I’ve been wanting/needing to write about this for a long time. I mentioned it in passing once before and those of you who are longtime readers might remember it.
I have 3 siblings. In birth order: my brother, me, my sister L (this is how I will identify her), my sister Meredith. David, my brother, was 17 when Meredith was born, so my mom always had a child or two around. My brother passed away in 1991 from lymphoma. He was 44. He left 3 children, all of whom have children themselves now. For many years, it was just my brother and me and that was all I knew. But then my mom told me she was pregnant and that I would have a baby brother or sister and I was thrilled. I was 8 1/2 years old. Along came L, and I thought she just might be the cutest baby ever. I adored her and doted on her. I was just enough older that I could help my mom with diaper changes and and rocking her to sleep and reading her stories. Three years later, another baby came along and that was Meredith. How could it be possible that there was another cutest baby ever? But there was.
You can ask Meredith. I loved everything about being a big sister. I was proud of them. I took them for walks. I took them to the park. They were even in plays with me. And as they got older, I gave them advice, held them when their hearts were broken, took them driving when they had their learners’ permits, helped them with their studies, took them shopping – all the things a big sister does. My father is an alcoholic and was drinking a lot in those days and I did everything I could to shield them from it. We were very close. Meredith and L were especially close as they were only three years apart in age.
L was a wonderful kid and young adult. She was funny and loving and kind. She loved children and animals.
Fast forward many years. L got married. Meredith and I were both in her wedding. I sang at her wedding. She had children. Meredith is godmother to one. I am godmother to another.
As the years went by, L grew more and more difficult to get along with. She could be charming and funny and she could turn to rage on a dime. We never knew what would set her off. All of us felt like we were walking on eggshells when we were around her. And every time I spoke to her, there was some story or other about how everyone was against her. The neighbors were against her. The school was against her. She was always the victim. When there were difficulties in school (real or perceived, I don’t know) for her oldest child, she started homeschooling her kids. She created a little world where she was safely ensconced with her kids and where she was in control.
She started feuds with each of us at one time or other. Something we said or didn’t say, or some imagined slight would set her off and she wouldn’t speak to us for a while. This happened most often with Meredith – it was clear she was resentful and jealous of her. But it happened with my parents and with me, as well.
Presents sent to her children were sometimes unopened. I don’t suppose they even knew of their existence. And a curious thing happened. If we were in need, if life had thrown us a curve of some sort, L was on the phone immediately. If we were happy, or got married, or had great news, she didn’t really want any part of it. I’d go so far as to say she was resentful.
When she was announced she was pregnant for the fifth time, we were all surprised, but happy for her. Somehow or other, something I said or did or didn’t do during that period set her off and she hasn’t spoken to me since. That would be, what, over 9 years ago? I called her. I wrote her, apologizing for whatever it was that upset her, even though she would never tell me what it was or discuss anything with me. Time and time again, I tried. But then I got sick of apologizing for something that I most likely wasn’t guilty of. I got tired of apologizing for nothing. The older I get, the less patience I have for people who get angry about something and won’t discuss it with you despite your best efforts but will gladly and quite easily shut you out. I have no time for that nonsense.
In the meantime, she stopped speaking to Meredith. She didn’t attend the wedding of my brother’s eldest child. And as hard as this is to believe, she has never been to see my parents in Florida. They have lived there 11 years. They were too frail to fly to the state where she lives. She hasn’t seen my parents in 11 years. They have never seen her youngest child. There was always some excuse: the children, the cost of plane fare, timing. Hard to accept when at the same time she was giving these excuses, she and her husband were remodeling their kitchen, buying 5 alpacas and building a barn in which to raise them. When my father was critically ill, she didn’t go to Florida. When we pleaded with her via email to come and visit my parents because they were getting very frail, she never even had the decency to respond to us. After a few of these emails, I tried again. I asked her how she could live with herself? I said that no matter what she thought about Mer and me, she must surely care about her parents. No response.
My niece (David’s daughter), now married and the mother of 3 children, wrote her. She told her off, in no uncertain terms. None of us has ever had a response. This, of course, breaks my parents’ hearts. My brother’s gone. L might as well be.
Meredith and I have spent countless hours talking about it, trying to figure out just what happened to L. We’ve worked through it all as best we can. I don’t really care if I see her again. I don’t know what I would do if I did she her again. I’m afraid I would become enraged. Because, although I’ve come to terms with it as it relates to me, I haven’t come to terms with it as it relates to my parents.
We know that she has deliberately created situations in her mind that somehow justify cutting herself off from each one of us. Me. Meredith. My nieces and nephews. My sister-in-law. My cousin. No one hears from her. Only my parents do. And only by phone. She’s obviously deeply troubled. Both Meredith and I felt for many years before all this happened that she needed some professional help. Perhaps a chemical imbalance? Perhaps Borderline Personality Disorder? Or is she Bipolar? I don’t know. I only know she won’t let any of us see her.
One wonders: What does my brother-in-law (who we really loved) think about all this? What lies has she told him about us? What lies has she told her children about us? Those children are our family and we never see them anymore. One of them, A, looked just like me when she was growing up. My goddaughter and niece, H, got married this year. We have been shut out of their lives. Does L ever feel a twinge of guilt over any of this?
I spoke with her briefly when my Dad was rushed to the hospital 5 years ago with an aneurysm. Meredith was coping with everything down in Florida until I could get down there. I had to call L. It was late on a Sunday night. My nephew answered the phone with “Aunt Claudia?” For a moment, I was simply happy that he remembered me. Then L got on the phone and I told her about dad. I won’t call what we had a conversation – just facts and figures and information about the surgery. Then it was over. My hands were shaking.
She’s very religious. How, I wonder, does she reconcile all this with her faith? It doesn’t fit with anything I learned as a child growing up in the church, the same church in which she grew up. But maybe that’s being too logical. If there is indeed mental illness there, and I’m sure there is, logic and sense go out the window.
The one time I touched upon this in a post, I heard from many of you who had experienced something similar. I know that we aren’t unique.
How does someone as near and dear to you as a sibling, someone who you shared a bedroom with, someone you laughed and cried with, someone you went through the loss of another sibling with, just disappear? Poof! Gone.
I tell you now, I don’t know what I would do without Meredith. We are devoted to each other.
I don’t care so much about me. I’m tough. I’ve worked through it, for the most part. I’ve been through all the stages of grief. As to her lack of a relationship with me….I go for days, weeks, even months without thinking of it. For all intents and purposes, she’s dead to me. It’s only when I hear the heartbreak in one of my parent’s voice, when I see their hurt, that I get enraged once again.
Meredith, as the child who lives the closest to my parents, has had the brunt of care-giving for these 11 years. She’s been a wonderful daughter to them. And yet, as so often happens in these cases, she’s the one who gets dumped on. She’s the one who they criticize. It’s as if they pick on her because they simply cannot bear to admit deep in their hearts that the uncaring child is L. Not Meredith. Not me. L.
When people I meet ask me how many siblings I have, I end up having to explain that one is deceased, one doesn’t have anything to do with me, and one I am very close to. Maybe I should just say, one. No, I should say two, because my brother is still with me.
That photo at the top of the post is of the very piano that sits in my living room today. I was 8. I was proudly holding my baby sister on my lap. My dad took it with his new Polaroid camera. I have it out because Don likes it. But I can’t look at it too closely. It’s a reminder of the lost sister.