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How Important is Family To You?

posted 11/20/2009 1:39:50 AM |
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tagged: family, death, sister

My eldest sister died on November 13th, 2000. Her name was Carolyn. She was 49 years old with two daughters around my age. No one is really sure of how she died, just that she did. The coroner suspects a heart attack; however, she also suffered from breast cancer. She had been undergoing chemo, and had suffered a great many illnesses and infections due to her poor immune system.

It saddens me to say that I spent most of my life being angry at this woman. Carolyn was my 'half' sister, though I never called her that. You see, we never do anything half way in this family. There's no halves or steps or distant in-law twice removed anything; if you are introduced to my Eastern Kentucky relatives, you are now our cousins. You are now our family. That's just the way things have always been with us. We have always whole-heartedly embraced people as kindred spirits.

I wish I had remembered to keep that spirit alive with Carolyn. I wish I had strove to keep it in tact. The many reasons that I once thought were valid which caused my anger toward my sister now seem so petty and small. Insignificant now that I am all grown up and have a better understanding of the situation that we all faced at the time.

When I was nine and my other sister ten (Carolyn was 26)- our Mother - yes Carolyn's mother, too - snapped one day and shot my father, a man who abused her in many ways for many years, He spent many, many months in the hospital. He was shot six times. My mother, soaked with grief and worry, remorse and fright, fashioned a noose from a sheet in her cell and hung herself from the bars. It left my sister and I two very lost little girls with no mother, no father, and no home,

We spent a while in an emergency foster home, and a while with my father's sister. Eventually my sister convinced her husband (who was also abusive to HER in many ways) to let us come and live with them. Things weren't perfect. How could they be? My sister's husband had been my father's best drinking buddy. Just like my father he spent every dime he made, found, begged, stole or borrowed on alcohol. My sister had three children of her own; now she had us. There were times that we went hungry and times that we wore torn clothes to school. I remember chewing on birch tree bark to keep my stomach from growling and trying to patch the holes in my pants with bits and pieces of other torn articles of clothing with mismatched thread and a rusty sewing needle. I was angry at that; my mother would have never let us live that way, We didn't have a lot when Mom was alive; we were poor and needy just the same - but Mother had never been too proud to beg. She took donations from our church for clothes and food and Christmas and in return donated her time (and ours). She shopped at thrift stores but never bought a thing that had tears or missing buttons and that didn't at least match in a relative fashion.

I suppose what I kept forgetting when I was younger and so traumatized by these events was that Mother had the two of us; Now Carolyn had five. How hard would it be for you to feed and keep five children in decent clothes? I know a doctor friend that has only three little girls and he's refinanced his home twice to pay for his school loans and various things for his daughters so they can have decent things and a decent place to live. In addition to that, to my knowledge neither parent is an abusive alcoholic that feels the need to drink up resources or crush spirits. The point is - I just never considered how difficult things were for her. I was nine; I was worried about ME. It's one thing for a child to be selfish; I held onto grudging feelings far into my adulthood.

My father eventually got out of the hospital and got us back. For a while. Then he started putting himself inside of a bottle once again, Drowning his sorrows with perscription narcotics and alcohol. He remarried a drug addict that robbed us blind and took off into the middle of the night never to be seen again. Last I heard she was in jail for attempted murder. CPS finally took us again when he dropped us on their doorstep announcing he didn't want us; he couldn't do anything with us. He made it our fault that he couldn't care for us.

I recently learned that my sister tried to get us back but couldn't do it due to the discord in her own household. She had filed domestic abuse charges on her husband (finally) and they were in the middle of a divorce and CPS was leary of letting us return to that sort of environment. So, we grew up in foster care. They split my other sister and I up and we grew up all alone. I had always thought that Carolyn had given up on us and fallen short of her family duty. Little did I know that she had attempted to fulfill it at every turn.

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Nov 20 @ 1:42AM  

In my adult years I visited her no more than ten times. I always avoided her when I went to Eastern Kentucky because my ex husband didn't like the state of her housekeeping. I had no idea she was too sick and weak to even run a vacuum. Every time I saw her she had a new ailment and I was convinced that she was a hypochondriac because my Mother had strove to make us all one. Each time we got a scratch we got ran to the doctor to prevent infection; I don't think we ever owned a band aid because my mother was convinced that everything needed stitches and guaze. In my mind Carolyn had cried wolf so many times that when she was struck with breast cancer I thought it was a lump that would be removed (as my mother had also had a lump or two removed) and it would never ever be a full blown systemic cancer that would claim her life. I stopped going to see her three years ago when she raised her shirt to show my ex husband the medi-port in her heart. I never considered the chemo and the medication made her not quite herself.

I am sad. I am so sad that I never told her thank you for opening her heart and home to my sister and I; I am so sad that I was angry and hurt for so many years for what she didn't do, and not thankful enough for the things that she did. She held me so many nights while I cried and screamed through horrible nightmares and flashbacks of gunshots and my mother wielding a gun that I am sure she lost sleep and time of her own to grieve for the loss of our mother. I am so sorry that I looked at the woman with disdain and heartbreak instead of kindness and thankfulness. Now I will never have the chance to hug her and tell her that I am sorry; that I love her; and that I appreciate her. I appreciated her. If I never did, I do now. Oh, how I hurt!

We buried her Tuesday. The service was beautiful. And I scooped my nieces and my great nieces up in my arms and I promised them all that their aunt would be there this Christmas. And I will. For now I know what truly matters,

It's not what you can take with you. It's what you leave behind.

I wrote Carolyn a poem I will post in another thread... thanks for letting me vent.


Nov 20 @ 1:43AM  
I am sorry 2000 is meant to be 2009. Typo.

Nov 20 @ 1:54AM  
well you told her now.
if you think she did not read this you be wrong, she will always be with you and love you.
open your hart and know that she is here and will be here for you..

Nov 20 @ 2:02AM  
Kris........hun words can't express how this saddened me. Not just for your loss now, but also for the loss of your innocence, your childhood. Sweetie, don't beat yourself up for not "making peace" for those "imagined" hurts of childhood. I'm sure that she knew and understood the pain and suffering you and your other sister were going through. I'm sure it saddened her deeply as well that she couldn't do more for you.
I believe the best way to honor her memory would be to keep in touch with the family she has left. Share the memories now and the stories with her grandchildren of the sacrifices their grandma made to try to do her best by two lost little girls. Don't dishonor it by beating yourself up hun.......

Nov 20 @ 2:03AM  
huggies to you!! and a greenie too!!

This too is my season of sorrows - found my father dead from congestive heart failure 2 days after my birthday 3 years ago, my fav great aunt died on christmas eve 3 years ago; grandmother a house fire 10 years ago, grandfather cancer, 9 years ago and my puppy (he was 9 yrs old) 1 year ago from a stroke during a seizure.

But I have a great neice who's 18 months and a great nephew who'll be one on sat so I'm blessed as are you.

Nov 20 @ 2:09AM  
Sometimes old hurts are hard to heal. All of you went through a lot and it is understandable that the hurt kept you from having the relationship with your sister. I am sure she knows what you are feeling and the best you can do is be a part of her family's life now. It is the best way you can honor her. Replacing old pain with new pain will not help anyone.

Nov 20 @ 2:13AM  
Regards to you and your family...I grew up with kind loving parents, so it's hard for me to imagine someone going thru the hell you have....but it seems it's taught you a valueble lesson....nothing is more important than family.
The lessons that cost us the most are the ones we put the most value on later.
Be sure and teach those kids the value of family and hopefully the cycle of domestic and substance abuse in your family will be broken.
I'm sure your sister always understood why you felt the way you did. It seems that from what you've written about her, she was always thinking of others first.
Pass that along to the children.....they will be the ones taking care of us when we are old.
May God give you comfort in your time of grief.....hope your family is able to adjust to the loss of your sister.

Nov 20 @ 6:29AM  
Please remember that you were a child....a child.

A child does not have the reasoning, and thought processes that an adult has, please forgive the child in you.

A child can only be a child.

Nov 20 @ 7:32AM  
I'm sorry for your loss. She knows how you feel and I am sure she knew before that you did love her. As a parent, I know no matter how angry my kids get with me they love me. No matter how bad, mean or selfish they act it doesn't change the love that is there in family. Don't put so much guilt on yourself. It will only consume you. You had a very rough childhood sweetie. I'm sorry.

Nov 20 @ 7:57AM  
I'm here to celebrate with you... What?... Yes, I'm here to celebrate your love for Carolyn and the rest of your family! It took a long time plus pain and suffering, but you have learned a couple of very important lessons. First—the lesson of loving without conditions. Second—live and love in the moment... NOW!

I'm sorry you had to suffer so long, but your sister's death gave her another opportunity to teach and love you. Without her death you would not know what you do today. Her death has changed you.. for the better. I hope you will continue to learn from these costly lessons and help others in your family to learn them more easily. Carolyn will continue to teach you and share her love with you... because of this you should celebrate her life instead of damning yourself with guilt.

Cheers to Carolyn, you and your family!


Nov 20 @ 9:08AM  
So sorry for your loss. My family means the world to me. And I would be devastated losing one of my sisters. And I agree with the others, Carolyn can see your words and she knows how you're feeling.

Nov 20 @ 12:12PM  
This blog brought major tears to me this morning. I am so sorry for your loss, and for your upbringing. I have to be so thankful for the upbringing and family I have. Family is the number 1 most important thing in my life and I am thankful for them every waking moment!! Big hugs to you sweety, and stay strong, you are beautiful & important always!!

Nov 20 @ 1:31PM  
Kris, this may sound strange or out of context, but I am going to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.
You have held on to the anger, hurt and resentment for so many years that you were never able to be truly thankful for all that you have in your life.

I am so sorry for you having to carry that throughout your life and all the horrifying things that you went through as a child. I shudder to imagine.

Sweetie, it's now time to let all of the guilt go. As Whispering Comet said, you were a child and the child inside you still lives and held on to those feelings.
Your sister knew and still knows that you loved her and why you held the anger towards her.
And she understood.
Now you understand as well.

I'm sorry that you lost your sister. So sorry.... but please do her memory a great justice and bury the guilt also. Live your life with enough love and happiness for both of you.

Nov 20 @ 3:40PM  
My heart is breaking for you Kris, and yes, honey, she does know.. and you being there for her kids, that's HUGE.. Honey stop blaming yourself for how you felt.. you are human and fallible. We all are.. it's how you feel now that matters. And she knows..

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How Important is Family To You?