2020…What Could Possibly Come Next?


This year has been a wild ride; and it’s still not finished…so we should all buckle up (and wear our freaking masks).

For me, it is been a year of unraveling my past as I searched for and found my birth mother. The fact that my birth mother wanted no part of me…well, that was unfortunate and made me weep just a bit…but I quickly moved on. My adoptive parents – now both gone – were so loving and devoted to our family; they were my “real” parents my entire life.

I decided that the stranger who accidentally conceived me really doesn’t matter for the most part.

And right as I was processing this new found me (or was it simply the same me without as many questions?) COVID struck, or began to strike…just in time to derail my family from going on a long-planned trip to Japan. The news at the specific time of our planned departure was scary, countries were shutting down (the US was threatening to) and Japan itself was implementing all kinds of business and tourist-related closures and automatic quarantine requirements. After weeks of stressful watching and waiting, we finally pulled the plug literally days before our scheduled trip.

All I could think of at that time was poor us, we don’t get to go to Japan.

Months later, though, with the death toll and infection rates on the increase, the world as we knew it seemed to change right before our eyes; the cancellation of our trip didn’t seem to matter very much as chaos and panic took over our everyday lives. We committed to going to Japan someday in the future, and I pray the world will be such that we can.

I still remember that first trip to the grocery store after COVID became an official threat. I don’t remember what had transpired the days before, but I do recall being fearful of grocery shopping! It felt like a visit to the hospital to see a very ill, quarantined friend. Mask on, gloves on, sanitizer ready and waiting in the car.

Careful what you touch (and don’t touch anything!)!

I had heard there was a shortage of food so didn’t know what to expect. It was strange. Very little meat in the meat department, many empty shelves (certainly no hand sanitizer, wipes or toilet paper!) and people were clearly hoarding. There was both a calmness about it (people seemed somber and serious, at least from what one could see given their masks) as well as a frantic feeling (seeing others hoarding made me question if I should too).

I must admit I did buy some extra food items (that are still in my freezer and pantry, unused). And am I the only one who has those tiny, tiny, tiny – miniature – rolls of toilet paper that showed up when all the stores were out of the regular sized rolls? I’ve never used them, have you used yours?

The new norm. Less emotion, more procedural.

When I came home after those initial days of COVID grocery shopping I also remember the process of washing hands (the right way), sanitizing everything I bought and touched, and being genuinely convinced I was somehow contaminating every surface of my home and fridge. I had great angst about it and disinfected everything, and then everything again. I even remember the panic when I ran out of cleaning supplies for a week…oh, my…

Over time, isn’t it so odd that this has become so much less of an emotional journey and just an everyday procedural thing. People wear their mask, chat with friends, drink their Starbucks and go about their business, no longer somber or panicked (or disinfecting at every touch). And who would have ever thought that masks on everyone, on joggers, on the police, on your UBER driver, would become just part of our everyday life and scenery.

But having said that, the new norm has come with a lot of pain and cost.

During COVID some people’s lives have been forever changed. Family members may have died (not due to COVID necessarily, but often alone during hospital COVID isolation rules), weddings have been postponed; parties and annual traditions cancelled. Funerals have been live streamed (in some cases with even the deaths themselves happening over cellphones or Zoom calls so that loved ones can say goodbye).

The economic hit has also been terrible…luckily all of this initially happened during the spring and summer months given the need for outside dining and well-ventilated activities. The concern of course is what will happen moving forward…what businesses will be able to survive and which ones won’t. Please support your local businesses, as they really need us all.

Social distancing is the new intimacy.

The typical hugs and time spent with family and friends…so much has changed in this “new normal” we are now living in. Our everyday lives have become more isolated and solitary. I remember the first time seeing a good friend during those initial months of the virus, and not hugging hello or goodbye. It seemed so wrong and uncomfortable at the time…yet today, it has become the norm.

To hug someone is now the exception, and an exception you need to be on the same page about! There is now a little societal dance people do to help ascertain the “comfortable safety level” of any particular person. I’ll wear a mask if you do; I’ll take it off if you take off yours; where have you been the past 2 weeks? (and who have you been with!) Been tested recently?

In a few ways amazing and wonderful things have also happened. Parents now working at home have gotten to know their young kids (and have become more appreciative of their kids’ teachers!). Many people have become gardeners and DIY’ers…people are walking and working out in homemade gyms, LOL….a silver lining to the very dark cloud called COVID.

But 2020 isn’t just about the virus…

And if the virus wasn’t enough to give the year 2020 a bad rep, there have been epic natural disasters as well.

In my hometown of San Jose, the summer heat brought terrible fires (several of the largest fires in the area’s history), and with that the threat of evacuation. That was a terrifying experience that I don’t ever want to have to think about or plan for again. My heart goes out to people who have lost their homes, or even their lives; we should all thank fire department personnel everywhere after seeing what they have to do each and every working day.

And of course, all of those fires and the unrelenting heat, resulted in air quality issues that were in some ways completely startling (if you saw any of the photos of the orange skies in California, or if you simply tried to be outside and breathe!) yet most people simply said, “It’s 2020! What else should we expect?

We ran our air conditioner for weeks to keep from opening windows. No-one went outside, it was a ghost town. The already impacted restaurants, with only outside seating due to COVID, were even more economically devastated. Wild animals, fleeing wildfires, heat and smoke, were invading neighborhoods they usually wouldn’t. I can only speak to California, of course, but know that wildfires hit many states this year in increasing numbers and magnitude…and I know that other states are also dealing with hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters (that seem to be “naturally” happening more and more…).

Looking out at the dirty, orange air…the heat….the threat of continued fires…it really did seem like perhaps the world was going to end. One wondered, what would happen next?

Well, for us we went to visit a son in Oregon. While there, the air quality was the world’s worst air quality. Imagine that. The worst air quality in the world, and we were there breathing it in.

We couldn’t see a thing (and that’s sad as Oregon is a beautiful state) and luckily they had indoor dining available as eating (and drinking…and more eating…) was really the only thing a visitor could do. Between closures due to COVID and those due to the dirty air, there just wasn’t anywhere to go and we ended up shortening our trip.

Things are just dirty in 2020.

And of course, during all of this, one must not forget all of the other dirty things going on besides the air quality.

Dirty politics being the primary one.

You know what I mean. The polarized politics. We all have seemingly become party-affiliated zombies, which makes us unwilling – or unable – to listen to the other side (whoever that might be)…

I know we once did listen and were able to believe what we heard! Where is Dan Rather or Walter Cronkite now that we really need to trust what we hear on the news. Instead of facts we offer opinions and pass along our party’s media propaganda. Both sides are doing it. The United States seems to have gone mad (I often wonder what citizens in other countries really think about us!). Throw in the unrest and divisiveness relating to Black Lives Matter and other societal inequities and injustices… and I fear our nation will never mend.

Civil war anyone?

I wonder what 2020 will bring next? Three more months, I fear what may be coming… Halloween may bring real zombies this year…perhaps the murder hornets are really on their way. I think Santa may opt out this Christmas (perhaps his elves can use my tiny toilet paper stash?).

I myself am a little concerned about the approaching time of year. Flu season is coming, the cold or wet weather will mean more people staying indoors. This change in seasons, I think, is going to be bad; the risk of the spread of the virus indoors is thought to be greater. But I also think we all may just really just need some sunshine, fresh air, exercise and vitamin D to keep from exploding!

With people indoors all winter…hmmm…things could get out of hand.

The election is less than a month away. I wonder if passing that milestone will make things better or worse. I fear it will do nothing to help calm the polarization we see today. What will the losing side do? What will everyday people do? I can’t help but think about the Purge…will that be our fate? What about the economy? What about people’s health if COVID lingers on?

So many uncertainties. Yet, some things have remained the same.

Important things.

— Relationships.

— Friendships.

— Our faith, in both God and humanity.

— Appreciation of what we have and the beauty that still exists.

— The love and happiness surrounding our pets, our passions and other simple joys.

We need to hold on to these things. We need to focus on them and nurture them; to not let ourselves become polarized and distorted.

And when the “next thing” comes along, as I’m sure it will (“It is 2020 after all”), take a breath…remind yourself of all that you have…and just hold on to those you love.

I promise you. It will be ok.

Nature vs. Nurture – Who Am I?

I was adopted as an infant and even some 60 years later, never knew who my biological parents were. I never knew if heart disease, cancer or dementia ran in my family; or whether I was 50% Irish, German, British or what. I had never seen someone who looked like me, or even a little like me.

Canva - Baby in White Onesie

I had been adopted by two wonderful parents, so throughout my life I never really cared too much about “who” I was from a genetic sense. I truly didn’t think about it very much except when new doctors asked me the inevitable questions relating to, “What health issues run in your family?” I always just drew big lines through the pages of questions relating to medical history while shrugging my shoulders. I just didn’t know anything relating to my biological roots.

Recently, however, my world has changed.

I, along with my husband and adult sons, did 23andMe DNA tests. I had thought it would be interesting, especially for my sons (who have already started getting those questions about medical history from their docs).  While they had some ancestry insights on my husband’s side, my family history had of course been a blank slate.  I had hoped that the 23andMe tests would offer at least some helpful info on my side of things, and I was excited for us to get our results.

The test results finally came back and I suddenly had new-found insights into my heritage.

Canva - free DNA52.4% British and Irish; 22.8% French and German; and 2% Italian. Ah, perhaps an explanation for my pale complexion and why I get so easily sunburned!

My sons also received their own set of percentages that at least began to fill-in some info on their unique genetic blueprints.

But another revelation was also presented to me. I had DNA matches to several second and third cousins. Even more unexpectedly, I had DNA matches who had my birth mother’s maiden name listed in their profile as a family name in their ancestral tree. That meant something! I had found biological kin.

With the names of several newfound cousins in hand I began a free trial on Ancestry.com. Using the info I now had, along with the info from adoption paperwork, it wasn’t hard to identify my probable birth mom.  Remember I hadn’t had her first name initially.

While I hadn’t really ever thought much about my biological birth parents, having a possible identification of my birth mom seemed to open up an opportunity to learn more about “me.” So with growing excitement I decided I’d build my family tree on the site and see what I could uncover.

If you have never seen Ancestry.com the outcome you are looking for when building your family tree is a large number of linked boxes. Parents linked to their kids; grandparents and those before them, all linked to each other.  Linked means family. Generations of links mean a view into your ancestry in terms of people and potentially even relating to the health of your genes.

The first decision I had to make was what name to put in my box, “Diane Marie Doran” or “Theresa Gale Diedrich”; adopted name I’d had all my life, or my biological birth name I’d had for weeks.

The question seemed simple enough. “Who am I?”

Canva - free confused

I started with my biological birth name as I thought that made the most sense in finding all the linkages to my new found “biological family”.

Initially the box labeled with my birth name (a somewhat foreign name I had never used) sat there seemingly unconnected to anyone but the maiden name of a woman I didn’t even know. It was kind of a lonely feeling. But I kept trying to form other connections around me.

On Ancestry.com there is this concept of getting a leaf (a hint to moving forward on Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetbuilding your tree)…but no matter what I did or what I searched on, I just couldn’t get any clues. No leaf, no info.

My box just sat there with the one connection to my birth mom’s maiden name. At one point I even deleted my tiny two-box family tree completely, it just seemed so futile.

But the next day I started over with some snippets of info that I had found with some online searching (it is amazing what you can learn on the internet; almost scary, actually). I found an article on what I surmised was my biological grand-dad along with mention of his three children. With a little more sleuthing I was confidant that I had found my birth mom.

With the grand-dad’s name I found the correct Diedrich family tree (which thankfully was not set up as private so I could take more than a peek).

I got a leaf, and then another.

Soon it was raining leaves.grampa edwin and margaret

From there I quickly developed many generations of connected boxes (only on my biological mom’s side as I didn’t know my biological dad’s name as yet). I was amazed at the ability to pull up photos of biological relatives’ weddings, their high school yearbook photos, newspaper clippings, military paperwork, immigration documents and so much more. I felt like I was learning so much about my biological roots; when my family migrated from Germany and more. It was fascinating, especially the historical records one could pull up and see.

It was so fun that I wanted to add my “real” family to see all of their historical info as well. I was so excited to see the entire “me” unfolding in the myriad of interconnected boxes. I thought I’d add my husband, sons, adopted brother and my adoptive parents. I was eager to see some familiar names and start seeing those connections take shape as well.

But that is when I was told that I had to choose. I had to “set a preference” in my ancestral tree: Biological parents (and family) or adoptive; one or the other.

I tried to over-ride this default, adding my adopted brother as a sibling under my biological family tree; but then he showed up under my birth mother versus our adoptive mom! I tried to trick the app, but to no avail. I thought it wasn’t very kind of the app to make me have to choose.

Perhaps this requirement for me to choose, to set a preference, was just a design decision that some engineer thought made complete sense. Clearly that individual didn’t have to involve two sets of families to answer the question, “Who am I?”

Canva - Handpainted Watercolor Family Giving Gifts on ChristmasAll of this irritated me, confused me…and frankly, made me just a bit emotional. I had to decide. Which “representation” of me was more important? Which set of roots (DNA or a lifetime of living) was more important?

That’s when it really hit me.

I had thought the genetics of my ancestry was so important, but staring at the interconnected boxes of strangers made me feel like an outsider. Worse, staring at my adoptive family now made me feel just a bit like a traitor. Weren’t they my real family? But I started wondering…I wondered how my adopted relatives depicted me on their own family trees. Was I there in a connected box? Or perhaps I was a box floating out in the cosmos, with a dotted line saying, “adopted.” Now my brain really began to spin.

Should my family tree be the parents who chose me, loved me and cared for me? Should it be the cousins I have known over the course of my life?  By this time I had found many scans of documents and bits and pieces of my adoptive ancestors’ lives. Here were all the people I had actually known and cared about, many of who were no longer living, like grandparents, aunts and uncles. None of these people shared my DNA; they had just shared my life.  I looked at these boxes (with my preference set to adoptive family) with great fondness. I remembered these people. They were biologically linked to my parents, just not to me.

Then I clicked over to my biological tree. These boxes and linkages contained no real emotional ties; the people were foreign to me. The linkages might have appeared connected to me on the screen, but I felt no connection. I was fascinated by the linkage, but emotionally ill-at-ease. To some extent I felt like I was eavesdropping on another family, clicking on their photos and moments; trying desperately to feel some connection and sense of inclusiveness.

I know that the whole point of the site is biological kin. But at that moment I couldn’t think why I cared beyond the statistics of 52.4% British and Irish; 22.8% French and German; and 2% Italian. Except maybe to know more about health history…so is the benefit of my entire ancestral search really about how my biological family tree members have died?

I think about what is more important, the “who” I could have been versus the “who” that I am.

The adopted me is who I am, why I am not a fashionista, why I love gardening, my sense of ethics,  why kindness is paramount to me, and maybe even why I became a writer. My adoptive dad’s love for developing an amazing vocabulary, my adoptive mom’s insistent voice to be kind, open-minded and caring. That is all what made me, me.

I finally decided, after making a few notes on my biological roots for my children, that I will set my preference for the adopted me. That is really the “me” and the family I know. I feel it somehow honors my adoptive parents, who were the best parents in the world. And it leaves me in a comfortable familiar space, with comfortable familiar names, in comfortable familiar boxes.

The linkages may not be based on DNA, but the linkages are real. The linkages are based on a lifetime of shared moments and connections (still ongoing today).

And as for finding my birth mom?

Yes I found her. That’s another story for another time.

Let’s just say I couldn’t have had better parents than the ones who raised me.

Mom and Dad…missing you even more today and wish you could see your wonderful grandsons as the bright and loving young men they are.

That’s what true family is all about after all…who you have loved…who you have lost… who remains in your heart…and who you will always remember.