Broth­ers & sis­ters


Good Health (Australia) - - Contents -

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.” #

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