I admit I share this nervously. But we must not be afraid to talk about this sort of thing. There is too much of this in the world.
I didn’t receive a birthday card from my sister. That was no shock to me, really, as this was my first birthday my mother wasn’t around. Thus I have further proof that my mother had prompted my sister to do many “ordinary” things in life while also implying she was actually doing them on her own.
Outwardly, my sister looks “fine” and usually appears “normal,” but she has been extremely “troubled” inside for at least a decade. She never moved out of the family home. She hasn’t held a job in many years. She has no friends. There’s something very wrong with her; her behaviors at times have been “bizarre.”
Perhaps she had a breakdown of some sort. I had no idea what “happened” because my parents kept everyone at arm’s length over her, even me. They isolated her from the world. (She even had to be “banned” from using the internet.) They looked after her totally.
My mother would immediately become furious with me whenever I requested (what I considered reasonable) information as to what the heck was going on with her. Often I would become angry in response to my mother’s anger. I could get no answers: I always felt like I was beating my head against a wall. Once I became so cross I felt I had no choice but to make it crystal clear to my mother that my sister was not living with me after she and my father are gone: she’s not my child or my responsibility. My mother’s response to that was irrelevant bluster. (My sister perpetually insists there’s nothing wrong with her.)
The lowest point for me was 2011, when my parents and I almost fell out entirely. We barely spoke for nearly a year and came frighteningly close never to speaking ever again due to fallout from my sister’s “behaviors.”
The only time I recall us managing a reasonable conversation was when my wife urged me not to be “strong” about the matter, but to cry instead. So I tried that too. On the phone to my mother in 2014, I burst into tears (which my mother definitely did not expect of me), declaring my sister was ill and I wanted to see her better and I only wanted to help. My mother softened and was somewhat more responsive to that emotional approach; but, again, nothing came of it afterwards.
Maybe something might have, too. But fate intervened: my father suffered heart failure a couple of months later, pushing my sister’s “issues” well down the priority list. He survived. But in 2015, my mother was struck down and died of cancer.
Thus my mother is now beyond worrying about this. My sister is 44, so will likely outlive my father. Over ten years on, I still have no idea what is at the root of all this and what is truly wrong, or what will become of her after my father leaves this earth. (She and I have had several blistering arguments over the years regarding the way she “lived.” We had a huge shouting match in my parents house while we were alone and my mother was in the hospital; it came on gradually and my sister eventually exploded at me. I backed down, and we hugged and “made up” when I realized the last thing we needed was her “falling apart” with my mother on her deathbed.) When I gingerly tried to raise the question of my sister a month or so after my mother died, my father almost bit my head off. We’ve said not a word since about her “life position.”
So it’s no coincidence my “James” in the Atlantic Lives novels is an only child. Although I desperately wanted one, I have never been able to have a truly “adult” relationship with my sister such as I’ve seen among other siblings. I wouldn’t really even know how to write one.
“Robert” will have a sister in Conventions. However, she’ll be a “distant” and “troubled” one. Unfortunately, I’m fairly familiar with that in life.
Indeed whenever I see “mental health” issues addressed by media, I’m often infuriated at the ignorance displayed regarding families’ reactions. As societies we need to do much more. There are millions of homes out there much like the one my parents preside(d) over, with an “adult child” the parents are seeking to care for mostly unaided by outside support from government or mental health professionals – as if we still lived in “1794” when families spoke only in hushed voices about the “Auntie” or “Uncle” who “lives” most of the time in an upstairs bedroom with the shutters closed night and day.
I speak here sadly from experience. Please don’t reflexively “judge” families harshly over their reactions and attempted remedies. Trust me, you don’t anywhere near fully comprehend the backstory as to what has gone on in private over the years.
It’s trite to say a writer should write what he/she knows. Sometimes what you know also, well, stinks. But if you can share with others what you have experienced, and therefore let them know they are not alone in their own struggles, maybe you can help in some small way.
Thank you for reading and have a good day, wherever you are in our world.