My sister is dead, I told the bank manager.
But she isn’t.
She lives in Washington with her husband, having moved from L.A. where we were both born and raised.
The bank manager expressed his condolences and accepted the paperwork from our lawyer to remove her name from our Trust. My sister was to be replaced as the potential guardian of our children should my husband and I die before they’re of legal age to take care of themselves.
I told him she was dead to remove her from my psyche, distance myself from loving her. Five years ago, she told my DH she didn’t want any contact with him, me, or our kids, her then 8 and 5 yr old niece and nephew, in a response to an email my husband sent her.
She’d missed 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. This wasn’t the first time her actions, or lack thereof hurt our kids. She’d disappointed them many times, missing birthdays and special events with a quick message left on our answering machine she couldn’t make it after promising to come. Many times she insisted I tell my kids she wasn’t coming after informing me on the day she was supposed to arrive.
Her sins were many, and mounted with the years without apology. My husband got tired of it, emailed her five sentences politely informing her the spelling of our daughter’s name, and requested if she was going to send them birthday gifts to please do it 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 informed my husband she would prefer no contact at all, with any of us, though she’d established what my children believed was a fairly close connection, email exchanges with my son, calling every few months to touch base with both kids.
She has, in fact, exited our lives almost completely. She sends the kids birthday cards when it strikes her fancy—two weeks late to our daughter last year, but managed to get a card to our son within days of his, professing her deep affection and love for him. It took all my will not to shed the card in a million tiny pieces, her sentiment to him for her self-image alone.
Love is an ACTION, what we do, not some abstract in our heads, my DH and I teach our kids. “Don’t profess love in words without taking actions to show it,” we parent. “And don’t accept words of love without seeing the actions that actualize their sentiment.”
Choosing to terminate her relationship with my kids deeply hurt our son. Our kids relationship with my sister was important to them because the few extended family we have left are not close by. My mom died when our oldest was just 5, 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 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 DH, 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 the kids, to me, to them, to anyone who’d listen, but she also showed it, so my children knew it was real.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I knew when she was gone my connection to my remaining family would fragment. 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.
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.
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.” 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 more in the abstract. He never talks to his grandkids, never calls [even me], never asks to talk to them when I call him, 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 the week before. (Her body ravaged by cancer and near death, my mother insisted my father take her to Toys R Us, then 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 grandkids after she was gone.)
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 love of self. 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.
Love, like potential, is meaningless unless put into ACTION.