Siblings – Friends we can’t get rid of!

“No one knows better than a sister how we grew up…she’s your mirror shining back at you…she is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark. She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink. Some days, she’s the reason you wish you were the only child! Do you have a sister? If you do, you’ll know what I mean.”Barbara Alpert

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We were four siblings. Three sisters and a brother. I was the fourth and the youngest for the first ten years of my life. I enjoyed being the youngest… my father’s pet and my mother’s unruly filly. But life had something better in store – a younger sibling! 

The announcement that I was going to get another brother thrilled me no end. My elder brother was my friend and partner in crime. I enjoyed playing with the boys more than the girls who I found to be “sissies” and forever crying, throwing tantrums, and more interested in who was wearing what and only liked playing ‘house, house’. {That’s a true confession of a 6 yr old!)

I wanted to play ‘Cowboys & Red Indians’, ‘Robbers & Police’, gymnastics and rougher sports and games than most girls my age cared to play. So, another brother was more than welcome.

What I didn’t realize was that a ten-year age difference wouldn’t work out as I had envisaged…our interests would be worlds apart by the time he grew up!

I never got to develop a really close relationship with my sisters. They went to boarding school when I was five or six. We’d meet only when they came home for their annual holidays. I would be in awe of them.

The eldest was seven years older than me and the other was my senior by five. When they passed out of school, they left home to pursue whatever professional training/jobs they had applied for in the city. We were living in the country then. My elder brother remained my pal-at-home a few more years and left too.

The younger one was too young to take his place. A three-year-old isn’t much company for a thirteen-year-old! I grew up through my teenage years of schooling, practically, as an only child. And because the school was very far from home, I didn’t have friends to hang out with on the weekends or holidays.

Books became my friends and I became an avid reader. Thanks to my elder sisters’ fondness for reading, there was never a dearth of books. They kept a steady supply. And thanks to an American friend in the American Peace Corps, and stationed in our town, we had more than enough books of all genres.

I traveled with my book friends and experienced different cultures and traditions; their emotions, their actions, reactions, responses and values as I lived with them. This worked against me as my schoolmates couldn’t relate to the books I read and so I couldn’t discuss them either. It created a chasm.

The distances were constant between us siblings. Rarely were we all together, and even then, it was never for long. But, whenever we got together, we would pick up from where we left off as if we had never left… never been absent from home.

We’d talk one to the dozen, laugh our guts out – almost literally – because we’d be doubled up in laughter, our arms folded across our bellies, tears flooding our eyes!

With the years passing on, we got married and home meant another place.

I and my eldest sister lived in regions far from the rest and each other as well. The youngest who joined the Army moved from the north in the Himalayas to the southern lush green regions and the western arid zone… what I’m saying is, we hardly met.

Those were not the days of internet and wi-fi; no mobile phones, no face time, no emails and chats. The occasional snail mail and cards made their slow way to keep everyone updated. Though, by the time people were updated, the information was already outdated.

Yet, when we gathered at one place to attend a wedding or a funeral… or I’d make an annual trip with the hubby and kids in tow to meet the family, it would always be like we met just some days ago! It was always comfortable, always fun. We’d be howling with laughter at the silliest things, we’d be singing the same old songs… and we gossiped about the same old people. We bonded like only siblings can.

At the time of writing this, we’re in the same situation of vast distances between us… in miles. I’m the farthest from my siblings, yet, when I think about it, it is just the oceans, seas, and continents that separate us.

Although I value physical nearness (nothing can replace that; no internet – Whatsapp, Facetime either), but I am also grateful for all of these modern technologies that bridge the gap. I’ve been in places, in another country, without leaving my chair! 

I have driven through the streets in Canada with my son as I sat comfortably in my room in South America! I’ve been a part of a baptism service for my grandchildren (virtually), making the vows I had to make… as if I were there in the Canadian church myself. Facetime is the closest to personal and physical nearness.

But, it is not these hi-tech facilities that keep me close to my family.

The bonds of birth and a shared childhood; same roots, same family ties, many shared experiences… survive over and beyond the distances.

Is it because we are siblings born of the same parents? No, what keeps siblings together is a relationship. And like all relationships, it takes a lot of working at, to grow strong. It takes a lot of love, forgiveness; patience and tolerance, understanding and respect for siblings to grow as sisters and brothers. This is best explained by Maya Angelou in this short quote: 

“I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters and brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them the mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.” –Maya Angelou

Yes, siblings – sisters and brothers, as defined by Maya Angelou, are the friends we not only “can’t get rid of” but whom we never want to get rid of.

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Between Christmas and New Year

The shopping frenzy to get the best gifts, the hottest deals at Christmas is over and done with. All the gift wrapping you were so careful with lies torn and scattered as eager little hands {and big ones too!} try to get to their presents as fast as they can. Christmas parties are over. And there’s a vacuum. I find myself in limbo… neither here nor there!

The build-up of excitement, anxiety, happiness, worry, the joy and the mad race to meet deadlines before Christmas is a heady cocktail of mixed emotions. Past Boxing Day, I feel empty. There’s been too much in the past couple of weeks and now I’m deflated… like a burst balloon.  But the inner joy remains because that’s what Christmas season does and sad that it’s over and I have too much of time on my hands and nothing much to do.

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The cooking, parties, shopping, church events are over for the year. And as I await the New Year, I’m lost in memories of past Christmases. It’s a strange feeling in the time between Christmas and New Year.

Lost! That’s how I am.

I don’t notice what day it is and I don’t care.

I don’t know what to do and I don’t care to ‘DO’ much. In the hustle and bustle that preceded D-day, I hadn’t much time to dwell on reminisces. But in this time between, the memories come flowing in – as waves upon waves – and I’m submerged.

As I walk down memory lane I’m not aware of who I am…

… a girl at home with mummy and Daddy. A teenager in love. Young mom with a baby. Alone with my world turned upside down; a single mom trying to make ends meet. A grandmom… here, there, and everywhere, I zip through decades, gathering the joy of Christmases past like bright, shiny tinsel balls to hang on my Christmas tree.

I love Christmas and I keep it in my heart through the year but I’m always lost in the time between Christmas and New Year! That’s how it is…and I love this too. My memories are so beautiful. Old photographs revive happy moments. The nostalgia might make me lose myself in the present moment but I get back refreshed as if I’ve just holidayed in some exotic Caribbean island.

But I’m between this and that until then!

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Daring To Be Vulnerable

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness we will we discover the infinite power of our light.” -Dr. Brene Brown

The best things; people and places, friendships and companionships never lasted long – at least not as long as I’d want it to. ‘Goodbye’ seemed to come around too soon. But I was young – a little girl- and the exuberance and expectations of youthfulness;  the hope of new and more exciting experiences helped to blunt the pain of loss and too many changes.

As the years rolled by and friendships began to mean more – there were stronger bonds of closeness and dependability – moving away became harder. We were not in an era of such high technology as we are in today.

One wrote letters, snail-mail, and soon the frequency of writing and receiving mail would peter out and finally die. Old friends became a vague memory as new ones took their place. But this transition was not as easy or smooth as I consciously thought it was. Somewhere at the sub-conscious level I was taking it harder and reacting to it in a very wrong way. To avoid the pain I was slowly developing a shell of protection. I didn’t want to be hurt anymore. So I would never give a hundred percent of myself to any relationship.

I liked my friends, and I made friends easily but there was always something lacking because I did not get too close to anyone. I was guarded in my relationships, not open. This distance I maintained distanced them from me. They took it personally and our friendships, though warm, never developed into life-long ties.

While I felt bad about it, I also felt better because our constant moving from place to place didn’t affect me emotionally the way it did earlier. I wasn’t breaking down inside anymore. My heart and my mind were intact; I was not vulnerable anymore. I was slowly becoming distant – ‘arm’s length’ is how I’d say it: ‘Keep at arm’s length’. I don’t know when or how I built these walls around me but walls were surely rising and imprisoning my soul.

Saying bye to someone you love is painful. Especially when you know you aren’t going to see them anytime soon or probably never meet them again because chances are, you’re not going to return to that place again.

The first pangs of farewell pains that I experienced were when my two elder sisters left for boarding school. I must have been six yrs old and it was terrible. I can still recall how it hurt so much, even though they would be away for less than a year, coming back for their long holidays every summer. I’d dam the tears that welled up as soon as the railway station came into sight. Then I’d let the floodgates down and let them flow and flow long after the byes were said and the train had chugged out of the station. Long after we were home and I was in my room. The emptiness would seep into me and I’d sit on the floor, take out my tea set and dolls and bawl my heart out. I still remember that! And this was how it was in the following years; I’d hurt so bad with every departure!

I also remember that as the years went by and both of them had finished with school, yet, they were never at home. They’d come for a short break and go back to wherever they were at the time. But what had changed was: I no longer felt the wracking pain of my childhood. Not that I was so grown-up but because I had learned to “put a stone on my heart” as the saying goes. We were brought up to keep our emotions in check. A stiff upper lip. So no matter how much my heart ached, I held my head high and went about living life as usual. If I needed to vent, I stuck my head in a closet and cried or buried myself under the covers and wept copiously on the welcoming foam of a pillow or then, took out my journal and wrote, wrote, wrote until I couldn’t see the page through my tears. I had learned this by the time I turned ten!

I had learned this lesson so well that when I said the most painful farewell I would ever say in all my life, I was still holding back – still pulling on the reins to keep a check on myself. I wanted to scream, shout, bang my fists, grieve, but all I did was shed a few tears, in fits and starts, and try to maintain a calm and cold exterior. The biggest love of my life had gone forever! An unexpected, shocking departure from life and those who loved him so well. A life truncated in its prime.  Yes, my husband had died of three successive, massive heart attacks in his thirty-ninth year, and I couldn’t let my guard down. I had to maintain a show of strength – emotional strength.

I thought it helped in keeping me from crumbling; from losing my sanity. I was so focused on being strong; on not making a public display of my inner-most feelings, not letting my young sons see me weak and devastated that I didn’t dwell on my personal loss. In hindsight, however, that was bad for me. I suffered the agony for years. For years I remained angry with my husband for dying and leaving me alone. For years I rolled up into a fetal position and wet my pillow with muffled sobs; so great was the pain.

The worst was, we had not said our final goodbyes! He died on one of his tours. He came back cold and dead. The best was when he was leaving home, although we had said our casual bye-byes, he turned back and with a rare, broad grin waved a bye to me again. I almost missed it because he never did that ever before. Once he was out of the gate he’d just drive away, our ‘see you’ being said. It took me by surprise and I did wonder for a second, ‘what was that?!’ But it made me happy and I saved the moment. This image came to my rescue every time I felt desolate because it was his ‘final farewell’. And what a memory it was!

This image brought relief because it became ‘our’ final farewell. Down deep I still ached because I knew I’d never see him again, but whenever I thought of him, this last image spoke volumes to me; it still does. The pain will never go but I have accepted it and it has become bearable.

I thought I had dealt with my unexpressed anguish and loss very well. Unknown to me it had a negative fall-out that carved out a new me. I became scared of loving anyone too much. I was afraid if I showed too much of love, or clung to anyone they would leave and I didn’t want to be hurt so bad again. I refused to love with all my love. I was afraid to show too much love towards my kids too.

The years went by and there were many farewells to friends and family as we moved from one place to another. It wasn’t a good experience but I no longer hurt so much… I missed my friends and family but it didn’t pain me as it would have before. Then along came a little bundle of golden fur. She was called Heidi.

Heidi was a golden retriever pup just a month old and she stole our hearts. Something inside me began to melt. The walls began to crumble and slowly I allowed myself to bring someone close to me. So close that she became my companion and confidante. She was not a dog for me, she was a person, my friend. I became defenseless; vulnerable and experienced so much of love from her.

She understood me when I spoke and even when I was quiet. She knew my silences, she felt my every feeling and responded to it. If she saw me with my face in my hands, she’d be there sitting in front of me moving my hands from my face and trying to get on my lap. She knew even if I was crying quietly. She’d come to my side and cuddle and lick my tears. She was the one who brought me out of the abyss of anger, self-pity, and the victim mentality. I was reluctant to get out of there. Heidi won this round. Letting go of my anger against David for dying and leaving me bereft was a life-saver for me.

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Heidi did indeed bring a ray of sunshine and literal warmth with her soft, furry body. And then when she had become my sturdy pillar of strength and emotional support she got cancer and died! That she had to be put down didn’t help the situation. I was devastated and, even now, when I think about her leaving the house on her way to her own ‘execution’ I am moved to tears. She went away trusting us – Moreso me. I hugged her and kissed her and let her go. I was against it but that doesn’t count, I acquiesced ultimately.

I was back to square one. The old me was doing a victory dance and whispering maliciously: ‘I told you so, I told you so’!

This was when God responded to my desperate cry for help. It’s not that He wasn’t on call before. I would pray and have my daily chats with Him. He’s been my BFF for a long, long time. But I used Him as my sounding board. And one who rendered help and protection when I needed it. I rejected the solutions He offered to my problems and stubbornly clung to my shadows, my walls, and wallowed in my misery: my fears, insecurity, and anger.

This time, however, I listened to Him instead of Him listening to me. It was the beginning of my new walk with God. The beginning of a new understanding. The understanding that to experience the wholeness of loving and being loved, I had to keep myself vulnerable. I had to let down all barriers and love wholeheartedly and even allow myself to be heartbroken, if at all that happened.

That’s what I had done with David, that’s what I had done with Heidi, that’s what I did with my kids – I had let down all barriers and let myself be open to giving and receiving love. I was vulnerable; I got hurt, let down, disappointed and sometimes desperate and frustrated but I always overcame and bounced back. These were the closest of bonds and I knew I could rely on love to set me free from my self-imposed imprisonment.

I had known love and the unique friendship David and I shared in our marriage.  I made beautiful memories to sustain me when I needed love the most and it wasn’t there. Maybe no one was there but the memories of happy times, good times, loving and caring times were always on hand to pull me out of the doldrums. I am grateful for these everlasting moments. Now it was time to come out of my shell. So, I let myself be open to the possibility of being hurt once again and in return, I strengthened my existing friendships, made new friends, and began liking the person I was becoming.

That’s what I relearned… to break down the walls and let love flow.

“To share your weakness is  – to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” -Criss Jami

It was the best thing I had done in my life: open myself to love and be loved. Love taught me it was okay to grieve for my loss; it didn’t make me weak, on the contrary, it made me normal and helped in the recovery process which in turn made me stronger.

I grew in my closeness to God and understood His love in a new light. In my walk with Him, I realized that I have good reason to make close ties even if it meant being hurt or that the ties would be eventually broken. We will all meet again in the sweet by and by. The fear of separation or loss must not keep us from feeling the great love that God has placed in our hearts and from sharing that with our family, friends, neighbors, so we might shine for Him.

Being vulnerable has brought more love into my life. I have grown stronger with the walls down and the protective shell removed. It has made my friendships worthwhile and long-lasting. I have learned that it is in giving love wholeheartedly that we receive more back. My best memories are of the times when I had opened my heart, unreservedly, unabashed, unafraid; the times when I received so much of love and care.

Love {and the vulnerability it brings} taught me forgiveness, tolerance, kindness, patience, self-control, understanding, humbleness, caring, sharing, resilience, thoughtfulness, and gratitude. It also kept me grounded. How poor was I when I kept my heart in a tower, safe and unbroken! How rich I am with a wealth of love and old friendships that have endured time and hardships and new ones that have enriched me no end and a family – sons, daughters-in-law and the most beautiful grandkids – love brings it all together!

“With each passage of human growth, we must shed a protective structure {like a crustacean}. We are left exposed and vulnerable – but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before.” -Gail Sheehy

 

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