My friend, Bernadette “Berni” Slowey, has had some extraordinary stories to tell. The first was the story of herself as a displaced bank executive, who woke up one day and decided to film a documentary movie in India. She had no training or experience in film making, and more passion and enthusiasm than money to pay for the production. But somehow she cobbled together a crew and went to India to film a movie about a spiritual retreat. In the end, there is little about the famous gurus she went to document, the film turned into a story about her own personal journey into self-discovery. Berni’s Journey wound up being a success and a springboard for Berni’s career as a public speaker and coach.
For her second act, Berni did a Ted talk, and I was among a group of friends on whom she tested some of her talk. It was the first time I heard the story of Berni’s lost sister. A crushing story of a family in Saigon in 1975, just as the Vietnam war was ending and the American troops were leaving the city. The story of two little Amerasian girls, playing outside, and one of them disappeared. In the midst of the chaos of trying pack up her life and leave Saigon for a foreign land (the United States of America) to join her GI husband, a young mother lost her two year old child on the streets of Saigon. The mother had to make an unthinkable choice: stay in Saigon to look for her child and risk being found and possibly tortured or killed by the Viet Cong as an American sympathizer or take the child she did have, and leave before it was too late. They came to America. Berni’s story ended with the guilt she had always felt that her four year old self hadn’t kept track of the “baby” sister, and that her mother had made the wrenching choice to take Berni away.
In Berni’s third act - the impossible: On December 16, 2018, Berni heard from a cousin that a woman had reached out to him through FamilyTree.com as a genetic match, and did any members of their family have ties to Vietnam. As the story came out, there were too many coincidences - the age of the child, her being a foundling in Saigon just before it was taken over by the Viet Cong, and the DNA connection to their family. But Berni’s DNA was in another database and they couldn’t confirm the relationship immediately. Berni spoke on the phone with her sister for the first time just days later. Even before the DNA confirmation, they were convinced they were sisters. You can watch the news stories about their reunion on Denver CBS to hear the details of the story, but by January 4, 2019, Berni and her lost sister Vanessa, reunited after more than 43 years. Sadly, their mother has passed away and will never see that her daughter was finally found.
Watch Berni’s Journey, the film that won critical acclaim, when it appears on Denver PBS this month (Here’s a little promo). You can watch Berni’s Ted Talk where she discusses the loss of her sister here.