“To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.”– Clara Ortega, author
This week our family was rocked yet again (the last 12 months have been filled with more heartbreak than I can even put to words) by the news that my step-father’s brother passed away at 53-years-old from a massive heart attack. It was a shock to everyone, but especially to my Dad. He never thought he would bury his little brother.
We are so sad to say goodbye to Uncle Paul. His death has prompted many heartfelt conversations, but yesterday one particular conversation with my sister caught me off guard. She declared, with obstinate determination, that she would “go” first. She told me she refuses to be the one to bury any of her sisters, her husband, or any of her future children (no, she still has not made me an aunt – much to my chagrin).
While I was shocked by her declaration, I understand where she is coming from.
I always wanted a big family. I love the chaos, energy, and alive feeling young children bring to a house. But, mostly I wanted to give my children the gift I was given – siblings. I have three younger sisters and when I think back to my childhood, it is the memories of my sisters that make me smile, or roll my eyes, or groan, or beam with joy.
For most of my childhood there were only three of us – my youngest sister, who we all adore, was born when I was a teenager. For a long time we were a three-some that loved each other, protected each other, fought sometimes mercilessly, took turns ganging up against each other, snuggled, danced, sang, shared a love for New Kids on the Block, and fantasized about being famous.
When our parents divorced and we had to travel across the country to visit our father, we had each other. When our father and then our mother re-married we had each other. When we were forced to visit relatives we didn’t really know, or were bored, or lonely – at least we had each other.
In our world, it didn’t matter how much money we had or where we lived or what was happening in school. We had wonderful imaginations and played for hours. I remember making forts, climbing trees, playing cards endlessly, playing house, riding our bikes, roller skating, hanging out at the pool all summer long and just talking. We would talk about everything endlessly.
We would fight and sometimes our dynamic included teasing or not including the youngest in our games (give us four days together and it all comes back). We would wrestle and call each other names. We would make each other cry and no one knew how to push each others buttons like we did. But, I like to think our loving tender moments out-numbered the bad ones. And when our youngest sister was born, we all fell in love with this little baby. She was all of ours. We would fight to hold her and were enamored with her every first. Our hearts grew when she was born.
When I see my children playing, or talking, or wrestling it is like I am reliving the special bond with my sisters all over again – even their bickering makes me smile (sometimes). There is nothing more heartwarming or wonderful than seeing them show affection to each other.
I will always remember what my oldest said when he found out he was going to have a brother at seven-years-old. He told me he was happy because now he would have a best man at his wedding. Even at seven he understood.
As an adult, I know that no matter how far apart I live from my sisters, or how badly we argue, or what different paths we take in life, that we will always share a special connection. This has become even more apparent as I watch my mother and her sister care for my Abuelita (read The Gift of a Grandparent). I am truly grateful that, just like in childhood, I will not have to face what the future holds alone.
My sister’s fear of having to possibly let one of us go, is something I completely understand. It is like the fear all mothers have when they look into their newborn baby’s eyes. How can you say goodbye to someone so ingrained in who you are? Death may be a natural part of life, but the grief of the loved ones left behind never feels natural.
I do not always have the right words to offer solace or comfort to people grieving, but I understand the heartache. So I dedicate this post about the bond between siblings to Uncle Paul. You are missed and thought of with lots of love, especially by your big brother.