On Friday, I attended a service for the passing of someone’s dad. He was a good bloke, an inclusive man and a fellow of faith. He was someone’s hubby, someone’s mate and someone’s son.
He was someone’s brother. It’s the gentle nudge, the slap to the brain that stimulates this post:
5. Don’t take siblings for granted:
It’s no secret that death — its grand mystery and inevitability — keeps my mind occupied at times. One thing we’re all certain of is we don’t know when it will come calling, when we’ll be involved, or when His Grimness will yield the scythe in our direction and lop off our stupid old heads.
We factor in that we might die after our parents, but we see enough evidence to know this mightn’t be true.We pray that we die before our children, or give our lives for them, because this instinct runs deep. It really does. But our siblings? Ourselves. There’s no equation. When + Why + How + Who First? It doesn’t add up.
They’re always around, teasing us. Oh, look, here comes Gay with her humorous byplay and intelligence or Cas with her horrible Words with Friends winning streak and techno joy. Or Alli, with her 300 ways to calm the beast and be a fabulous friend, a true touchstone in this ridiculous game we call life. And there’s this bloke in the Banana Republic who we never ring, but will come down each year and sigh about sisters and their carry-on.
But yeah. There’s a gap. A blooper in family history where the loss of a sibling creates chaos in order and hierarchy. You took them for granted, were sure you had all those years left to bitch and laugh, annoy and tease and goad … but no. Not really. You fool.
When I went to the funeral of a man, a brother, it reminded me to treasure the time given. To let the small stuff go, to enjoy every second of me-time, while revelling in moments bequeathed to family. Because it can work. The relationships can be nurturing and loving and supportive.
Again with the Mary MacKillops. We’re not saints. Often I crave alone time and grunt about a birthday for ‘so and so’, a lunch for this one, an all-day party to commemorate the day a magpie flew into the grill of a car and had to be dispatched.
But then I attend a joyous reunion, a visit to a new baby or a funeral of a brother — a sister — and it reawakens me to the importance of not taking them for granted. We do our best. A great sibling understands this, and tries his/her best in turn.
6. Play to a Sibling’s Strengths:
Shared history allows us to know our sibling’s weaknesses. We might play on these when we’re young. ‘You’re fat/dumb/a slut/too pale/too sensitive/so cold/got no boobs/have no friends.’ We know what’ll upset them, and we preset the dialogue buttons.
The best sibling recognises those weaknesses and tries to play to strengths. If I know Sister A gets drunk and swears like a trooper, I might provide calmative tea breaks, hide wine bottles, take her for a walk in the fresh air. If I know Brother G tends to get emotional when Dad picks on him, perhaps gag-a-father, or try to play mediator (never easy). If I realise Sister J can’t do Christmas shopping because her head is concave, perhaps make a shopping-on-line afternoon to complete the task. If I understand that Brother W doesn’t like a family argument, maybe there’s something else to do while that’s going on. Wii? Playstation? Listening to Wolfmother on high iPod volume?
I’m lucky to have siblings with real strength. It took me ages to realise this, to understand that tearing-strips-of-their-self-esteem-away-with-words was so counterproductive that a relationship might never develop. It took me years to realise I could show them kindness amid the teasing, I could love them while we laugh … not laugh at them and pretend it’s a sign of love.
Yesterday, I mocked my sibling’s knitting in front of a group of people. It was gentle ribbing, totally appropriate, given her ability to give back as much as she was getting. But there was this point — a moment when I realised the mocking was becoming too much, where I pulled my head in and stopped. I should be playing to her strengths, not laughing at her ability to create something beautiful and life affirming, so I tried.
But she’s still beating me black and blue at Words with Friends. Even though we’re trying to be our Best Sibling, we can make them PAY. And we will!