer. The time before that–It had been 18 years since I had been home to see my family. I lived with them in a kinship placement until I was 8, when my biological mother regained custody of me. She remarried a man in the military so we moved, and I re-entered foster care out-of-state not too long after that. Meanwhile, my brother stayed back home with Pappy and our grandma. Thanks, Mom (sarcasm).

Things have sure changed between us, my younger brother and me. We used to be thick as thieves (literally, we stole food from the neighbors through their doggy door as kids). Now he is like a stranger who looks like me. After almost 20 years, reconnecting is hard. I look through photo albums and see how close we used to be and it makes me sad to know there is no way to get back to that point, no way to get those years back. I know JR loves me, but the way he shows it is different than I do. He’s a quiet man, calm, cool and collected, while I am a loud, outspoken, sensitive and crying-while-I-write-this-blog mess. The differences in the way we show our love, added to the years of distance between us, makes me feel even more like we are strangers.

 A couple years ago I met my younger sister, Lindsey, for the first time. She was 24 and I was 28. The. First. Time. We. Met. She was, again, a stranger who looked like me, but I’ve known about her for her whole life. We could and should have been connected at a much younger age; sibling visitation could have prevented us from being foreign to each other. I haven’t seen my youngest brother since he was 5 years old and I was 13; he is 22 years old now and I am 30. I don’t even know where he lives. My three younger siblings don’t even know each other, though they all know they exist, as we all share a birth mother.

It weighs on me and breaks my heart. Brothers and sisters should be your first and oldest friends but mine are hardly more than strangers, and frankly, it’s not fair. What did we do to deserve to not be in each other’s lives? Nothing, it was all done to us—and even as adults it still hurts and affects our lives. It is not something one gets over easily.

Every time I meet someone new and I am asked if I have brothers and sisters, it tugs at my heart, which breaks once again. Do I say no and ignore the relationships, or do I say yes and delve into the story of my broken family to make sense of why we do not talk much? It’s not like there is bad blood between us; it’s just that blood is all we have holding us together. We have very little in common and almost no memories to look back on.

Now, that is not to say I don’t have loving people in my life who I consider siblings, because I do—but it is not quite the same. Having biological bonds would help me feel more complete as a person and not alienated from my family.

I think that as wards of the state, the system should insure that these bonds are not broken. It is nearly impossible to place everyone together, but all efforts should be made to keep brothers and sisters in each other’s lives. It can reduce grief and loss, improve mental well-being and behaviors, and help keep families intact—which should be the goal of children’s social services. Parents may not be able to care for their children but that is not the fault of the kids. And often older siblings play parenting roles to the younger ones when the parents are otherwise absent. Keeping brothers and sisters together as much as possible is healthier for all involved.

Being back home and seeing JR is nice, but I wish I knew him better. I wish I knew my sister as more than just a Facebook friend. I wish I knew my baby brother. I wish for a lot of things to be different, but most of all I wish for current foster youth to not have to suffer through the grief and loss that’s unnecessary and so easily preventable.

Published on May 19, 2016 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.