Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Strong shoulders

Yesterday was my youngest sister's birthday. So, even though I'm a day late and a couple hundred dollars short (as usual), I thought I'd write a few words about her.

When we were kids, she was much younger than me.  Enough younger that we were never in the same school, never shared a room, never played together, unless I needed her to be a prop or something.  By the time I was in high school, she was the same size as me, and sometimes might have borrowed my clothes without asking.  These are the things one remembers--not the times that I might have borrowed something of hers (honestly, I can't think of what that might have been at this point, but I'm not putting it past myself.  I borrowed plenty from everyone else).

We might have continued to be casual sisters, with an indefinite relationship, but for one thing.  God knew that I needed her in my life, knew I'd be better with her a friend as well as a sister, so He helped orchestrate the one thing that would draw us together.  Children.  Her oldest daughter, SE, is a year + older than E, but the next daughter, L, is merely 6 weeks older than J.  And when she found out she was pregnant with her third, I threw up my hands in horror, hoping (against futile hope, as it turned out) that I wouldn't follow suit once again. Now some of you might think I was actually harboring a hope that I would have that third child, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't.  Sure was shocked to discover, 3 months later, that I would have our last child.  I'm no longer complaining, of course.  SK is a treasure of my life, and it's inconceivable (get it, conceive?) that we might not have had her.  But she was a cousin-twin to RE's son, M, just as J had been to cousin L.

As they grew, of course, these pairs morphed a little.  Being boys, J and M soon became like little puppies wrestling all over the place, grew into the next best thing to brothers.  SK and L are as close as sisters too.  In fact, the girls are all close enough that E lived with L one year, and will be an attendant in SE's wedding in June.

And what these relationships between our kids did was create a friendship between RE and me.  She has strong shoulders, my little sister does, and over the years, has listened to me cry a time or two.  Listened to all the kids who walk through her office door at WSU, and all the ones who walk through the door of her house.  She's 'mothered' my kids, and my brother's kids, as they've studied and worked their way through WSU, being home to them in a place they almost consider home themselves. RE extends grace in the most difficult of circumstances, and always finds an extra chair to sit around their table.  I've been at their home when no fewer than 3 extra people were having their mail forwarded to that address, hanging up their clothes in some makeshift closet.  They pretty much bust at the seams most of the time out at my sister's, and though she actually does crave her own space, the silence of her own thoughts, she continues to serve, and give, and do for others.

And the one she does the most for, besides her own family, is our Mom.  RE has the brunt of the work associated with Mom now.  Mom, who, yesterday, wasn't quite sure she'd ever known the man RE told her had been her husband.  My sister visits Mom 5 days of 7 but every single day, Mom thinks no one has come to see her the whole time she's been in the nursing home (and for her, the nursing home is the ONLY place she remembers being--though it's only been 3 months).  RE goes to doctor's visits with her, intervenes with the aides, witnesses some pretty gruesome things in this aging mother.  And for her part, Mom chides, derides, and cries at RE, takes out all her frustration, all her confusion, all her demented anger on the one person who does the most for her.  That's the way it is with caregivers, I understand.  But it doesn't make it easier for RE.  For me, there's been a release of the anger and pain about how mean and terrible our mother was.  She no longer treats me so poorly.  But RE?  Mom claims to love her most, certainly needs her most, but that way of loving and needing brings a whole lot of pain and difficulty.  I don't envy RE in the least.

It's probably true that her family doesn't think the rest of us understands what RE has sacrificed for all of us.  The work, the psychic anguish, the torture of dealing with Mom.  With all that she was and all that she is. And they're right.  There's no way I could understand.  Not really.  I get to drive away at the end of a visit.  I get to go back to my own life, and only have it weigh on my soul, not on my body.  But I see it.  I see what she does, who she is--for all of us--and there's hardly a way to thank her for it.  I do feel for her, though.  Appreciate her.  Love her.  I'm grateful for this service she does for Mom...for all of us.  It's a job she has by default of geography, but one a lesser person might have run from.  It's a tribute to her strength, to her faithfulness, that she simply lifts her wide shoulders and keeps walking.

When I really think about it, I realize she's like the one person of whom she's the spitting image.  When my little sister looks in the mirror, she sees her daddy's face staring back at her.  It's true, she looks so remarkably like our father that sometimes it makes me flinch--when she moves her mouth a certain way, or when she laughs with those baby blue, crinkly eyes.  But that similarity isn't only skin deep, actually.  She has the strength, the compassion, and the shoulders--both physically and spiritually--of our father.  And he would be very proud.

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