Throughout our lives we three sisters have shared, fallen out, and come together again, and supported each other in many ways. For ten years in our mid lives we met three times a year for communal sharing between the three of us. This fell apart when we all became stressed and tired, with a lot of ill health at the same time, and all our old judgments, grudges and prejudices came out.
The love is deep between us but often has not been truly felt or expressed because of our differing personalities and different views about life, society, politics and religion that led to the breakdown after the ten years of sharing together. Since then we have been able to find common ground and connect with the deeper truth inside each of us, a deeper and far more important connection than the superficial stuff of ideals and beliefs that had previously bound us together.
Being the youngest, with a big gap between my sisters and myself, I have remained the ‘baby’, even though I am respected and supported in all I do and bring to life. Very often I have been the peacemaker, the one who brings us all together and heals the rifts.
In recent years, as my oldest sister reached her 80's, and I entered my 70's, things began to take on a different pattern and rhythm. I noticed that I was closer to one than the other for a while, and then it would change over. I felt that the relationship between my two older sisters was growing closer as they began to feel the impact of growing older on their bodies, and both were experiencing periods of serious illness.
Meanwhile I learned to claim myself as an adult. I had never felt like an adult, always trying to ‘grow up’ because I could feel my emotional, childish reactions to things and I knew I was carrying old hurts and patterns, and very often made myself less than other people, especially my sisters. With me being the youngest, it was easy for me to fall into trying to please and keep the peace. Both of my sisters felt responsible for me as I was the ‘baby’ of the family, and in a way they became my surrogate mothers. It was up to me to break that tie. I went into therapy and began to find out more about my relationships and myself, and so I began to claim what I felt was true for me and stand up to them firmly, without anger.
Living far apart from each other now, my sisters have not been able to meet and I can only visit them infrequently. Deafness and/or weakness mean long telephone conversations are not possible; letters are difficult to write with shaky hands and numb fingers, or lack of energy.
I am the one who is still living ‘out there’, picking up on activities in my retirement. About five years ago I offered to help primary children read, and then two years ago added volunteering for a local charity that befriends isolated people and encourages them to make connections with local communities. I also joined the Women’s Institute, which has many groups all over the country, both town and rural, and is about raising the profile of women and contributing to supporting woman’s causes, and giving women an opportunity to learn new skills.
This is not the usual thing I do but I felt that it was important to expand my experience. Soon I am to further develop my role in the school using my experience to help children lacking in confidence to find their voices and express themselves in voice and movement. I am enjoying a newfound joy in myself and life, and opening up to all around me, while my sisters are both housebound and use zimmer frames.
You might think that brings an inequality between us, but that is not so, for I learn so much myself from observing their growing acceptance of the simplicity of their lives and their gradually weakening and symptomatic bodies.
I find they have as much to offer me, as I have to offer them. I can bring my light and joy into their lives, as long as I choose to live that fully in their presence, and in our conversations, rather than falling into sympathy and making myself duller. They feel it, and are inspired by it, and are glad for me. And why should I sympathise? That would be arrogant of me.
They are amazing women living with their afflictions in a truly honest way, and teaching me so much about facing what we all have to ultimately face, the ageing process leading to our passing.
This is a beautiful journey of reconciliation and growing love as we learn to respect each other's way of living and being. We are all equal, and held in a Love so immense, that as we let go of the old habits of our relationships we feel closer together in a way we have never felt before.
Joan C., UK