My older sister and only sibling would be 57 today. She died from cancer or its complications almost 10 years ago.
She was estranged from my mom and I for a few years before death, so by the time she reached out again it was because the breast cancer discovered (during the estrangement years) had spread to her bones. It was stage 4 and there wer few treatments left for her to explore. I was glad she reached out, but at the same time deeply saddened by the circumstances. I thought it might offer an opportunity to make our peace, know each other a little better in whatever time was left, and other than that initial phone call, I never heard from her again. I sent money, I left messages each month for the next 4, and none of my calls were ever acknowledged, my modest attempts to ease her final days with money unacknowledged. The only way I was sure she was getting my notes and checks was by her cashing them each month.
What I remember most about my sister in my childhood was our fights. While all siblings argue and fight, my earliest memories are of our screaming matching and the physical hair-pulling slap-fests that would periodically break out. It is with deep sorrow and shame that I remember defacing her high school year book – at 10 I was a mess – and I suppose I cannot really blame her for not liking me more during much of our youth. Our interests were different, we were very different in our outlooks and the ways our parents saw us, raised us. It was unfortunate.
As adults we both made mistakes in our personal lives, were stubborn in letting go of past hurts, slights, and disses. She had moved out of state when I was 15, and her subsequent trips home were like restarting the dysfunctional family dynamic all over again, like a broken record. My mother would be overjoyed she was coming home for a visit, favorite child and all, and then spend they would spend the duration of the visit arguing and fighting with each other, coming together as a united front in being critical of me. Once I left home I rarely visited when my sister was in town; once she and my mom would start their critisims or arguing with each other I left and refused to return. It was easier and harder when we both had children. GL was jealous that my kids were so much closer to my parents, and my parents were accustomed to having more control and say in behavioral standards while the kids were in their care. My sister, on the other hand, would have no one else disciplining or even correcting her boys, no matter how poorly they behaved.
When she died I did not attend her funeral, a slight for which my mother never really forgave me. In truth it was that while she was my sister by blood, she was a stranger to me. I barely knew her or her young adult children, and while I was sad she had died I was not grieving or even deeply upset. Our disconnect had grown so great that I rarely thought of her when I thought about my family, but by that time the same was true of my own mother. It is sort of jarring and in stark contrast to the relationships I have now with my own little family and extended family of close friends. Those who have known me since grade school are not at all surprised, but newer friends have asked me about the deep rift in my family of origin. It’s complicated, I always say, and it is that and so much more. I suppose they loved me in their own ways, only in a manner I could never completely understand, much less feel.
I always find myself thinking of her on her birthday, trying to remember good things about our growing up years and beyond. The struggle is not so much good times are overwhelmed by bad so much as I simply do not have many family memories, period. For good and valid reasons much of my childhood remains a blur, and what I have recalled I wish I could forget every time it crosses my mind.
I have to believe she is in a far better, happier place. She suffered in life, through poor choices and difficult circumstances. We are all products of our upbringing and environment, and what I know of her adult life could fit into a few sad paragraphs. As fortunate and as blessed as I am right now, I attribute a lot of that to hard work and being honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses. I also never discount the kindness of friends and the strength and decency of my husband.
For my sister, I never wished her bad luck or had lingering ill will towards her. Mostly I wish we had been able to find more common ground or ways to bridge the big gaping chasm of our childhoods and become something akin to friends, if not better sisters. Now she is gone, another opportunity lost. While I gave up guilt and regret about family matters I could not change a long time ago, I still feel a twinge on her birthday and wish we had both tried a little harder.
Happy birthday, GL. I wish I had known you better.