The Red Cross Lost and Found: Reconnecting Separated Families

Story by Jacqueline Fernandes, Intern, Chicago, Illinois

Despite the number of communication means today, families continue to lose contact with loved ones because of conflict, disaster, migration, and other emergencies. When this separation happens, hearing someone’s voice can give you a lot of solace - especially if they are on the other side of the globe.

When Lucinda lost contact with her mom, Olga, she was incredibly distraught. Even if you don’t have family outside of the United States, we can all relate to being further away from loved ones than we would like. Lucinda’s story stresses not only the importance of having stable contact information (such as phone numbers, email addresses, etc.), but also how stressful it can be when these forms of communication fail. As many in the United States, including myself, have family abroad, it is easy to empathize with the pain of separation, and the joy of reconnection.

In February 2015, Lucinda lost contact with her mother, Olga. Lucinda’s eldest son had been planning to visit his grandmother in England, and had talked regularly with her about his impending trip. However, as the trip got closer, communication suddenly stopped.

Three months passed without communication. Lucinda and her son became increasingly concerned. Lucinda felt something wasn’t right. Olga normally called her daughter, or sent cards and a letter at birthdays and holidays. Easter passed. Birthdays passed. And still, no cards arrived. Due to her mother’s age, Lucinda feared the worst.

In what Lucinda considers a stroke of luck, she found out about the Red Cross’ reconnecting families services. She went to her local Red Cross office and spoke with Restoring Family Links Caseworkers, Hilary Duerksen and Christa Kuntzleman, both of whom she said, “Cared and were invested in the case and its outcome.”

Through the Red Cross, Lucinda requested a health and welfare check-in. Through this service, a member of the British Red Cross went to Olga’s last known address and made sure that Lucinda’s mother was alright.  In total, the process of locating and reestablishing communication took only about three weeks.

After the British Red Cross visited Olga, she was able to again call her daughter Lucinda. Lucinda said that her mother was surprised that she had enlisted the help of the American Red Cross. Nonetheless, both women were happy to hear from each other. And now, Lucinda’s son is back in talks with his grandmother and is planning a visit very soon!

When Lucinda celebrated her July birthday, she was happy to receive a card from her mother, who now calls more regularly and sounds more upbeat since the visit from the Red Cross. Lucinda is incredibly thankful for the hope the Red Cross gave in a trying situation. She is very grateful and feels this couldn’t have been achieved without the help of the Red Cross. 

The American Red Cross as part of the Red Cross Movement is proud to provide these reconnecting families services. It is the distinct pleasure of the Chicago casework team to help family members restore communication and ensure that steps are taken to prevent future loss of contact. If you are separated internationally from family members and need help in restoring communication, we hope that this story will encourage you to contact your local Red Cross office and inquire about starting a family reconnection case.

To contact your local chapter, please find their contact information by clicking here. To start your search through the Red Cross online today, please visit redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies.