It was a moment that I had not expected this weekend. A moment when I felt empathy for my sister. I saw her for the first time this weekend not as my kid sister, but as a woman with two children and a husband who was trying to make the best of her life in the only way she knew how; one day at a time. We had a shared story, however, in our mom. In Jan. We each had experienced “Jan” in our own ways and each of those ways had hurt us differently, but no less painfully, than the other. But this weekend, I saw her for the first time as a person who experienced fear, love, pain, heartbreak, shame, and pride as much as me. I saw her as a person. I saw her as a sister.
When she started to break down while telling a Jan story, it was almost an out of body experience because I saw her react emotionally and begin to tear up, but I didn’t quite connect yet with her in that space. Whenever I went to Anytown, USA where Jan lives, I hardened my heart ahead of time. I put up my walls and I “got through” the weekend. I tried to steel myself against the pain and reminders of the decades of emotional and physical abandonment and the backwards passive aggressive way that Jan approached me in all areas. It was an emotional vacuum that would find myself in and during the best of times, I was detached and got through the times without incident. However, during the tough times, I had become angry and aggressive towards my kids and wife taking my buried anger out on them.
We sat there in my sister’s kitchen sharing stories that should have been shared years ago for the first time. We began to bond around the topic of how Jan had come to continuously let us down over the last twenty and thirty years. We explored how she had pitted my sister and me against each other in subtle ways by telling one of us one thing and the other something different. We shared how Jan had made each of us, including our spouses who were right there sharing and healing too, feel around certain monumental events (birth of a child, a wedding, family drama events, etc.). We laughed, we cried, and my heart began to thaw from its thirty year hibernation towards my sister.
I told her how I never felt like I had ever belonged and she shared how it made her feel when I left for college and never came back. All true events that had each formed us in some way or another during our teenage and young adult years. I was a part of her abandonment story and she was a part of my never feeling like I fit in anywhere. Neither was at fault, however, we were each a part of each other’s story. A story that has followed us into adulthood, parenthood, and most likely has been interwoven into how we each interact in our marriages, our parenting, our work and our other relationships.
We talked about Jan’s drinking and how it wasn’t fun or funny. We commiserated around the times when she had let us both down due to alcohol and narcissistic she was around her dependency. We were sad. It was evident that both of us, in fact all four of us, had felt the wrath of drunk, hurricane Jan.
We both realized that we are both broken for many of the same reasons.
While this sudden understanding did have its moment of cathartic proclamation, it quickly faded into the reality that it has always been there for both of us, just not equally and publicly acknowledged.
So the questions remained unasked and unanswered.
What do we do now?
How do we truly heal?
Are we really just two sort-of survivors of a shared circumstance or do we have more of a foundation for a longer lasting relationship than that?
I don’t know. I think I want that, but that also still feels unsafe and scary. Exposing my heart and fears and frustrations is scary. Even to my own sister.
So now what?
I don’t know. I guess we try to spend more time together as families and create shared experiences with each other that are supportive and exist outside of Jan.
Is this the road to forgiving Jan that I long to find so badly? I want to forgive her and move her out of the “anger and hate” bucket into the “safe empathetic distance” bucket so badly so that I can have peace around it. Is this the beginning of that prayer being answered?
That would be cool if it was. I could potentially find peace with Jan and a reconciled family relationship that could be a positive element my and my family’s lives.
I guess I will just have to see what each next day brings.