Brothers & sisters
FOUR WOMEN SHARE THEIR FEELINGS ABOUT THEIR SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS. BY SARAH MARINOS
Four women talk to Sarah Marinos about the family difficulties they face.
Karen, 60, was cared for by her older brother when their parents died in a car accident. Karen was 15, and Terry was 25. She says he became her parent and best friend and that close relationship remains.
“Terry’s was the first face I saw after Mum and Dad passed away. I remember him standing white-faced in the foyer at high school. We sat in a room and Terry told me our parents had died a few hours earlier while driving home from a doctor’s appointment.
I remember the shock and the pain but also this absolute certainty that Terry would take care of me. And I was right. He’s never let me down. He insisted I finish high school and he came to my parent-teacher interviews. He made sure I did my homework, picked me up from parties – the things Dad would have done. He worked but was always around when I needed him. Terry helped me get my first job and he walked me down the aisle when I married my husband, Serge.
Terry didn’t really date while I was still living at home – he told me he’d make time for that once I was settled. I was thrilled when he met his partner Carolyn a few years after my wedding.
He was the reason why I went to university at the age of 52. I always regretted not studying – I love history – and Terry nagged me to enrol. It was one of the best experiences of my life and he was there, clapping harder than anyone, during my graduation ceremony.
I can’t imagine my life without Terry – he’s my constant. He’s still my protective big brother and best friend. I’m very lucky to have him. Don’t ever take your siblings for granted.” Jane, 50, has a younger brother, Gary, whom she says has always been her parents’ favourite. While her efforts to be independent are overlooked, Gary continues to receive parental support. Jane lives in Perth.
“I’ve read that firstborns are independent while younger children are always the ‘baby’ – that’s how it is in our family. I fought my own battles while Mum always stepped in for Gary.
I remember how she and Dad stressed when he started work. How would he cope? Would people be kind to him? Gary was sens itive…peo ple took advantage…poor Gary. Last year, at the age of 42, he moved back to live with my parents after leaving another job where he supposedly wasn’t treated fairly. But Gary is arrogant and self-centred. That’s why he’s lost jobs and why he’s single.
I’ve worked hard to build my own childcare business and my marriage broke down after I discovered my husband was gambling. I’ve raised my two teenagers alone. But if I said to Gary that I’d had a tough day he’d give a cursory ‘mmm’ and move on to how life had let him down again.
I used to drop in to Mum and Dad’s place a couple of times a week, but now Gary is there I visit less. I can’t listen to his self-pity and watch Mum and Dad feeding it. I know he thinks I’ve had everything handed on a plate – he doesn’t see how hard I’ve worked.
When our parents are no longer around I won’t see Gary much. His lack of interest in my life hurts. He’s been spoiled and indulged by my parents and has no capacity to consider anyone else’s situation.
I wish things were different because once Mum and Dad are gone Gary and I will only have each other. But sometimes no matter how much you hope your siblings will be close, they won’t.”
Julia is 43 and the middle one of three sisters. She’s angry that her older sister, Shelley, is reluctant to care for their widowed father. When Julia, from Melbourne, confronted Shelley they argued and have not spoken since.
“When mum was still alive, I’d call her regularly and she was often tired because she’d been looking after Shelley’s children. She took care of them three or four days a week until they were teenagers. Shelley and her husband were constantly dropping the grandkids on Mum.
Mum and Dad didn’t have much time to enjoy retirement. They only just got a break from Shelley’s kids when Mum died of a heart attack. Since then Shelley’s hardly lifted a finger for Dad. I fly to Sydney each month and I call him every night. Shelley drops in with a meal once every few weeks and she only lives 20 minutes away.
Things came to a head on Dad’s 80th birthday. I arranged a surprise dinner – and the surprise was that Shelley didn’t come. As we waited for her to arrive she rang me to say she’d gone to her husband’s work function instead.
I was on Shelley’s doorstep the next morning. I questioned how she could ignore Dad after he and Mum had saved her a fortune on childcare. I told her I was angry that Mum didn’t get much time to herself before she died. I told her how hurt Dad looked when she didn’t show up for his birthday. Shelley said I was over-reacting, I was jealous and I was saying those things because deep down I must have felt guilty for moving away from Mum. All rubbish but Shelley always goes on the attack when someone tells her something she doesn’t want to hear.
We haven’t spoken since January – nine months now. I hope we can sort things out but I don’t regret speaking up for Dad.
Sometimes you tell your siblings things they don’t want to hear, and that causes a break in relationships. Before you say what’s on your mind, weigh up whether it is worth damaging your relationship for.” Sarah, 49, from Melbourne lost her sister, Verity, 18 years ago, after she was diagnosed with a heart condition. Verity’s resilience during her illness continues to inspire Sarah.
‘”We realised Verity was very sick during her last year at university. She was always out of breath and sometimes her lips had a blue tinge. A cardiologist diagnosed she’d been born with a structural heart defect that had gone undetected. Surgery was too risky. There was no treatment.
We went to the same university so we could be together. Verity was the extrovert who made me try new things – I was her arms and legs when she got too sick to do things for herself. We laughed at the same things, and Verity was the other half of me. I refused to accept that I would lose her.
When I fell in love with my Australian husband, Verity told me to marry him so I could have an adventure for her. I returned to England each summer and every time Verity was frailer. There were more frequent stints in hospital.
When Ella was born, Verity sent baby shoes in emerald green. That was my sister. When Ella was nine months old, I was ready to make the journey to England with her. But three weeks before we arrived, Verity’s heart failed. I could barely stand up at her funeral, although I smiled when her coffin left the chapel with a New Orleans-style jazz band!
Verity’s loss still stings. Something funny happens and I think ‘I must tell Verity that’. Ella is like her aunt. She loves pranks and adventures and she’s inherited Verity’s give-anything-a-try-atleast-once attitude.
Verity was fascinated by India – she joked she would make it in Bollywood! So, last year Ella and I went to India and had an adventure for my sister.
Whenever life seems hard I remember how Verity laughed her way through difficulties and I keep going. Live for the day. Enjoy every moment. And love the people close to you.” #