Orphans and Strangers

How hard it has been to call my siblings and have them say “Happy New Year” when I’m calling to let them know that my sister – their sister – died on January 1, 2011. My brother-in-law asked me to be the liaison with my siblings for the entire process of my sister’s death and funeral.

It’s almost as hard to know what to write in this posting but I have the need to write; and, it’s been a longer time than I intended since my last post.

Orphans and strangers. That is what came to mind this morning as I contemplated my birth family. I am fortunate now – at soon to be 50 years of age, single with no children – to have another source of family, and by that I mean, the friends I have shared my healing and recovery with for almost 16  years now. I also have my best friend who is a writer and has her own children and family she shares with me.

My parents had seven children and I’m the youngest. I have four brothers and two sisters. Now, only one sister who is still living. And, it seems to me that each of us, with our seven different experiences of reality, have always felt like orphans. Like we have stood alone and survived of our own sustenance. As a family, our interactions seemed to always be power struggles or maneuvers for “more” attention. This caused some of us to talk rapidly and loudly; and,I think I dealt with it by being quiet, invisible, and disconnected. Our interactions also resulted in retaliation upon retaliation; old hurts never forgotten; twisted motives and misunderstood meanings; feelings of neglect and being ostracized; and desperate acts of grabbing for “more” of what little there really was.

It is very heavy and disabling to carry this kind of perspective through life. I have had a warped view of the world, myself, and my place in it.

I cannot forget, however, the times that we sat playing card games or “Clue” or “Monopoly” together after having been out playing in the Ohio snow or skating on a frozen pond in our neighborhood in Virginia. Or that I shared a bedroom with my two sisters for the first 6 years of my life. In subsequent houses, when I had a room all to myself, I always longed to be back with my two sisters sharing a bedroom.

Home from a business trip to San Francisco, my father brought my sisters each a charm bracelet, one gold, one silver, and he gave me a small box of crayons in a leather pouch. I didn’t understand why I didn’t get the same gift as my sisters. I was 3 and they were 9 and 10. The gifts were age-appropriate, I understand that now, but at the time I felt a terrible longing to be like them and to be included in everything.

While we still lived in Ohio, my sisters were members in the Campfire Girls, which was similar to the Girl Scouts. When we moved to Virginia, that community only had Girl Scouts. I was so disappointed and never really got “into” being in the Girl Scouts. I continued to focus on wanting to be what they were and not understanding why things had to be so different for me. This gave my childish perspective more proof of my superfluous position; my obsessive vision of being a diminished member of my family.

Always deep within me was my longing to be with my sisters, to be a part of my own family.

Among the family wreckage, there were good moments, loving gestures that cannot be denied. Maybe they were too fleeting. My recovery has helped me remember the good moments, which I had perhaps forgotten or not honored. My lost sister used to call me “Mushes” and the sister I still have, used to call me “Pumpkin Seed.” I never want to forget either nickname or how loved and included it made me feel. Still makes me feel.

Unfortunately, of course, there are all those hurtful things I said and did that I would take back, that are suddenly made trivial, unimportant, or childish the instant I realized my sister was truly gone. Now, I see how important time with her was and that loving someone is the greatest gift I can experience; as well as the gift of  becoming aware of, unexpectedly and painfully, how deeply I loved my sister and still love all of my siblings.

There are places my heart can’t go right now, or else it will break apart. I will go there after my sister is laid to rest.

Afterwards, I will allow myself to reflect and feel what I need to feel and say good-bye to my sister Ro-Ro. Which was my nickname for my beloved sister Rosanne.

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