Sunday, November 28, 2004

What comes between us

I should be doing a million (okay, maybe 2) other things, but I've had this post in my head for days now.

What makes the holidays hard for me--and particularly hard for me with my mother--is my sister. Or the absence of my sister. My sister died when she was 17 and I was 20 just before my parents' divorce was to be finalized. I had no other siblings. I have missed out on the unique joy of being able to commiserate about your parents with your siblings. Perhaps an only child misses this too, but I looked forward to it. I had inklings of what I would be missing during the lead-up to our parents' divorce. We'd talk every day on the phone and I'd get the lowdown on what was going on. She had an almost journalistic eye about my mother's and father's various mood swings and strategies. Though I was somewhat grateful for not being in the middle of an obviously tumultuous period at home, I was always grateful for my sister's insights.

Over Thanksgiving, Mr. GM said he realized how much easier this would be if my sister were around. The burden of dealing with my mother would be lessened and I'd have someone I could go out for a drink with and really let go about the insanity of the whole visit. We were, in fact, staying in the room that is basically a shrine to my sister. It has her old furniture, several pictures and even a few of the mementos that she had kept as a teenager.

My mother got along with my sister better. My sister learned, perhaps from witnessing the many blowups I'd had with her, not to be too "in your face" about her rebellion. She just kept very much to herself. My sister also, on the surface, fit my mother's vision of what her daughter should be. She was attractive, could wear anything off the rack with style, and was a little more demure than me. Honestly, I don't know what would have happened had she lived. She was wishy-washy about college, planning to come to the same school where I attended until she figured out something better. She was into acting and was quite good, winning several drama awards just before she died. Perhaps part of my anxiety about my mother stems from a feeling that she was prouder of my sister. Instead of my taking that jealousy out on my sister, I've taken it out on my mother.

At any rate, with my mother, my sister is the white elephant in the room. We do not speak of her really, only just in passing. This is in direct contrast to being at my father's where many conversations will begin, "Do you remember when . . .?" or "I was just thinking about what it would be like if . . ." In other words, we talk about her. We talk about how we feel without her. My father will often call me on the anniversary of her death or on her birthday or I will call him. If we don't, we mention it in the next phone call. I have no idea if my mother thinks of her on these days and she doesn't know that I do. I think my mother has pushed the idea of her death, of her absence, to some deep recess of her brain that she tries very hard not to go to. She manages this by going to bed before it gets dark, getting up at 4:00 a.m. and spending the time being busy, smoking, working a crossword puzzle, anything to not think.

Do I feel sorry for her? I don't know. It's hard to find sympathy for someone you feel is working very hard to avoid it. I'm not even sure she'd accept my sympathy or any comfort I might offer. She'd have to rethink the last 16 years of her life if she did.