I was born a middle child between an elder sister and younger brother. We were never close, and now that my father has died, I am able to see not only my relationship with my father more clearly, but also with my siblings, as well. It was a dear friend who shared with me a poem called “Elder Sister,” which described all the ways that she, as the first one, had to break through the barriers and bear the collateral damages of my parents abuses. She was never interested in me or even liked me, but as this poem taught me, her love was a like a shield that kept me from getting the worst of what happened in our family. Maybe that is why she resented me so; I could be playful, joyful, even at times, completely oblivious to the ways she guarded me from the hardships I didn’t even know were happening.
She got to be in charge mostly, and her emotional baggage as we grew was the dominating theme in our house. I resented her for that and the many cruelties she directed at me, but I never realized until now, some 50 years later, that she had loved me the only way she could- by going before me.
Several years ago, she could no longer bear the insanity and abuses that came to her first from both my parents. She was used up and rightly so. She disengaged from both of them with screams and slammed doors. Most hurtful to them was not being invited to the weddings of their first grandchildren. It was like a knife in the back.
My sister said good bye to both my parents clearly and with malice; the malice she had been bearing for them for years.
I didn’t call her until the very end when my father was no longer conscious because he said he didn’t want to speak to her. Maybe I shouldn’t have listened to him. Maybe I should have called her within the week before when it was clear that time was short. I hadn’t yet read that poem about the Elder Sister; I didn’t understand then, how she had shielded me from the worst of what my parents had to offer. I only knew that in her presence, I always felt like I had to get smaller and get out of her way. There was nothing loving or warm to move towards with my sister, ever. And I guess I didn’t really need the shield anymore.