I am the oldest of four children. We are all the survivors of a nightmarish childhood, replete with alcoholism, mental illness, abuse and violence. Beginning at the age of eight, I gradually took over the majority of the responsibilities involved with raising my siblings. In spite of our childhoods, we all have managed to become productive adults. Some of us carry our own personal, unique scars; others still have open wounds.
Three of us were able to reconcile our differences and to have a relationship with our mother - the other, one of my brothers, decided to cut her out of his life over 30 years ago. This didn't fit with my idea of how a family should be, and I tried to fix it. It didn't work, and damaged the fragile tie between my brother and me. In order to keep a tight hold of my image, I bought my car and property insurance from him for years in order to keep some sort, or any sort of relationship between us intact.
As the years went by, we established a tentative truce and sporadically intersected with each other. A little over four years ago, we four children were reunited at my daughter's wedding; I can't tell you how many years it had been since we had all seen each other face to face. It was a beautiful, emotional time for us all. A couple of years later, we all reunited again for his son's wedding. My brother and I continued to communicate, and we began to share about what was happening in our lives with each other. I was able to talk about our Mom within the context of the challenges that I was facing with her and her health. He was very supportive of my struggle, which meant the world to me. To me, it also meant that we were connected - at last. My ideal of what family should be was coming true.
Our Mom passed away last August -I had kept my brother informed all along, and gave him updates while she was in hospice care at the hospital. My other brother and sister had flown in from out of state and stayed with me when she was placed in hospice. After Mom passed away, we three, along with our children and grandchildren, sat around the firepit one evening in my back yard and planned Mom's funeral together. While looking at each other across the flames that evening, during moments of tears and laughter, we drew comfort and solace from each other and the families that we had created. But we were painfully aware of the absence of one of us around that firepit - our brother was missing. We weren't even certain that he would attend the funeral.
My brother did attend her funeral - but it was obvious that it was very difficult for him. My heart just hurt for him, but he would not talk. I can't even imagine the emotions that he may have been feeling. But it was good to have him there - I'm so very glad that he came.
For six months after that day, I called him on a regular basis - on his cell phone; not wanting to invade his privacy at home or disturb his work. I never received a return call. Neither did my other brother or my sister. Last April, I called and left a message regarding a business matter; I needed to cancel my car insurance with him because I could no longer afford his rates. No response; I recently received a notice that an unpaid balance had been sent to collection.
I really struggled with what to do; just pay it or address it? I chose to address it, and the repercussions of my choice really hurt. I sent an email to his wife with an attached note, asking her to forward it to him. I have about five million email addresses for him, and could never keep them straight. It was not a mean email, just a "Hey, I called you and then I got this in the mail, it's hurting my credit, could you please check it out and let me know?' email.
The response that I received back from him made me feel as if I had been kicked repeatedly in the stomach. It dealt me a blow that has shaken me to my core, and ripped the veil of denial and illusion from my eyes. Not only am I a strong woman, I am also a strong-willed woman. For most of my life, I have willed the four of us to be a family, irregardless of how any of the other members felt. Being told that, as a professional, I should know that my termination notice had to be in writing; that I ignored additional notices from the insurance company; that I had access to his business phone number; that his cell phone was for personal calls only - not for clients, and as such, all calls from any of his siblings had been erased without being listened to. Further, I had "stirred the pot" by emailing his wife and caused him great angst. I got his message loud and clear. I just didn't want to hear it before. I hear it now.
But what do I do with all of this? Therein lies the question. I have choices; right now, I am hurting so deeply, but at the same time, I am working through it. I can't fix this. I'm not even sure what I did to cause him to feel so strongly. If I knew, I would make amends from my heart. But I don't have that choice.
So, I'm just feeling the feelings. The tears fall, and I let them. I am getting on with my life; one portion of my life will not dictate how the rest of my life will go. I am learning - mostly about myself. I am humbled, but not broken by the realization that what I think I need and want is not necessarily what is right for others. How I see things is not always as others see them. I may never have the opportunity to spend time on the phone, or in person, with my brother again. I most likely will never know why this happened. It feels like another death in the family to me. In actuality it is; the death of my illusions and denial, and I am grieving. I am also looking at the family that I have created over the years, which is comprised not only of blood relatives, but also of dear, dear friends. The truth is, that my real family looks nothing like my ideal family. I have much to be grateful for. Conflicting emotions, but that's just where I am these days.
At the same time, my life continues. It has not stopped in its tracks. I am not curled up in a ball in the corner, shielding myself from the pain. I am out there, living my life - going to school, doing homework, chores, and spending time with people who I cherish. At the same time, I am still loving my brother. And I always will.