Losing Your Parents, Finding Your Self

My husband says that in my youthful yearnings to have a sense of family, I never really saw my brother in my mother's long shadow. I never saw how completely opposite, how differently constructed we are. Now I see him. I have come to accept his need to keep a separate peace, far away from the family and any reminders of our origins.

In my sister's case, however, and to my great delight, the outcome has been extraordinary: The silver lining in all this has been our relationship--she and I are closer than we have ever been.

This did not happen overnight. While Nancy had understood, up to a point, my feelings about my mother, she did not share them. Indeed, in nearly every sense we had sprung from entirely separate contexts. I was born into my mother's wretchedly unhappy second marriage; Nancy was born over a decade later into my mother's contented third marriage, the one that took.

In the months after my mother's death, Nancy laid down a single ground rule between us: She would not discuss our mother. I've lost my reference point, she said, shaken, bereft. I'm trying to remember more of the good things so I can have a mother to mourn. And I was not about to deny her. Because she is the sibling to whom I was always closest, I did not, do not, want to do anything to fray the single strand of affectionate kinship left to me from my childhood.

Nancy and I have rediscovered each other over the chasm left by my mother's death. We have fashioned an entirely new bridge of affection and mutual regard. She is now the relative to whom I turn first with good news or bad. She has become the family switchboard, keeping tabs on and dispensing bulletins to all the members of our immediate and extended clan.

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