A friend recently recounted to me the story of her sister-in-law, who died a month ago. The woman had been quietly declining with a rare form of cancer and it was only when the end was literally hours away that certain family members and friends were told of her illness by way of an invitation to the hospital to say their good-byes.
One sister, however, was expressly forbidden. Their relationship was that damaged.
Family dynamics are always interesting, and tend to become more pronounced in terms of both their positive and negative aspects over time. Consider yourself blessed if you, like I, have been able to forge bonds that go beyond blood and you can consider at least some of your siblings as among your best friends.
It’s, unfortunately, far more human to hold onto grudges and resentments.
That would characterize the nature of the relationship between my older sister and me. My attitude was colored by her incessant stories of feeding me worms when I was too young to know any better. By her habit, in our teen years, of dragging me into town for company at the local drug store soda fountain only to ditch me when her boyfriend of the moment showed up. As adults, she fanned the flames at family gatherings by barely acknowledging me, resolutely ignoring my husband, but still delighting in our son. And I’m certain she harbored her own resentments against me.
Over time, we came to a tacit understanding that we could be cordial, and sometimes even friendly. We were satisfied with seeing each other a couple of times a year and otherwise keeping up through the always active family grapevine.
And then things changed. For one thing, we’re all getting older. For another, her health, never great during her entire adult life, seems to be deteriorating even faster of late.
It all makes me want to try a little harder. So I have. And so has she. Because the reality is that today we can laugh and move on to positive memories that were equally important in shaping our relationship. Singing in harmony while we cleaned up the kitchen after meals as kids. Squabbling over who got Phil as a boyfriend and who got Don (as in the Everly Brothers) for our little girl imaginings. Sneaking cigarettes from our dad to hurry up adulthood.
My older sister continues to drive me crazy at times, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. But she’s still an important part of my personal history. She’s the last one left who has known me my entire life. That’s something you have to honor and celebrate, and a reason to let go of all the superfluous baggage – while you still have the opportunity to do so.