Losing Your Parents, Finding Your Self

My mother's death blew a hole in our midst, and when the smoke cleared, nothing was familiar. It was as though I never really saw my siblings before. Always there had been our larger- than-life mother--the center of family gravity--in our line of vision, holding us together. All our dealings somehow were mediated by Mom. Like spokes in a wheel, we couldn't reach each other without in some way going through her, the hub. She was the prism through which we viewed each other and ourselves: Who was in, who was out, what Mother said or hadn't said this week, who was going to visit, who wasn't, who had met her expectations, who had fallen short.

Now we were on uncharted ground. She had been the common denominator that defined us as a family. What, literally, would we do without her? What would we have to say to one another in the breach?

In my brother's case, and to my utter astonishment, nothing. Suddenly, and without explanation, my only full sibling, who for most of our lives had relied on me for sisterly affection--I was his role model, he once said--closed the door on me and all our history together. My phone calls and letters to him went unanswered.

I cannot express how dreadful it was to realize that my mother's rancor toward me lived on in him. It was one thing to have lost my mother ages earlier; to lose my brother now was devastating. From his point of view, this rupture was, and remains, nonnegotiable.

In becoming my mother's last best child, my brother could not sustain a tandem love for me. Of her several children, it might be, in the all and all, that he was the most undone by our difficult beginnings, unable thereafter to put all the pieces back together. Or perhaps we never shared anything but blood--not enough, at all events, to allow for a real bond.

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