April 11, 2021

Long lost sisters reunited

There is nothing more annoying than when you are living in a different country and someone asks you if you know a random person from your home country that they happen to know. Countries are not that small! As an Irish person, our country is pretty small with a population of only 4 million people. That is still a lot of people though and I don’t know all of them. So when I was in New Zealand and someone asked if I knew Paddy Riley or Mary Murphy, it was annoying, should I know them just because they are Irish? However, it is a little awkward how often in that situation that I do end up knowing those people. Paddy Riley went to my university and Mary Murphy dated one of my friends. The world is sometimes smaller than we realize. This next story surely proves that.

Today the population of Korea is around 50 million people, a lot bigger than Ireland. In 1954 it was closer to 22 million, still a lot bigger than Ireland.  Due to the prolonged presence of American soldiers in Korea during that time, there is now a large population of Koreans in America, around 2 million people. Still a lot of people.

Holly O’Brien is one of those Koreans. She had become an orphan at the age of five. Her mother disappeared when she was much younger and her father was hit by a train. She was adopted by a family from Virginia and would go on to have a successful career as a nursing assistant. O’Brien remembers though having a half-sister. The memory is like a dream now but she vaguely recollects living with a new woman and a new sister before her father died. It came to her again in a dream when she was just nine years old and she told her new adopted parents all about it, they contacted the orphanage but there was no record of Holly having any sisters. So she moved on and in time thought about it less and less.

Despite this, she always felt her half-sister was out there, little did she know just how close that sister was. Once while working at the hospital a patient showed an interest in her Korean heritage. They started to talk more about and the patient asked if she knew another Korean nurse, she worked on the same floor and often looked after the patient as well. Holly had never met her but like anything in life when someone points something out, you start to see it. She had been a little annoyed that the patient asked if she knew the other Korean person but that fact that they worked on the same floor, made the question make sense.

Soon she would bump into this other Korean nurse, her name Meagan Hughes. They started to talk more and more about their lives. They realized they had both been abandoned and orphaned. One day Holly asked Meagan what her Korean surname was. Shin. They were both named Shin. Something started to stir inside Holly. At that point she didn’t consider that Meagan could be her sister but it was like a scab that needed to be picked at. There was something more to discover here.

After talking more and more they realized it was possible and sent their DNA samples away to be tested. It soon came back and was confirmed. They were half-sisters and after many years they had been reunited. An incredible moment in their lives. 

O’Brien has been divorced twice and has never had children, but she does have a large family (eight adoptive siblings). Hughes has two children though and this blood connection was something she had lacked. She was now the instant aunt to these two wonderful girls. A lifelong search that she didn’t know she was enduring was complete.