On Life, Death, and Birthdays

birthday candleToday would have been my sister’s 45th birthday.  She died five years ago.  We weren’t speaking at the time of her death.  Was it a suicide?  She’d attempted suicide before.  Was it an accidental overdose?  Or was it one of the ailments that plagued her, including Hepatitis C?  I’m saddened to know that…I don’t know.  I’m saddened that we were not speaking to…could not speak to…one another at the time of her death.

My sister was beautiful.  Always a bit on the heavy side, but beautiful with natural blonde hair and blue eyes.  When she was little and got her hair cut, the beautician asked to keep her hair so it could be made into wigs.  My sister was outside all the time, and her best friend was our aunt and uncle’s pure white Samoyed, Gus.  Gus, despite his size, could wriggle through the wires separating our properties like nobody’s business.  Anything to be near his little girl.  All summer long they played in the sprinkler.  Sometimes my sister would have to push Gus off the sprinkler so she could play, too!  Living in the central valley of California, summers were HOT and I’m sure Gus, bred for cooler climes, was grateful for the sprinkler, as well as my sister’s attention.  OH!  Back to my sister’s hair.  All that time in the sun created natural streaks that many women, even today, would spend a fortune to replicate.  And there they were in the thick, naturally wavy hair of my sister.

My sister was loving and forgiving, at least at that time.  I’m almost ten years older than she was…ten years ahead of her on getting out of the house and away from our mom.  You see, I loved…and love…my mom.  But she had serious mental demons of her own and they weren’t treated back in the day.  No doubt my mom didn’t even realize anything was wrong, that is until she came very close to having a breakdown when my sister was a tweenager.  She was placed on medication that did seem to tame her inner devils, but those devils didn’t completely go away. There was no therapy or ongoing help aside from medication.  But this was in the late 1970s/early 1980s.  Only those truly considered to be mental cases received more intensive care, or so we thought.   My sister and my dad were on the receiving end of her wrath.  Oh, it wasn’t physical, but it didn’t have to be.  When told over and over how stupid, dumb, and idiotic you are…when as a little girl you’re called a little bitch and worse, well, let’s just say it took its toll.  I married early.  It was one way out.  But I left my sister behind.

My sister battled her weight all through school, but it ballooned the last couple years of high school.  Even so, she was a genius at putting looks together and doing her hair and make up.  We were quite poor, so my sister didn’t have an extensive wardrobe, but she excelled at putting pieces together in unique ways, and always had friends she could swap out clothing with.  Yes, she was also very social whereas I was very quiet and reserved.  I envied my sister in many ways.  Perhaps I should have told her this.  I don’t know that I ever did.

Fast forward several years and my sister married her high school sweetheart.  They had three kids, a girl and two boys.  Life for them was rough…for all of them.  Eventually my sis and her hubby split up with my sister retaining custody of the kids.  I did try to step in and be a sister.  I tried to insert myself into her life and supported her as she tried to get a foot hold.  By this time, she knew she had bipolar I.  There were several issues at play which I won’t go into details about, but eventually she lost custody of her kids to the state.  John and I were living in a mobile home in a home owners’ association and because of the rules couldn’t take any of the kids.  I just knew the daughter was my hero for bringing abuse issues to the attention of administrators at her school.  My sister battled for two years to regain custody, failing to follow through at times on requirements.  Eventually John and I managed to sell our home and rented another.  My parents had the kids at that time, but it wasn’t a good situation for anyone.  After a while, my mother fell and broke her hip.  My dad’s emphysema was crippling.  John and I took the two boys.  It broke our hearts to not be able to take the daughter, but she was 14 and out of control, sneaking out at night to party…drinking and using drugs, not to mention having sex.  Smoking openly at home.  And we knew that if we attempted to place boundaries around her, all she’d have to do would be to claim that John and touched her inappropriately and our lives would be ruined, along with her brothers’ lives.  I still feel broken hearted about it.  It wasn’t fair!  But everyone from their caseworker to their therapist to the social workers advised us against taking her.  So, we took the boys.

Interestingly, John and I had already purchased a home in the Midwest with the intent of moving a few years down the road.  That was the sole purpose.  I wanted to graduate from college first, as I’d been attempting to go to school for decades and life kept getting in the way.  Or maybe I should say school kept getting in the way of life.  Life needed to come first.  But these two boys, oh how they needed us.  And needed a fresh start.  Making the decision to go ahead and move wasn’t easy.  The State of California encouraged us, surprisingly.  They wanted to make sure my sister’s contact with her children was limited.  But…but.  I had no idea just how difficult the move would be and how all these changes would affect me.  However, I didn’t know.  We didn’t know.  So, we moved.  But not before my sister divulged during a visit that an uncle had molested her when she was young.  I believed her.  He had molested me, too.  I didn’t say anything to anyone.  I was disgusted with myself, him, and the situation.  I was horribly embarrassed. But my family relied on him and my aunt for many things, so I kept my mouth shut.  I didn’t realize that my sister would pay the price.  I didn’t know.

While my sister was married, she developed Hepatitis C.  She claimed she didn’t know where it came from.  Well, there are only a couple of sources, since she wasn’t a nurse.  According to officials, Hepatitis C “…does not spread through casual contact with affected individuals” (https://www.reference.com/health/causes-hepatitis-c-fbede6c6c2897adb?aq=the+cause+of+hepatitis+c&qo=cdpArticles

Later, a niece…who was also one of my sister’s best friends…told me about some of the risky behavior my sister engaged in.  I was heartbroken.  Was it the BP I?  The symptoms can cause a sufferer to engage in risky behavior plus there was the possibility of self-medicating.  Was it years of being told she wasn’t good enough?  Was it a combination?  Did she feel she didn’t deserve any better?

Whatever the reason, my sister died way too young and probably alone.  Instead of my hurt getting better as the years go by, it gets worse.  What could I have done to help her more than what I tried to do?  And I did try.  But could I have done more?  What could I have done that would have made a difference?

I don’t have any answers.  I do know, though, that she’s aware her boys…our boys…have grown to be men she can be proud of.  They’re good men, with good lives.  One is in the military and the other is working for the state, just a year out of high school and is wanting his parents to give him advice on investing.  Sheesh!!

I’ll quietly celebrate my sister’s life.  Try to keep from crying.  And will do my best to let her know I love her, always loved her, and hope she’s at peace.

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