As we draw near to Thanksgiving here in Canada, I have been reflecting on what I’m thankful for. In as much as I bitch and complain about my weight, the government and various assorted other things, I am very lucky have a beautiful home, a great job and good friends.
But the biggest thing I’m thankful for is my big sister.
I should start off by saying that there is a 10 year difference in age between the two of us and we’ve not always been close or seen eye to eye. We didn’t spend much time together over the years – with that gap in age, we had nothing in common – except for our parents. When I was born, she was 10. Trust me when I say that over the years, at some times it felt like a complete generation gap.
As an oblivious teenager, I didn’t pay much attention to my parents or my sister. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20’s that I sort of understood the family dynamics. By that, I mean how manipulative my mother was.
I was the one that was always close to my parents – for a few years, we actually lived in the same apartment complex. I visited nearly every day, called EVERY DAY and did general errands if they were required. My sister kept her distance (for reasons I understand now; but I certainly didn’t back then). I felt like it was always me that was helping out. Me that was the one they turned to when they needed something. I was also the person that was caught in the middle; if my sister hadn’t called or visited in a reasonable amount of time (in my mother’s mind) I was sent forth to contact my sister to tell her to contact mom and dad.
(Yes, I actually did that – it never went over very well). I resented my sister for not visiting as much as I did.
My mother had me brainwashed into thinking that my sister was a BAD person because she never called or visited (she would call and/or visit, but not ‘enough’ in my mother’s world). Then I’d have my father asking me to ask my sister to call because it was upsetting mom (you see where I’m going with this). IT WAS ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER. It didn’t matter if my sister was busy. It didn’t matter if she was going through some sort of crisis. All that mattered is that she HADN’T CALLED MY MOTHER FOR 2 DAYS – WHAT AN UNGRATEFUL CHILD!
As I got older, I started to ‘rebel’ against wanting/needing to call my mother every day (as should most normal adults). I LOVED talking to my dad – he had no agenda, he was just happy to chat. She’d call me at work and start in on what a terrible child I was – after all the nice things they’d done for me – I couldn’t even take the time to call them?
One particular time stands out in memory – I was working for an organizing committee for a worldwide event that was taking place in my city. I had been working 12 hour days with no breaks for about 4 weeks. One day, as I was in the middle of a very high level meeting, she called me. And, she began yelling at how awful I was, how self centered I was and that I was basically, an ungrateful little bitch (her words, not mine). You see, I’d nicely asked if they would mind looking after my parrot while I was working ungodly hours and they said that it would be no problem. All of a sudden, it became a HUGE problem and I was told to immediately come and pick him up. All because I hadn’t been able to visit for a while. Forget the fact that I was working stupid hours; I barely had time to eat, sleep and pee. I remember walking out the door of my meeting and calling my mother every name I could think of (and some I think I made up on the spot). I don’t think I’ve ever been that angry in my entire life. The event was a huge success and the final day was on my birthday. I had to be at work at 3:00 am to assist in getting 40,000 people out of the city. We still weren’t speaking; and at about 8:30 in the morning I got a phone call from my dad – who had snuck out into his parkade – to wish me a happy birthday. Then he wanted me to apologize to my mother and well, that was the end of that phone call.
(I know now that it was because she was making HIS life a living hell all because of OUR fight).
I was beginning to understand my sister and her reluctance to call/visit. A few years later, my beautiful, wonderful dad died of cancer – which was the beginning of my downward spiral into the depths of hell. However, my mother, she needed to follow me.
My sister and I had to team up. Mom would call and say ‘she said this’ or ‘she did that’ – pitting us against each other in order to get her own way. This was the first time that my sister and I really started to get to know each other as people, not just as sisters.
While the event that brought us together was the worst thing that has ever happened to me – I’ll always be grateful for it allowing me to my sister as a human being.
After dad died, my mother became even more of a challenge. My sister and I were put through the ringer. Spending time with my mother was painstaking, soul sucking and emotionally draining. Nothing we ever did was good enough, fast enough (don’t get me started on taking her into restaurants). We didn’t call enough, visit enough, and when we did, it wasn’t long enough.
Mom passed in 2010 and shortly thereafter, my beautiful sister, who I’d come to adore, learned she had Parkinson’s. WTF? My sister, who’d sat on the International Rowing Committee, who’d traveled the world to different rowing events, who’d effectively created a rowing program strictly for disabled rowers – had a neurological disease that caused her pain and suffering.
It was like the universe was watching and waiting before it unleashed the hell that is Parkinson’s. But, why?
I’ve watched my sister over the past few years fight this horrible disease with grace, dignity and even some laughter. She doesn’t let it stop her, nor does she sit back and let it consume her. She continues to work a full time job, have an active social life and volunteer her time for rowing events. She is a dynamo, she lives life to the best of her ability and she is always, ALWAYS there for me.
To add insult to injury, she suffered a broken femur earlier this year (riding tandem with her husband – yep, she was entering a tandem bike race – she’s also a bit on the crazy side). She was wheelchair bound for a couple of months and has graduated to using a cane. During this time, she’s once again proven that she is made of tougher stuff than most people. While she has her moments when everything just crashes in around her and she needs to just cry it out, she is strong, determined and most of all, she is still grateful for everything and everyone in her life.
This past weekend we made a trek to the Rocky Mountains for a quick visit and we had a wonderful time. It was, however, hard for me to watch her struggle, as I knew she was in serious pain, but not ONCE did she want to give up or give in. We walked, talked, laughed and cried (well, I did – when she wasn’t looking). We learned that we each had a completely different upbringing – and that was insightful, as it helped me understand her better and vice versa.
So, thank you universe. Thank you for giving me my big sister. Thank you for providing the life experiences we’ve had apart and together – that has brought us both to the here and now. Thank you for showing me love and for letting me see how wonderful a sister can be. You’ve given me my best friend.