Helen MacCoy is always up for a good adventure and loves the anticipation of what might be around the next bend.
But she wasn’t prepared for the bombshell that was dropped on her last month when she learned she has at least 10 half-siblings she didn’t know existed.
“I was shocked, I was gobsmacked, and I still don’t know what to make of it all — it’s been a lot to take in,” said the 63-year-old Sydney resident.
MacCoy, whose surname growing up in Halifax was Stewart, said the news was so overwhelming that she still is not sure if she’s more surprised by the number of “new” brothers and sisters or by the many bizarre twists and turns that changed the course of her family history.
Her story is one of human nature wrapped around multiple layers of mystery, enveloping a sometimes nefarious, sometimes romantic plotline that certainly lends credence to the claim that truth is often stranger than fiction. At the very least, it shows that things aren’t always as they seem.
But for MacCoy, the façade of her traditional nuclear family began to unravel when she learned at the age of 13 that the man she knew as her “dad” was not her biological father. And while the revelation was upsetting, it also touched on her curious nature
“Scotia Square had just opened, and I remember sitting there looking at the men walking by and wondering if any of them might be my biological father because I had this idea that my real father was out there somewhere,” she said, admitting that at that point she had a romantic notion of her birth father gallantly riding back into her life.
And that’s exactly what happened.
One day during her last year of high school, MacCoy arrived home to find a man sitting with her mother at the kitchen table. That man was Noble Hugh (Sandy) Lausanne, her birth father. But he didn’t stay long.
“She ended up leaving the man I called dad for this man and he only stayed around for a couple of weeks before we asked him to leave because he only wanted my mother and me but not my two sisters who I grew up with,” she said, adding that the man who had raised her ended up leaving for Ontario and was estranged from them for 10 years.
“The damage had been done — it was sad.”
BACK IN HER LIFE
While the experience gave MacCoy a brief glimpse into the character of her biological father, another two decades would pass before he re-entered her life when, in 1997, a friend of her sister passed on information about a personal ad she spotted in the Chronicle Herald newspaper. Sandy Lausanne had placed the ad in hopes of re-connecting with MacCoy.
The overture led to his reunification with Helen’s mother, Elsie, who would leave her second husband to live with Lausanne in the Kentville area.
“He was dying from cancer and he wanted to get to know me — I ended up spending most weekends visiting with him, he even met my kids,” recalled Helen.
“My mother stayed in that house, she did not want to leave — she was still in that fairy tale world of ‘he loved me till he died’ kind of thing and she had no idea of what had happened, she had no idea that he had had so many children and had been with so many other women.”
End of story? Not even close.
It turns out that Lausanne had a son named Barton who showed up while his father was on his deathbed. It was MacCoy’s first meeting with “Bart”, but it wouldn’t be her last. Lausanne died just a few months later in February 1998 and at that point as far as MacCoy was aware, Bart was her only half-sibling.
But that depiction of her family history would also change.
About five years ago, MacCoy’s niece Jodie met and began dating a woman called Crystal Lausanne, who coincidentally was Bart’s daughter. But what at the time seemed like an interesting footnote to the story turned out to be the key that would eventually open the floodgates.
“They have since broken up and Crystal now has a baby — well, she contacted me in June and asked me to attend the little baby’s first birthday party and I accepted,” said MacCoy.
“I guess Bart heard I was going and said ‘oh, Linda will be there’ to which I asked who Linda was and he said, ‘she’s your half-sister from your father’. I asked how many of us there were, and he told me that at last count there were 11 of us.”
MacCoy’s first contact with her half-sister Linda Finigan was a three-hour phone call just a few weeks ago. Since then, she traveled to the mainland where she met with Bart and Linda, the latter who has been central to researching and tracking down the offspring of Sandy Lausanne.
The 59-year-old Linda, whose married name is Finigan, lives in Oak Hill, just outside of Bridgewater. She grew up near Chester and experienced a childhood she describes as difficult and that included being abandoned by her birth parents and a later stint in foster care after the death of a woman called Lois who had taken her in.
“I met my birth mother when I was 19 and from her learned that a man name Sandy Lausanne was my birth father, but I didn’t pursue anything at that time,” said Finigan, who has two adult children and runs a business with her husband.
“I began to dig into my family roots about 25 years ago and I first found Bart and his full-sister Leanne — I started by looking up birth and death records and ended up with DNA evidence from most of my half-siblings.”
To date Finigan has discovered that Sandy Lausanne fathered at least 11 children, including a second Linda.
“I guess he liked that name – so along with us two Lindas, there is also Helen, Bart, Leanne, Steve, John and Randall, plus three children born before Helen who I have yet to find.”
She acknowledges there may be even more siblings, adding that she wouldn’t be surprised, given what she has learned about the character of her biological father.
“He always had a lot of women on the go. People that knew him said he was all charm and charisma and could make anyone believe anything he said. He was a sociopath and a conman in the truest sense of the word,” said Finigan.
“He would insert himself into people’s lives only to disappear and then he’d come back and do it again — and his women took him back.”
For Finigan, getting to know more about her father has been a liberating experience.
“The more I learn about him, the more I know of him, the freer I am — he was not capable of loving and caring for anybody except for himself,” said Finigan.
“It’s been good for me because I now feel that I belong to a club that is made up of people that he didn’t want and that I am part of something, so finding out who he was was very painful until everyone else started to show up.”
All of the eight Sandy Lausanne offspring who are now aware of each other have had DNA testing confirm their lineage except for MacCoy, who only last week sent her DNA sample off to a lab for testing.
“I know he is my father and the DNA will prove it,” said MacCoy, who, like half-sister Finigan has become both intrigued and repulsed by her late biological father.
“Learning what he did has changed my fairy tale view of him and my mother, my vision of her taking care of him till the day he died, well, that has now been blown to bits — it’s gone because he wasn’t the man I thought he was.”
PULLS NO PUNCHES
And she pulls no punches when assessing her opinion of her birth father.
“He lived large, he knew a lot of influential people in Halifax and hung out with all the rich people — at one point he was living on the top floor of the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax and a woman was paying for him to live there,” said MacCoy, who added he was living in the hotel when she worked downstairs as a cook.
“He was a narcissist, he was a charmer, he did it to my mother three times and he went back to other women for a second time — I now know he was a conman, a super conman, he’s a crook who I know served at least some time in a B.C. jail for passing bad cheques.”
Despite her own condemnation of her father’s character, MacCoy still wants to know more.
“I’m all-in now and even though it’s been emotionally challenging, I know I can handle whatever else I learn about that man,” she said.
“And besides, all of our children now have more cousins.”