Counting to Three…My Siblings

Our family a long time ago…

There are four of us. I have three siblings. I am the oldest. I have a sister, Susan, who is 14 months younger than me and two brothers, Sammy and Terry, three years and five years younger than me, respectively. I saw my brothers this weekend on the occasion of the death of one of Momma’s siblings. The death of Aunty Shirley really made me think of the importance and uniqueness of the sibling relationship.

I had lunch with Momma and her sister, Aunt Carol Ann, and her brother, whom we call Uncle Bumpy. I have no idea why he is called that, but I’ve called him that all my life. Maybe that calls for a little research…but, that’s a blog for another day. As we ate lunch and discussed the death of their sister and the recent deaths of Uncle Bumpy’s wife and Aunt Carol Ann’s son, I thought of how significant it was to lose a sibling. For the first time in their lives, their sibling gathering was not four people. For the first time, they were three.

Me and Susan in our thirties

I know things about my siblings that I will take to my grave. Those are their stories to tell. And, it’s not that these are secret stories, they are just stories of growing up and learning things the hard way, the way we all learn them. They are stories of intensely personal events that  took place within the walls of the immediate family home. My siblings know stories about me that no one else knows. We have experienced some of the same events as children, but we all have our unique interpretations and reactions to them. I can tell the stories of my childhood to others, but my siblings lived them. I don’t have to tell them anything. They already know.

My sister and I shared a bedroom. So, she really knows a lot about me. We even shared a bed when we were really little. We played together, argued, fought and cried together more times than I could ever count. We’ve been through times when we were not close, and we’ve been through times where nothing could separate us. We look alike. We look so much alike that people  can’t tell us apart. After the wake Sunday, Susan called me. She said she could hear people whispering to each other, “Is that Susan or Sharon?” She giggled. Things never change. I answer as easily to Susan as I do Sharon. And as much as we are alike, we are totally different. Susan chose my Christmas presents by looking for something she hated. She knew I’d love it. We had totally different styles.

Me and Susan

I was grown and gone by the time my brothers were in high school, so I missed a lot of their growing up years. I just remember being a tomboy and playing baseball with them in our backyard. Terry was sort of my favorite because he was the baby, and everybody picked on him. He acted like he was tough and was always willing to fight, but I got the sense that he was very sensitive. I really tried to appeal to that side of him. Sammy was athletic and a great student. I think I just thought Terry needed me more.

We are a family of writers. Even though none of us except Daddy wrote for a living, we all write. And, we are all good writers. For my 50th birthday, each of my siblings wrote me letters. It was then that I started thinking about the sibling relationship and how unique it is. Every one of them wrote at length about the time I moved out to go live in South Texas and work for a newspaper. I was the first to move out and get a job. For me, I was just going on with my life, and it was very exciting. But, for the ones left behind, it was different. My sister said, “I was inconsolable. I cried for an entire day.” WHAT???? I had no idea. She said she knew I would be back, but things would never be the same. And, she was right. Both of my brothers watched me launch with great interest to see how I would fare. They both described this at length. They wanted to see the first one of us go out and make a life and see if it could be done. I do remember that time being scary for me. I didn’t know if I could make it on my own. But, apparently, they were watching, too. If  I’d known they were watching, maybe I would have been a better role model. But, then again, I did the best I could.

Me and Susan before we went out on the night of my high school graduation

As rewarding as the sibling relationship is, it is just as difficult. As we are growing up, we have a drive to be special. It only makes sense that we often form our personalities in opposition to our closest relationships, our siblings. I see it in our family. I joke that one day my brothers will run against each other in a heated political election. They have such differing views on the world.  These differences, natural sibling rivalries and other natural relationship stressors can sometimes take a toll on sibling relationships. For every pair of siblings I know that are close, I know a pair that haven’t spoken in years. And, in each of those breaks, there is a deep sense of loss even if there is nothing more than can be done to repair the divide.

As I lunched with Momma and her siblings this weekend, I realized what a loss it must be to lose the first sibling to death. Aunt Shirley is someone Momma knew her entire life. She was the oldest so she was there when Momma was born. They were friends until Aunt Shirley died. How do you walk through that first day and the following days without someone who has always, ALWAYS been there? For that set of siblings, it must be really hard to realize now that they are three…and one is forever gone. It really made me think about my siblings and what that would feel like. I just can’t imagine the loss. In fact, I asked Momma how she was doing, and she said, “This is harder than when Momma died.” I believe it.

Sammy, Susan, Me and Terry at our cousin Eric’s wedding a couple of years ago.

If things go in a logical order, I will go first. But, of course, it rarely happens that way. There will be untimely illnesses, accidents and other things that may screw up the natural order. But, if things do go in order, what will it be like for my siblings when they are three? Will it be like when I went off to another place after college? Will I be blazing a new frontier beyond the veil?  After all, since I’m the oldest, I will be one of the very few people they have known every single day of their lives….until the day I’m gone. I just hope its a really long time before we ever have to count to only three.

15 thoughts on “Counting to Three…My Siblings

  1. I can’t even make myself think of there only being three…we’ve always looked to you for guidance, just as Mama and her siblings looked to Aunt Shirley. It seems that losing one of my siblings would prohibit me from ever feeling whole again. I can’t deal with that now; I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to accept that. As you know, my husband’s brother lost a child a few years ago. I think of my niece often; how must she feel to now be an only child after being the baby of the family for all those years. It’s sad. I know she feels a tremendous loss. It just forever alters your identity. Why, just last night, at the wake, I talked with one of our cousins about our respective places in our families. It is part of how I identify myself: The second child in a group of four.

    Great post, Sharon. Keep up the good work.

  2. Great post.

    Uncle Bumpy got the name because he had the mumps when he was little. Hey – we’re from Livingston Parish so sensitivity isn’t really in our DNA! 🙂

  3. Great blog as usual! Even though Bobby and I had not been close in recent years, it was weird being at the funeral of my little brother. Bobby and I favored in looks and had other similar qualities that linked us together whether we chose to be or not. I wish I could have talked to him before that day. I had planned to have a sisterly talk with him and let him know he was not alone in his addiction. That part makes me the saddest, but I know there is nothing I could have done to change the timing. Now I can just pray for his daughters to heal.

    • When you wrote to me the other day, it made me so sad to hear about Bobbie. The suicides that result from addiction are so sad. There are just so many. Thanks for sharing that with me. I’m so happy you are on a different path. So happy we both are.

    • I have a list a mile long. After I wrote the first blog, it was as if there was an avalanche in my brain with all of the stories I want to tell. I am so excited to discover blogging. Have you always been a writer?

      • I’ve always kept a journal of stories. I started marketing them and getting published 20+ years ago.

  4. We’re only two, Melissa and I, and she’s the older. A few years back, it hit me that she was getting to an age closer to death than to birth. Just thinking of her not being here brings tears to my eyes. As you so aptly noted, much of my identity is in response to her, our position in the family, how we related to our parents, her smarts, accomplishments, talents and ambitions. Plus, she’s always had my back. If she goes first, my loss will be deep and profound, and completely unlike that of losing my parents or my husband. Yet again, my friend, you’ve written a thought-provoking piece. Thank you.

    • Thanks for sharing that. I talked to Susan about my “doing the math” on the years we have left and how funerals always make me very cognizant of my and others’ mortality. It does hit me more now. Thanks for wading, Karen. You always have such great comments.

  5. I am working through issues with a sibling and it has been a roller coaster of emotions. I hope we can work it out because you are right, there is a deep connection, the loss of which will grieve me immensely. Great piece as usual!

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