Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Another Mad Season

Sorry, this isn't about Mad Men. It's about me realizing I'm entering another season in my life where I'm very angry at someone, and finally accepting that I'm okay with being mad at her. "Her" being my older sister.

Some background may help: my parents divorced while my mom was pregnant with me, and I never had a full-time dad in the house. My sister is a few years older than me, and she did have a full-time dad in the house for the first four years of her life. She went from having Mommy and Daddy all to herself to being schlepped across the country to live with Mom, our grandparents, and a whiny, crying baby. I get that that sucks.

And it was 30+ years ago, so it's not like therapy was a real option in this situation (at least not that I'm aware of). When I was a senior in college, my sister cut off all contact with the immediate family. Now, I know that siblings have different experiences of childhood, but to my knowledge there was not some ridiculous level of abuse that would justify this action. The main thing was, again, the radical change in her life situation when she was about 4, coupled with living at the poverty line throughout childhood and having lots of wealthy friends. I will note a couple of other, personal reasons she noted in a good-bye missive, but even with all this, her reaction to cut us out seems all out of proportion. I suspect there are other reasons, unknown to us, that impelled this decision. Because, frankly, the alternative is that she is a rigid control freak with no sense of grace towards others.

We have always said what happened in this way: that we were not the family she wanted, and she decided that not having us in her life was better for her. It at least helped us have peace. And while we respected her decision to be out of our lives, with the "advent" of the internet, we naturally kept mild tabs from afar. Unless one goes completely off the grid, you can find someone with sufficient motivation. (My dad, as a former intelligence officer, probably knows how to find someone even if they are off the grid.) I never paid money to find her, but she wasn't really hiding on the internet, so when, about 3 years ago, we thought our grandmother was dying, I knew how to get in touch with her.

There was a brief, awkward "reunion" with our grandma, who by that time was actually improving. At this point, we'd not seen each other or spoken in a decade. And that's exactly what it returned to after the extremely short visit with our grandmother. At this point, she is in touch with our extended family. And that's nice. For them and for her. And for mom, Moozie, Dad and me, too - because while they respect her confidences, they do let us know that she's okay.

I have tried to be okay with it, but lately I realized I'm not.

I'm mad at her. I'm sorry that we aren't the family she wanted, but you know what? She was never the sister I wanted, either. She was mean, spiteful, a typical bossy big sister (and yes, I was the typical spoiled baby), and she never outgrew it. She held people to impossible expectations and then cut them out of her life when they couldn't measure up. She doesn't have a lot of grace to offer others. That used to make me feel sad for her. Now I see it as a character failing. Maybe I have things to answer for, but so does she.

It would be lovely if she ever wanted to get back in touch with us directly. I know that my parents would welcome her back with no questions asked, and be happy about it. They are her parents, after all, and I don't begrudge them that. But I am figuring out that for me, forgiveness in this case is not so easy. And that that's okay. I used to pity her, and all she was missing out by her estrangement. (Like my moms' wedding - one of the best days of my life, and getting to know my beloved Backbencher, who is a delightful addition to anyone's life.) And I felt bad about the stuff we should be able to commiserate about together but couldn't because of this estrangement (the less said about that, the better).

I've gone through some other seasons in my life in which I've been angry at someone - an old boyfriend, other situations with my sister, etc. And it's helpful to reflect on that, and to wonder what I can really do about it, and to realize that this is about me, not about them, etc, etc, etc. This go-round, however, the lesson I am trying to learn is that it is perfectly okay to be angry. And to be angry at HER. Not because she's rejected me (though I will not deny that it hurts), but because she is kind of a pill and I don't know that I'd want her in my life even if she did have some sort of miraculous change of heart.

The older I get, the more I know that my stepsiblings and a couple of dear friends are my true sisters, and I've long been okay with that. Yes, I know how anger can eat us up inside. I know that I will have to deal with my feelings of rejection (over and over!). And I know if she ever did want "back in" to the family, I wouldn't stand in the way. (I wouldn't hurt my parents that way.) I would be extremely wary that she'd hurt my parents again, but that's the risk they would have to assess.

But for now, I am just reveling in my ability to just be angry, and for the moment, to have that anger undiluted by guilt at what I could have done differently, and to instead insist that she will eventually have to answer as to what she could have done differently in our relationship. I guess I'm ready to start holding her accountable for this estrangement - where, indeed, at least some of the responsibility belongs.


Father said...

You sound uncannily like a pair of sisters I knew, long ago. In their case, it was the younger one who cut off all contact, and so far as I know really is off the grid and unaccounted for, over something like 20 years now.

Eventually, I think, the whole family disintegrated. The older sister once said, "I called Mom, she said 'We've moved, and don't have a guest room in the new place.' She didn't even tell me where the new house was."

As their friend, it made me sad, and I kept imagining reunions and relationships. I still do. But I also have to say that the level of anger in that family was so high that it is hard to imagine, and I wonder if they aren't better off just ... living their lives, somewhere, separately.

LiturgyGeek said...

I have no doubt my sister feels she's better off living a separate life. And I don't want to diminish that for her. I do respect her choice.

And a part of me would be thrilled (on my parents' behalf) if she ever wanted to come back into our lives. But as for our relationship, she can stay where she is as far as I'm concerned.

Thank you for posting here.

bazalkryn said...

It's ok for you to feel angry. You're a human being. You are entitled to your feelings.

I have three siblings and we all live in different states. AFAIK, no one is mad at anyone, it's just that everyone has their own lives and don't really stay in touch. I rarely hear from any of them and usually it is because I initiated the contact for some reason. I don't know how to change this.