GIBSONTON — People are giving thanks for many things today but family and friends rank high on most lists.
One woman from Gibsonton is especially thankful for finding her long-lost sister and learning she has another sister as well.
“I always knew someone I loved was missing in my life,” said Suzanne Keller-Becker, who is now 23. “When I was younger I’d wake up crying because she was gone, but I was too young to understand what had happened.”
“I’ve always remembered being with Jennifer. She was probably about 13 and I was 3 or 4 and I really looked up to her. Then one day, she was just gone.”
This happened due to her father’s divorce from his second wife about 20 years ago, Suzanne said. They were half-sisters but they do not choose to use the word “half.”
“I remember them coming to live with us. I would follow her around. You know how little girls look up to their older sisters. And I remember that one day she was just suddenly gone and that hurt me inside.”
Suzanne lives with her husband Austin, her brother DJ, her mother Shari Keller, and her mother’s family, who have lived in
“Family is very important to me,” she said, as we sat surrounded by not only her immediate family, but the family’s many pets.
“Last fall, I decided that with all the social networking now going on, there had to be a way to locate Jennifer again.”
Coincidentally (or as Suzanne says, it was just meant to be) right about the time Suzanne started looking for Jennifer on line, her husband Austin found an old brown leather-covered address book in a shed on the family’s rural Gibsonton property where they operate a lawn service.
Suzanne recognized having heard some of the names in the long-distant past and began calling the telephone numbers immediately.
None of the numbers were still in service, but two of the old addresses were still good.
“I know now that without that book I could never have found her any other way because her father has been married five or six times and didn’t know her last name. Plus the fact that by now I figured she was probably married anyway.”
But Suzanne started putting the addresses from the newly-found book into the online reverse directory and looking up the names (in the book) on sites like Face Book and My Space and going through the “Friend’s Lists” of any possible matches.
“It was amazing to me that I was able to locate anyone that way but that’s how I found Stacey, another half-sister, who’s now 30. I came across a Terri Lingrich who was in the brown book, and she knew Stacey. Neither of us knew that Stacey was my sister too at that time but I knew there was some sort of connection to Jennifer because of the book.”
So Suzanne took the next step and got Stacey’s telephone number and called her on the phone.
“Do you have a mother named Becky and a sister named Jennifer?” she asked. When Stacey said yes, Suzanne remembers that she immediately started to cry. “I was so happy. I knew I had found another sister, and that she would lead me to Jennifer too.”
Suzanne and Stacey talked for several minutes after realizing they were sisters. Then Stacey called Jennifer, who immediately recognized Suzanne’s name.
“Stacey said Jennifer said ‘that’s my baby sister!’ and she called me right away.”
The three women burned up the telephone lines talking for the rest of that day.
Then Suzanne decided to fly north and meet them in person.
Stacey lives in
“I found her Sept. 29 and flew there Sept. 30,” she said, showing me her reservations and ticket stubs. The one thing she could not show me though, were her photographs, which did not come out.
There is a photo of Suzanne and Jennifer on Suzanne’s Face Book page, but is too small to resize and use with this story.
“I stayed three weeks with Jennifer, who is married now to Brian, and has three kids.”
So Suzanne found not only a sister, but a brother-in-law and a nephew, Marcos, 10; and two nieces, Aiana, 6 and Eva, 3.
“We drove back down to
“We found that we all love dogs, have tattoos, like the same music and television shows and eat the same foods. It was just amazing.”
Suzanne is particularly glad she found Jennifer now.
“It is really like it was meant to be.”
Jennifer has breast cancer and they went to lots of doctor’s appointments together. “It’s something called triple-negative cancer. The doctor ordered 12 weeks of chemo right after her surgery.”
They also had 5-to-6 appointments a week with 3-year-old Eva who has a neurological problem with her speech.
“Now we can talk on the phone and I can keep up with their health issues,” said Suzanne. “This whole thing has changed the way I look at my life. I’m not even supposed to be here, and sometimes I wondered how I was even kept alive.”
She had a lot of separate health issues when she was young, including almost dying from sleep apnea.
“I was also put on a heart monitor for a year when I was very young,” she said. “And at 14 I was hit by a box truck and had internal bleeding and I wasn’t expected to live. Just a few years ago a 70-pound bar fell down from the top of a steel swing and
hit me in the head and cracked my skull.”
The sisters got to share all these experiences together and now Suzanne feels her life is complete.
“I have a wonderful husband and mother, and now I have two sisters and a nephew and two nieces. But most of all I know what made the hole in my heart and gave me the feeling that something I loved very much had been taken away. So for whatever time we have together, we’ll keep up our communication and I’ll get to love her forever.”