Siblings Day

It’s siblings day today and I’ve written before about my sister and how losing my mother has helped us to stay connected as the two of us are the only two people in the world who understand exactly what we’re going through.

What some people won’t know is that I also have a brother. Had. I also had a brother. Well, have is correct I suppose, he isn’t dead. It’s just that he has ceased to function as a brother. Does that make him my brother twice removed or not a brother anymore? I can’t make my mind up.
In truth I no longer spend much time thinking about him. He fell out with my mother six years ago which it seemed necessitated not speaking to me or my then seven year old who heartbreakingly insisted on sending him Christmas cards for a while. Even a seven year old it seems knows to quit when birthday and Christmas cards are ignored as are emails and phone messages. But my mother didn’t know when to quit – I suppose it’s different when it’s your child. She never gave up until she knew she was dying and said to me “I don’t think I’m ever going to see him again”. And she was right.

“The only thing I need to do is to make clear to Ian how ill she is”, I said to my (ex) sister in law.
“Let me stop you there, the girls (his daughters) went to see him to make sure he knew she was dying and that if he wanted to see her, now would be the time” she replied “he said he didn’t.”

None of us ever got to the bottom of what the falling out was about. The most my sister got was a rather childlike “she’s knows what she’s done” and those of us of a jaundiced turn of mind took that to mean, “it’s not really about anything except some nonsense in my head so I’m not actually able to say because no credible reason exists”. Even my mother was clueless though she suspected that he resented us staying in touch with his ex-wife after their divorce, which he had billed as being perfectly amicable. I was always very aware of his tendency to punish people who did not live up to his ideals of how they should behave towards him.

He once tried it on me (before the falling out) when I didn’t tell him in the correct way (by email when it seems phone was preferred) or soon enough (10pm that evening after she’d called me at 9pm) that my mother was in hospital (non-emergency) and I was unphased by his hysteria wondering instead if he’d considered why I knew she was in hospital and he didn’t. And that given I was most likely to find out first of issues in future it seemed a little counter-productive biting the hand that feeds you as it were. It was my birthday and he and I and my sister (and my mother) were supposed to be meeting for a rare get together for a birthday lunch which he withdrew from with 30 minutes notice with some ridiculously obvious excuse – there is, after all, no point punishing people if they don’t realise so the excuse had to be fairly lame. I discovered that punishing people by withdrawing your approval/affection/presence is only actually a punishment if you let it be.

I chose not to feel punished.

I also heard him implying to someone when he didn’t realise I was listening that we had an abusive childhood and that my mother didn’t like boys. The truth was very far from that and so I believe I was cut off because I knew that very well and my skepticism didn’t play well with his audience, sympathetically bolstering up poor Ian recovering from his abusive childhood. I have no doubt that in many circles people would have believed his claim of toxic parents and encouraged him to go no contact. I even accept that he may well have convinced himself of the truth of his grievances – otherwise how on earth would you cope with your own toxic behaviour?

The sad truth is that the only person who was (and probably still is) truly abusive in our family was my brother.

Not to say that we are perfect – none of us are but we are people who try to get it right at least, we support our own and do our best and face up to our own inadequacies and then keep trying.

So this bizarre situation has left my sister and I learning to live a new life where once we had a family of five, we are now only two (maybe two and a half if you count our semi-detached father!) and it has been weird and difficult. On top of grieving for my mother I have found myself grieving, not for my brother who does not deserve it, but for the loss of the childhood I had. It seems slightly tainted now. I know that I will get over this in time or at least move past it but it has thrown up some interesting discussions with people outside of our inner circle.

Quite a few people have decided to try to fix this rift. These are all people who know me, who know that I am basically a kind, decent person who forgives relatively easily and finds it hard to hold a grudge. They try to convince me of what I need to do to get my brother back into the bosom of the family. They are convinced that he must feel guilty about his behaviour, that he must be secretly devastated and that I must make the effort to make him feel welcome again.

Why is it that they find it easier to believe that I wouldn’t have swallowed my natural aversion to seeing him again to make my mother happy one last time before she died than that he is a cold hearted narcissist? Hard not to take it personally that they must think there is fault on both sides when I would have done almost anything to facilitate my mother dying having seen him one final time.

Maya Angelou had it so right when she said (apologies for the poor paraphrasing) “When people tell you who they are… believe them”.
Because that IS who he is, a cold-hearted self-centred man. You can believe that from his actions, there is no need to extrapolate a conscience or any feelings that he doesn’t have from your own expectation of how people would normally feel.

I have waited for the hate to come, for the anger that is apparently part of the grieving process but 15 months on I’m still waiting. I feel only an irritation with people who seem to think I haven’t done enough to welcome him back. I will not welcome him back because he will do it again to another family member I care about sooner or later who doesn’t behave perfectly and I choose not to admit that kind of possibility into my life.

I think I may lack the anger because of something my mother’s lovely doctor said to her the week before she died.
She asked my mum if there was anything she was worried about –
“I’m worried that I’m never going to see my son again” and explained the circumstances of his absence.

Her doctor said quite bluntly, “In my experience it’s too late now. You aren’t going to heal this in the time you have left. But look around you. Look at the lovely people you have here with you, helping you and supporting you, these are the people you need to think about and appreciate. Don’t spend your last days or weeks thinking about the people who aren’t here for you but the ones who are.”
It seemed blunt to me but it did seem to give my mother peace and I’m so grateful for that.

And maybe it gave me peace too. And permission to let go of my brother. To let go of the idea that his absence from our lives was something I needed to regret and that instead I could be grateful for the peace it gives me.
And in admitting that, it probably reveals me to be a deeply flawed person – though you won’t find any argument with that here. My only regret that my open discussion of my brother, might hurt his daughters who are some of my most favorite people on the planet. It isn’t easy dealing with an arse of a father (I may have some experience of that…) and once you have accepted that you have the father you have, rather than the one you deserve then maybe you will feel able to put the burden of your relationship down and only pick it up when it suits you or when you feel able and understand….

It’s not you, it’s them.



  1. “I have found myself grieving, not for my brother who does not deserve it, but for the loss of the childhood I had. It seems slightly tainted now.” reminded me very strongly of comments I’ve seen from LGBT people who’ve been disowned by (previously seemingly very loving) parents. I’m not sure I have a profound point to make here, but it was an interesting parallel.

    1. Yes I can imagine that it’s a similar weird feeling. A reassessment of what you thought you knew about your childhood. To be honest was had potential arsehole written all over him from his teens but what teen doesn’t? I try not to judge based on what we were like as teenagers – I’m not sure any of us would fare well. But some people never seem to recover from that devout teenage insistence that they are the most important person in the world and always right about everything. But as ever people are rarely irredeemably bad so the temptation is to excuse the behaviour on the basis that they are kind to animals or waitresses or are funny or clever. I wished I’d called out the behaviour much earlier – it would have saved time and I wouldn’t feel so irritated that I let it happen with so little objection.

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