My sister is dead, I told the bank manager.
She isn’t dead. She lives in Washington with her husband, having recently moved from L.A., where we were both born and raised.
The bank manager expressed his condolences. He accepted the paperwork from our lawyer to remove my sister’s name from our Trust as the potential guardian of our children should my husband and I die before they’re of legal age to care for themselves.
I told him she was dead to delete her from my psyche, distance myself from loving her. Five years ago, she told my husband she didn’t want any contact with him, me, or our kids, her then 7 and 9 yr old niece and nephew, in a response to an email my husband sent her.
Much to my sister’s chagrin, we’ve raised our kids without religion. Cleaning out her Agoura Hills McMansion before moving to her custom built estate in Washington, she sent our kids Hanukkah ‘gifts’ of broken toys that used to belong to her children. She missed acknowledging our daughter’s birthday, again. Three months later, she sent her a present with the one she sent for our son’s birthday, and spelled her name wrong on the card. She’d disappointed our kids time and again, ignoring their birthdays and special events, rarely calling, and talking about her life, not theirs, when she did. Many times after jacking them up that she was coming to visit, on the day she was supposed to arrive, she left it to me to tell our kids she wasn’t coming.
Her sins were many, and mounted with the years without apology. My husband got tired of her hurting our kids, emailed her five sentences politely informing her the correct spelling of our daughter’s name, and requested if she was going to send them birthday cards or gifts to please do so on or around their respective birthdays.
My sister decided he was asking too much and emailed back that “though I am deeply in love with your kids, and it breaks my heart to do so,” she was withdrawing from their lives entirely. She stopped calling every few months. For a couple of years she sent the kids birthday cards when it struck her fancy—weeks late to our daughter, if at all, but managed to get cards to our son within days of his, professing her deep affection and love for him. It took all my will not to shed the cards in a million tiny pieces. Her sentiments to him were totally self-serving, for her ego, her ‘loving’ words meaningless, meant to pump up her self-image alone.
“Love is an ACTION, what we do, not some abstract in our heads,” my husband and I teach our kids. “Don’t profess love in words without taking actions to show it,” we preach. “And don’t accept words of love as truth without seeing the actions that actualize their sentiment.”
Over the years my sister had been so disrespectful to our youngest that our daughter never really formed a bond, but her choice to terminate her relationship with our kids deeply hurt our son. She was important to him because the few extended family members we have left, namely my brother and father, didn’t call or acknowledge our children in any way.
My mom died when our daughter was just 2, and our son only 4 yrs old, so she never really got to know our kids. She did love them though. Deeply. Profoundly. And they got that. How did they know?
- She came to visit often.
- She called them on the phone every couple of days.
- She mailed them presents on time, and called to sing Happy Birthday on their special days.
- She spelled their names right.
- She stayed abreast of their lives through me, my husband, and through the kids, consistently showed interest in their interests and feelings, and shared her world with them.
My mother often extolled how much she loved our kids, to me, to them, to anyone who’d listen, but she also showed it, so my children knew it was real.
The day my dad called to tell me of my mom’s cancer diagnosis, after I hung up the phone I said to my husband, “Well, that’s the end of my family.” She was the conduit that kept us together, in contact, a feature in each other’s lives. She fervently believed people come and go, but family is forever, the folks with which your love and loyalty should reside. Within a year of my mother’s passing, my sister and father checked out of my life, and the lives of our kids, too busy with their own to bother with me or mine.
My father, like my sister, practices love in the abstract. He never talks to his grandkids, never calls [even me], never asks to talk to them when I call him, and rarely even asks about them. He doesn’t acknowledge their birthdays anymore. I got tired of reminding him with multiple calls and emails weekly the month before their special days, then daily reminders the week before. The rare occasions I call my dad, he always professes how much he loves my kids, how important they are to him, though he does nothing to actually show them this. He never did, I just didn’t notice, as my mother’s effusive love overshadowed his self-love. When I mention his grandkids, he reminds me to tell them that grandpa loves them, and misses them. But I don’t. I tell them, “Popi says hi.” I don’t want our children to ever get the impression it’s acceptable to say you love someone when you take virtually no action to show it.
Her body ravaged by cancer and near death, my mother insisted my father take her to Toys R Us. She bought each of our kids their next birthday gift, and made him swear to mail them on time. She was hoping to establish a tradition (an action) for my father to adopt for his grandchildren after she was gone. He delivered her dying gifts to our kids two years later, on his way to visit my sister in Washington.
In a thousand lifetimes I cannot repay my mom for her precious gift of LOVE I now model to our children. But I cannot buy into her belief [and society’s rhetoric] that family and love are synonymous anymore.
LOVE, like potential, is meaningless unless put into ACTION.