Last week we celebrated National Sibling Day here in the US and I found Facebook and other social media abuzz with pictures of brothers and sisters, often posed by Christmas trees or blowing out birthday candles…all testaments to sibling closeness captured on film. The matching Santa shirts, Easter dresses and shirts in coordinating hues and standard poses with arms around each others shoulder is as common as the rivalry that often accompanies having a brother or sister.
I’m 5 years older than my brother Paul, whose presence I was not thrilled about upon his birth. So unhappy was I at my “Big Sister” role that I once tried to sell him at a garage sale for the whopping sum of a quarter. You give me a shiny silver coin, I’ll give you a bouncing baby boy. Fair trade, right? And nobody would buy him which I took as a clear sign that he really was not a good addition to our happy family of 3. Of course after much time and many sibling squabbles, my brother Paul and I are incredibly close. After reaching adulthood I suspect we found a respect for the things that drove us crazy like his stubbornness that serves him well as a determined adult; my goody two shoes tendencies that translate into a thoughtful sister in adulthood. Paul has become protective of me, especially in the past year; his wife is like a sister to me; his children like my own. Paul and Katie are always a ready ear for me to talk, cry or laugh to. I have needed them like I’d never dreamed I would but they are here for me; not only when I am happy and glib, but on the days that I text and say “It’s not a good day” The days when the things I say are accompanied by tears and the only answers found to unanswerable questions are to hug each other very tightly. Paul and Katie were there when I was told that Wesley had passed and in some ways have not yet left my side. That is what families do, that is what siblings do.
Wesley was one of four children and experienced the joys and challenges of simultaneously being a big and little brother. He was fiercely loyal and loving to his brothers and sisters including being convinced that when his parents came home from the hospital with his little brother, Tim, a three year old Wesley was convinced that Tim was HIS baby and I think in many ways never quite gave up on that belief. Tim and Wesley were intensely close, as was Wesley with his two sisters often worrying about their happiness above his own. He wanted nothing more that to know they were all cared for because he cared so much for them. His love was intense and I see it in Julia who loves and shows her love in such strong ways with hugs that knock you down. Wesley was more covert, but he loved his family that way as well.
It is often a fortunate blessing to have a person or people who shared your growing up experience and can intimately understand how we became the people we are now. Also, nobody else can fully appreciate how our parents completely screwed us up. Just kidding, Mom and Dad. But to have someone to share familial moments with is a blessing. Not all sibling relations are warm and not all people to who we construct as our family are related by blood. There is as much value and love in families of origin as there are in “families” that are developed throughout ones life and experiences.
Recently someone said that they do not want to bring others down by discussing Wesley and their sorrow at his loss too much. I found it interesting because I take it as part of having a relationship with me for people to know how I’m doing, REALLY doing, and that is a precursor to friendship. Wesley’s passing and the ways that Julia and I and others are coping is an enormous part of my life and I don’t really know how to sugar coat it. Days are sometimes really good, other days the clouds roll in and getting out of bed takes Herculean effort. But I tell about both days and I’m blessed to have people who want to hear. Or else they are good at faking it. Or I’m too blind to realize they don’t really want to know. I cannot guess. But I still talk because in my talking I find healing.
I mourn terribly the loss of Wesley, but for me that also encompassed the death of other dreams, namely siblings for Julia. Wesley and I very much wanted other children. A little Emerson to be the baby brother to Julia. Dark curly hair that I’d have no clue what to do with and chubby little thighs. Maybe twins, maybe not. We had so many scenarios of domestic bliss in our heads that to face the impossibility of those becoming a reality is hard to face. Others have said that I have many options if I wanted another child but it would not be Wesley’s child as well. I’d be a single mother and that is not what I imagined as I daydreamed with Wesley’s arm around my shoulder lying in bed.
Julia is surrounded by “brothers” and “sisters” who provide her with love and support even though they are not technically her siblings. She has cousins who completely smother her with love and attention and friends who play with her and accept that her Daddy will not pick her up from school or be at her dance recitals. Julia is not strange or odd, just different. I was particularly struck that one of my nephews who is 8 years old rushed to Julia’s aid after Wesley passed away. He knew that the adults would take care of Aunt Katherine, he would take care of Julia. He plays the games she wants to play and reads the books to her she wants to read. He is helping in the way he can, which helps immensely. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to tell him what his love means to me and to Julia. They comfort me. I find that through our experience our “family” grows and I have acquaintances that are now friends and family. An extended family of love and support. At its core isn’t that what a sibling is? Someone who loves you and meets you where you are. Happy Sibling Day to those who share my blood and those who share my heart.