Happy Birthday, Sis

Today, my older sister would have been 61 years old.  For my brother-in-law and 2 nieces this will be the 1st anniversary of her birthday without her, since she died in December from breast cancer.

Being a few years older, she never warmed to having a baby sister.  I was colicky as a baby and had an allergy to cow’s milk so I cried more than a normal baby.  Her weekend routine was upset after my birth because we had to drive further into the country to buy goat’s milk for me, and she didn’t like that.  I think my aunt even recalled that at one point she suggested I should be thrown out the window to stop the crying.

My sister left home when she was 18 to attend nursing school and never came back.  We shared a bedroom as children, but I have limited memories of our childhood together.  I can’t recall any family dinners with her at the table, but I remember fighting over who would wash and who would dry the dishes.  I remember tagging along with her to visit friends and being left alone to play by myself.

When I got married, she was my maid of honor.  When she got married, the family wasn’t told until some time later.  But when I got divorced, she let me stay with her because I had no other place to live.  And when she was pregnant with her first daughter, none of us in her immediate family knew until my niece was 3 days old! 

You see, she drifted in and out of our lives, and we never understood why.  I wanted an older sister, but she didn’t want me.  My mother would often lament that she didn’t understand how her children could be so very different as adults, when they were raised in the same family.  I think my mother blamed herself for my sister being so uncommunicative and distant.  Yet when my sis did come home, everything appeared normal.

In many ways she took from me the ability to be a sister and aunt.  Some years she would send a Christmas card and/or gift, but other years we heard nothing.  As an adult, I’m not sure I ever received a birthday card from her.  I would send birthday and Christmas gifts to my nieces, but never got any acknowledgement in return.

Was she so busy she forgot?  I don’t know.  I’m certain there were reasons for her behavior, but now I’ll never know.

When my mother died 2 years ago, I couldn’t understand why she refused to come home to help settle my mother’s estate.  Especially since my mother had left her condo to my sister and brother-in-law in exchange for the help they gave her paying off the mortgage when she retired. 

My sister was first diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 51 years old.  She never told my parents or brother and only told me because her husband, an ob-gyn, persuaded her it was important because of genetics.  So when her cancer returned 2 years before her death, she waited 7-8 months to tell me.  The reason she didn’t come home to settle the estate?  She was undergoing chemotherapy, but didn’t want us to know.

Not being allowed into her life means I don’t miss the weekly phone calls, the thoughtful gifts, the thousand other ways families connect with each other.  It was something we rarely shared.

What I do miss is no longer having the chance to find out why she wasn’t interested in being a part of the family.  Could I have done anything differently?  Probably not, but I’ll never know.

And in a last ditch effort to find common ground, I showed an interest in helping her with the family genealogy.  Not too long after she was first diagnosed with cancer, she began digging into the family roots.  I believe this was her effort to leave something behind for her daughters.  And once she began, she was hooked.  I, too, got the bug and spent much of last summer adding thousands and thousands of names to our family tree.  This allowed me an opportunity to visit her last August, when I saw her for the last time.

Even though our relationship was less than desirable, I still miss her and wish I had more time to delve into our relationship.  So today, on her 61st birthday, I’ll be thinking about her and her family and a small part of me will be wishing it all could have been different.


One Response to “Happy Birthday, Sis”

  1. Every family’s story is unique to them. Unless you’ve lived in a family with one noncomunicative family member it’s hard to see how this happens, but it does. Siblings personalities can be so different. Many times I’ve been asked if my son is adopted, even though he looks so much like me nobody should question that I’m his mother. Our family is loud and lively but not my son. He’s an introvert, extremely quit and private. I have no idea how that happened.

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