04/17/2013 08:26 EDT | Updated 06/17/2013 05:12 EDT

The Family Secret That Changed Everything
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"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

― Maya Angelou

April 15, 2013. An emotional day for all of us.

And for me on more than one level. Hell and heaven within hours of each other. Along with the entire world, I was horrified by the senseless tragedy in Boston. Then hours later as is the way with life, a miracle in my family was finally a reality.

The details of how the miracle began prove just how fortuitous connections can be.

The day before Good Friday past, a London work-based (Social Service) book reading club wanted to use my memoir, Father's Touch, as their "read." The previous month I was told the group didn't really care for their choice and I freely admit that was the biggest factor in my saying yes. Oh, that AND a free dinner. The group meets monthly at various restaurants and I would be the first author to attend in five years.

I thought it would be a critique of my book and I was looking forward to that. One friend said, "you're sure you're up for a return visit to the past?" I visited that past in this previous Huffington Post blog. I paused and replied, "Oh, it won't be like that!" Well, it was like that. But a lot of fun too: a great, thoughtful, insightful group with excellent questions.

When I returned home I said to my partner, "It went really well, but I don't think I'll do it again." A nightmare at 3 a.m. seconded my motion as the subconscious mind often rules in these matters.

The following Monday I received a Facebook message from someone who borrowed the book from one of the group, read it in two days and wrote a lovely note saying she was sorry she missed the book club meeting.

Then that Wednesday morning a received the following message from yet another woman:

Hi Donald,

I am contacting you because I recently heard about your book and looked in to it on your website as your last name was just too familiar for me to pass up. I believe we have a connection and I wanted to touch base with you about this. I have a younger half sister who I believe shares the same father as you -- being Daniel D'Haene -- therefore being your half sister as well. I spoke with her about this today and she gave me permission to contact you and share this, in order to see what you thought about it.

I am not sure if you would have known anything about her, although I would suspect not, given that you have not spoken with Daniel, but her name is Vannesa and she has had no contact with Daniel since she was young. There are more details about that, and the reason he moved to the Philippines with his latest wife, but I would prefer to discuss them after there is confirmation that this connection is in fact valid and whether you would like to connect with Vannesa.


Immediately, I knew several things. This letter writer found out about my story because I agreed to the book club meeting and saw a post from the non-attendee. That I would finally meet my sister. And finally, confirmation of what I had known for two decades: my sister was also sexually abused by our father (confirmation which came within minutes of corresponding).

Knowing something to be true and finally staring truth in the face is overwhelming. I would never feel the same as I did before that Wednesday morning. In the subject line of my reply, I wrote: "Finally, with tears of joy, I connect with Vanessa!‏"

Cindy and I corresponded all week and spoke a couple of times on the phone. I was in no rush to force fate. I had waited a quarter century. I had no time table.

There were humourous moments as well. When Cindy told me our mutual sister was gay, I threw up my hands in joy and then immediately dialled my older brother and told him, "Now we outnumber you three to two!" as my other sister, Marina, is also gay; my two brothers, straight!

This morning I decided it was time. Marina and I would meet Vanessa today! No doubt this meeting was much more overwhelming for a sister who just found out about our existence two weeks ago.

Watching my two gay sisters separated only by decades in age was like witnessing the results of time travel each mirroring the other in looks, motion and emotions as each had uniquely previously experienced hell in the form of abuse and now love and solidarity of spirit.

Our younger sister was kept in the dark about our existence, our shared experience so that she wouldn't find out the real truth: Evil exists. It comes in many forms. But most important: None of us are really alone.

Today I was reminded of its existence as were you. But evil doesn't always triumph. It kills the body but cannot kill the spirit.

Vanessa sent me a note tonight: "It was wonderful meeting you both. Use my name and my story. Evil did not win. He didn't win. We found each other. Love, Vanessa."

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