05 September 2018

Memories crowd in my head and some of the time I cannot tell whether they are real or just my invention. Maybe there isn't much difference, maybe none at all. After all, it's just bits of my life and of no importance to anybody. Could be that we all make it up as we go along in life, pushing the hard and heavy bits far away into the part of our brain that forgets and embellishing the moments that make us shine or make us happy or make us proud or maybe just simply make us.

When I look back on what I remember of my life, it all appears to float and whirl without any beginning or order and I pick bits like flotsam and for a while, put them on my shelf to look at and it feels inevitable but also totally random. This remembering.

Some memories have been hidden for a very long time, too long for me to swear by them and to declare that yes, this is how it was.  

For example. Childhood. A messy time, memories are tricky.  

This is how it works: I compare notes, with my siblings, separately and on the rare occasions when we are together. Mostly, we cannot agree. When I mention something my mother did or said that was hard and painful, my brother's posture becomes rigid, he tries to not avert his face and to keep a bland expression, whereas my sister while agreeing on the basics will respond with examples of something my mother did that was good and generous, scolding me for not balancing out the memories, for always overemphasizing, for being ungrateful and so on. It's her show, she's the oldest. And then my posture becomes rigid and I try to not avert my face, keeping a bland expression. 

Eventually, we will begin to argue. We always end up arguing. If there is anything we really figured out during our childhood, it's how to get the day rolling arguing with each other. We can argue with our eyes closed, our brains on automatic. At a push, we know how to argue until the cows come home. My brother, the whiny baby that he is, will eventually withdraw, shaking his head, into the safe cocoon of his own, large family, whereupon my sister will feel compelled to continue in her search for someone to blame and I will play that game of shrinking deeper and deeper into the younger sister position where my opinions don't count anyway, working hard on staying arrogantly aloof.
Variations of this. Since 1962 or thereabout.

But for the time being, she has stopped talking to me. Suddenly, we are on uncharted territory here.
I feel relieved and cheated in equal measure. After all, it was me who has been scheming to stop communicating eventually, not quite now but sometime in the future. Naturally, I am incensed. So as always, she gets her way. Or something like that. I want to bang a door, stamp my childish feet.

Is she, I wonder, waiting for me to write the first email, surely not expecting a phone call, me asking, was it something I said? When I know bloody well it has always been something I said or didn't say or do.
Maybe all she needs is time, R tells me. Pah, I snort. She is just running her show. 
Well then, he replies, let her. Keep your distance and wait. 

What does he know, I grumble behind his back, he comes from a happy Irish family. The kind where they fall over laughing everytime some cousin remembers the day uncle Des almost swallowed his dentures.

Meanwhile, reading my grandmother's letters, I am reminded that I come from a long line of family feuds. 

To be continued, maybe. Uncharted territory, as mentioned above.


  1. In the photo, each one of you looks uncertain as to what is going on. No wonder your childhood memories are uncharted territory. A long line of family feuds is what I come from, too. My sisters and I have never been close although my family also has a history of lack of healthy boundaries. Perhaps the distance between my sisters and me now is healthier than the lack of boundaries we grew up with.

    I hope you will continue to sort through your memories. My gut feeling is that you can trust your memories, despite your siblings remembering otherwise.

    I'm struck by how many of our mothers from that era are wearing dark glasses in photos, making them appear somewhat anonymous and interchangeable.

  2. Oh god. The hardest subject.
    I have three younger brothers. The one closest to me in age and the only one who had the same father as I do defends my mother to a degree of me fearing violence from him. He cannot, will not, hear of anything that she did that was representative of the mother I knew. He remembers nothing that I remember. He denies that she suffered from depression. He denies she ever hit him. He denies that anything ever happened in his presence that she should have protected us from. And yet, at the age of eighteen he moved as far away from home as he could get and still be in the same country on the same continent. And visited rarely.
    I do not talk to him.
    I think he takes his anger towards her, which he cannot admit to himself, out on me.
    Another brother lives in the same area as I do. We used to be so very close. After our mother died, we've rarely seen each other. There was a vast misunderstanding after her death that she could have prevented but chose not to.
    My youngest brother, whom I was also very close to, has not spoken to me since he left after her death. I think he is afraid to talk about any of it.
    Tellingly, none of us cared to give her a funeral and there was no service at all. Her minister tried to get us to have one but it just never happened. The brother closest to me in age did not come when she died, did not come before she died when I told him it was time if he wanted to see her again.
    I think I have spent most of my life trying to live so that my children will not feel the way about me that I felt about my mother.
    And there is a part of me which will never forgive myself for not loving her enough.

    1. Mary, your words hit me hard and it is because I can relate so much to your experiences.
      After my mother's death, we could not agree on a service, so a distant relative took it in her hands and in the end we sat down for a meal with a couple of elderly neighbours from long ago. This was almost 20 years ago but the memory of this stiff, tedious meal with all the fake sentiments is as vivid as if it was last year. I wish I could forget that completely.

      And like you, I have been trying to listen to my child in ways I never thought I could, learning from her how to love. And this is one reason why I cherish your blog so much.

      As for that part that will never forgive yourself, well, I am watching it shrink. Minutely.
      Let's not be too hard on ourselves. She is no longer watching.

  3. "of no importance to anybody". False modesty and it ill behoves you. You are at the centre of many radiating circles, one of which I occupy.

    Consider the principle of the disposable first para; this post gets into gear at para five. Grabs me with "my brother's posture becomes rigid".

    Just dropped an 82-word comment with Colette. This one's down to 50 words. Funnily, brevity is easier than silence. I'm haunted by the Americanism "running off at the mouth".

  4. My family is like your husband R’s. Large and close and laughing and squabbling sometimes and turning the squabbles into another good story. My husband’s family is like yours. He and his sister do not speak since their mothers death. My children have lost the cousins on that side, to whom they were close as children. It breaks my heart and my daughter’s heart but my husband and my son don’t dwell. Money is at the root of it, but that is too simple. A family culture of wounding with silence made the rift inevitable perhaps. I tried to solve it once, believing naively that I could approach it as I would with my own family. My husband tried to tell me it wouldn’t work. He knew his family of origin and he was right. So now, silence. This comment is the tip of the iceberg but your post brought up so much pain for me over the loss of these people I once loved and try hard not to think about now. Some rifts cannot be solved, only endured. I appreciate your sharing here. It allows me to admit a pain that I do not write about on my own blog out of consideration for my husband’s feelings. Family can be a sorrowful story.

  5. I can relate. I have an older sister who go through periods of not speaking to me, sometimes for years. It always disturbs me, but I find it is easier for me when we are not in touch. I forgive her freely, because I know why she is the way she is. I understand her anger and hatred, and I recognize where it comes from and who is to blame. However, forgiveness doesn't mean I want to talk to her. Both your post and Mary Moon's reply have moved me deeply. Facing the truth is hard work, but it enables us to become more fully human. Hiding from it and pretending things never happened is a child's way out. Understandable, of course. But not the way I prefer to live my life.

  6. childhood memories are fraught. at least mine are. same family as you older sister, younger brother and while my brother and I have never been close (he was the beloved golden child, the only male and carrier of the family name whose only child was a daughter so it will die anyway), my sister and I, in adulthood did become close after a childhood during which she only suffered my presence if she was forced to, even though even now, she will pull rank on me if we disagree about something. I've learned to just let it be. if it's that important to her to be first, smarter, in charge, whatever. an angry father, an indifferent mother who only cared about their social standing, everything filtered through 'what will our friends and colleagues think'. by the time I hit high school I wasn't allowed to have friends because my parents didn't approve of the social status (not high enough) of the parents of the kids I wanted to be friends with. my sister and I share memories, she and I both suffered the same though the details are different. nothing my sister, the oldest, did was good enough, everything I did was bad. our brother lived in lala land but then the sun rose and set on him as far as our parents were concerned. he is completely astounded when my sister and I talk about childhood. and yet, like Mary's brother, he left at 18 to go to college and never returned, moving ever father away. our father died about 8 years before our mother. no funeral at his request, his ashes dumped where he wanted. no funeral for our mother either but because we didn't care and who would come? they had no friends by the time they died. I did cry when our mother died, not much and not because I grieved for her but because with her death was gone the only hope of ever having the kind of mother I so desperately wanted.

  7. I never remember things the same way my brother does. For a long time I thought I just had a bad memory, but then I began to realize that we might just not remember things the same way, for whatever reason. I'm not sure my memory is any less reliable than his!

  8. I am so moved reading this, your memories, your heartbreak, your familial pain. I have been through some times over the past few years when my sister and I have stopped speaking. We fight about some past memory and that sparks the fiery gulf between us. She has even said these words to me, "I know how mom felt about you..." and let's just say it wasn't positive. I guess we have to learn how to "live" with the fact of our siblings, who they are, where they are in their emotional lives and expect nothing more or less from them. We make these online friendships that feel like tribal family and learn how to make our hearts whole. Thank you for writing this down. I am thinking of you, my friend.

  9. I have three siblings that could hardly spare the time to visit my mother and left her care to me. I asked for their help but they always had an excuse. A week before my mother died they had a family conference without me and decided that the best thing for my mother would be for her to move into a nursing home. My sister in law told me that they would not talk to my mum before I had a chance to. Then two days later she called my mum and told her she needed to move into a nursing home, before I had a change to talk to my mum. Mum died less than a week later, just like my father. They both died six days after being told they were going to a nursing home.

    My mother spent the last week of her life feeling like a burden and I cannot forgive my sister for this. It was spiteful and lazy. My mum wasn't perfect but she always put her family first and helped my sister raise her kids.

    I decided to no longer have contact with her or my brother. I still talk to one sister, strangely enough, the one with the brain injury who has no empathy.

    I don't want my brother and sister in my life. They are hurtful, mean people and I don't want that. They would probably say the same about me and I truly wish I had siblings who were close but that's not the case. It's sad.

    And thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

  10. Growing up almost as an only child since my brother was a decade older I've not had the sibling experience you describe as I always revered him and he took care of me. I was always intrigued observing my mother's interactions with her siblings whenever they were together. They seemed quite different from the adults I knew individually.

    Subsequent years I've had friends with multiple siblings who described their interactions just as you written here. Someone, or several of them, were always upset with the other(s). This would last for a period of time then shift. One thing I noticed with one friend's accounts of her family dynamics is that after the parents death, the siblings have seemed to have fewer disagreements. They also seem to be making a greater effort to be compatible. I don't presume to know what all that entails. All I know is that cherishing each other in the declining years left can matter. I hope you are able to experience your family issues resolving.