Browsing Category Family

When the Sibling Bough Breaks

“Death brings out the best and the worst in families.”

“Mom always liked you best” was the signature line that Tommy Smothers hurled at his brother, Dick, during The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour that aired in the late 1960s. The brothers told interviewers that their on-stage rivalry was simply part of the comedy act. But it is no joke that numerous siblings everywhere feel that they are the least favored child in their family. Some reports reveal that sibling rivalry is more common among children who are the same gender and close together in age. It doesn’t matter who your brother or sister is, sibling rivalry knows no boundaries; not social class, economic status, race/ethnicity, or culture.

Loving parents want to see affection between their children. If a mother recognizes that there is ill will between them, she will often intervene to try and mend the bridge. Unfortunately, after the mother dies, the rivalry among siblings that began in childhood, could continue through adolescence and extend into old age. It is not uncommon to find adults who have severed contact with their sibling, but that is a secret that many people don’t like admitting. Some of us know people in that situation. Some of us may be among them.

Siblings are a coincidence of birth; kinship aside, brothers and sisters are no different from unrelated people with whom we interact throughout life. Some are loving, generous, and kind-hearted; others are selfish, mean-spirited, and devious. A love/hate relationship among siblings is not usual.

When parents have more than one child, many wish for the siblings to be friends forever and to love each other throughout their lives. Unfortunately, when the parent dies, the family dynamics sometimes change. Secrets, resentment, and even lifestyles may lead siblings to withdraw from each other.

Author Christine Ro writes that “violations of what mothers saw as their personal values make estrangement even more likely….”

Several years ago, a lifelong friend of mine told me that she had not spoken with her brother for over 30 years. Then, one day, she encountered him as she was walking along the street on her way to the store. They chatted briefly. She said it became clear to her that there was no longer any connection between them. It was as though they were strangers. Each went their separate way, and one day a year after that chance meeting, a mutual friend told her that her brother had died. She said she felt no emotion and did not attend the funeral. At the time, I could not understand how siblings could so easily detach from each other, but time has a way of educating us to things that we previously did not comprehend.

The complexity of sibling interaction that could ultimately lead to estrangement is not limited to full brothers and sisters. Half-siblings and step-siblings also have their issues.

Encyclopedia.com says this about that. “Stepsiblings have no shared family “history” that helps to develop common habits, values, customs, and expectations; and changes in family size, place in the family, status, and role expectations may precipitate strong emotional reactions in children.”

There comes a time when estranged siblings must decide whether to make an effort to reconstruct a weak link or make a clean break. For some, the decision is complicated. For others not so much. Bad feelings caused by misunderstanding, anger, and old resentments does nothing to restore the bond. Reuniting requires a conscious effort by both siblings.

Lipstick Alley reveals some shocking information about celebrities who are – or in some cases were, during their lifetime – estranged from their siblings:  Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine; Dorothy Dandridge and Vivian Dandridge; Halle Berry and Heidi Berry;  Mariah Carey and Allison Carey; and Oprah and a number of her siblings and half-siblings.

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I Heard It Through The Grapevine

Who hasn’t heard the trendy expression, “I heard it through the grapevine?” Reportedly, the phrase originated in the U.S. and dates back to the mid-1800s, before the Civil War. Anyone with half-a-brain knows that the saying has nothing to do with actual grapes or grapevines.

In grade school, we played a game called pass-it-on. You may have played it, too. Supposedly, it was to improve listening skills. One person starts the game by thinking of a short phrase. He or she then whispers the phrase into the ear of another person. That person whispers it to the next person and so on. The last person says aloud what they heard whispered. Often it is nothing like what was said by the first person.

Hearing something on the grapevine could be said to be the adult version of pass-it-on. We get second and third-hand information through an informal means of communication instead of getting it directly from the source. Just like in the elementary school game passing the info along the grapevine could possibility garble the facts, making them vicious gossip, ridiculous, or it could be true.

Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye found the grapevine so revealing that they sang about it.

And I think that some of you would agree that the only thing more intriguing than receiving juicy information about a friend or neighbor is learning what’s circulating on the family grapevine.

From the time I was old enough to eavesdrop, on adult conversations, I learned – little to naught from the family grapevine. (Gotcha’ didn’t I?) Now that I’m older, I know that some of my immediate and extended family members hold on to trivial information like it is classified “top secret and confidential” by the federal government. It’s possible that if your close relatives, even your cousin or your cousin’s cousin tells you about a family incident of which you previously knew nothing, she or he heard it on the grapevine and could hardly wait to share the news. What was learned could be a complete fabrication or there might be a smidgen of truth to it.

For those lacking half-a-brain, I’ll give you an example of hearing something on the grapevine. Understand that any similarities in names to people who you may know is strictly coincidental. Meaning, unless someone has a secret nickname that I don’t know about, I’ve made up all of the names in the disclosure below to protect the guilty.

My much younger friend, I’ll call her Bea, shared this with me. Watching Bea, always the drama queen, tell her version of the story was like having a front-row seat at a theater.

“Girl,” she said, flinging one hand in the air. “Iris told Hazel Nutt, Hazel Nutt told June Bugg, June Bugg told Anal, Anal told Lilly Pond, Lilly Pond told Hyball, and Hyball told me that Judeene’s second cousin’s four-year-old son Bobo used his tablet to spell a four-letter word. And the word was not fork. You hear what I’m saying?”

She continued. “No big deal, right? Word is that one day while his mama was at work little Bobo was playing for the first time with Rosebud, the eight-year-old daughter of his daddy’s ex (she loudly clears her throat) girlfriend. They were visiting the girlfriend’s house. When the adults went into another room, Rosebud taught Bobo how to spell the word on his tablet. Later that evening, when he was back home, Bobo pulled his tablet from his backpack and proudly showed his mama the new word he had learned that day.

In the middle of saying, ‘Oh, how nic…’ Bobo’s mama stopped mid-sentence and asked her son where he learned that word. When he told her, ‘At Mimi’s house.’ His mama looked at her husband, who was sitting on the sofa and turning 50 shades of dark. Then, she cocked her head to one side, narrowed her eyes and sounding like the little girl in The Exorcist said to him, ‘Mimi?’ Need I continue? Girl, now don’t you tell nobody that I told you this, ‘cause you ain’t heard it from me.”

But I did tell. And I just told all of you. That, my friends, is how a story is carried along – and is heard – on the grapevine.

 

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Looking Back at The Funeral

I wrote the entry below in my journal on May 11, 2014, the night before Mother’s Day, weeks before my ailing mother died, and days after her doctor called my siblings and me to his office to tell us what I had already presumed. (The fact that this is being published on Father’s Day is coincidental.)

Mother’s cancer had returned after three years in remission and a few months following her breast surgery. It was terminal. Her doctor said that chemo and other interventive efforts to prolong her life had been exhausted. The ire that led me to express angry feelings in my journal later that evening was not the result of the doctor’s disclosure. I became enraged after my sister told me over the phone that she and our mother were writing down service arrangements for mother’s funeral.

I knew that my exclusion from the planning was intentional because my sister and mother were members of the same religious organization and I purposely have no membership with any organized religion. The deliberate slight led me during that telephone conversation to decide that I would not attend my mother’s funeral. (Circumstances, which I’ll later explain, changed my mind. I did attend the funeral. My sister did not.)

My sister, brothers, and I each dealt with my mother’s pending death in our own way. I, as I often do, wrote through my pain, confiding and psychologically transferring my feelings to my private journal. Now, as the fifth anniversary of mother’s death approaches on June 18, I’ve decided to share, in my public journal, a condensed version of the entry I wrote on that Mother’s Day eve. For me revealing these thoughts and pent up emotions is cathartic. Others may see it differently, and that’s okay. And as much as I know I should resist saying this about that; I’m going to say it anyway – Whatever.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dear Diary,

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. What a time to be writing this.

I won’t be attending mother’s funeral. People will wonder why — let them. While the service is underway, I will be here, at home, feeling a lot of things, but guilt will not be one of those emotions. I’ll probably be reminiscing.

Like every good mother, mom instilled pearls of wisdom in her children as she and dad raised the four of us. She never stopped giving us advice, even when we were adults. I remember following frequent news reports about the Jim Jones tragedy in Guyana that dominated the airways, mother and I had many conversations about how easily people are lured into cults. “Stay away from them,” she cautioned.

I detest the fact that mother ultimately disregarded her own advice when she joined an organization that in my opinion, is nothing less. Her decision curtailed our family gatherings and resulted in our family becoming distant in the past few years. I imagine that once mother leaves us we will be more estranged.

So often I think about family gatherings that we enjoyed at mom and dad’s home on holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas until her conversion changed that. I miss those get-togethers. What kind of religious organization restricts members’ from participating in what they call “worldly” activities, birthdays included? How crazy is that?

They like to take control. Mother let them take over her life, and I will always believe that she ultimately came to regret it, though she would never admit it. Dad tolerated them because of mother but he turned a deaf ear to her request that he join a study group and he refused otherwise to have anything to do with the organization. He and I sometimes discussed the irony of the situation. How unfortunate that when he died in August 2006, mother invited them to eulogize his funeral. I don’t think I will ever get over that. It’s part of the reason that I cried so hard at dad’s funeral. I’m still pissed-off about it because I felt that dad was disrespected. If he could have sat up in his casket, pushed the lid off and said, “Hold it one damn minute. I’m not going out like this. Not like this.” He would have.

Although he didn’t regularly attend church, he was a protestant, not one of — them. When arrangements were being made for dad’s funeral, I told mother that I wanted one hymn included in the program. Just one. My favorite, “Amazing Grace.” She told me that was considered to be a pagan song. Therefore it wasn’t allowed. Well, darn, dad and I were both pagans then, weren’t we?

Since mother has assigned my sister to oversee her funeral arrangements, I am certain that I will not be asked if I have any input. Just the same, I am going to keep insisting that the program include the congregation singing Amazing Grace. The same song that I wanted sang at my dad’s funeral. Nevertheless, this woman persists.

Dr. Wayne Dyer says that “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” I studied with the organization for a brief period even before my mother did. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I wanted no part of any group that manages its members with what I consider nothing less than mind control. I’d say that exposure gives me props for knowing something about which I speak. Against the protest by my then friend with whom I was studying, I refused to succumb to the brainwashing and, I quit the sessions.

My presence at mother’s funeral would serve no purpose. Feeling as I do now, resentment would most likely lead me to show my annoyance during the service for the group that I feel stole my mother from our family long ago.

They profess to be nonjudgmental, yet they judge others every day, especially people who they label as pagans because pagans are of different faiths and are “of the world.” They spew a lot of hogwash about how they cannot fraternize with people of the world. Oh? Where the hell do they think they are on Mars?

I don’t see where they exclude themselves from taking part in worldly things – except those things they don’t want to participate in like jury duty or the armed services. Then, they quickly become religious objectors — if you can call it that.  They cheer for their favorite sports teams. They buy worldly convinces like automobiles and computers. They’ve even put their literature on the Internet. Are those not worldly things? And just like numerous other “Christians” some of them fornicate, lie, and commit crimes; and then they try to justify the bastardly deeds of their corrupt members by saying, “Oh that person was not truly one of us.” How many times have I heard that used to justify a wayward sheep?

I mourn for the person that my mother used to be. I feel that she was taken away from me a long time ago even though she had not yet left this earth. I have my peace, knowing that she will no longer be under their control. I hope that she has her peace.

An organization that philosophizes to its members that they are God’s chosen while putting other religions down is, in my opinion, hypocritical. Granted — it is every person’s choice to be a member of whatever religious group they choose – or to be a member of none. But what peeves me is when one religious organization condemns others while claiming that theirs is the only “truth.”

Ultimately, I did attend my mother’s funeral. It was my sister who chose not to do so. The unplanned situation that resulted in mother’s funeral arrangements being left to me by my sister was the result of some tense, back-and-forth conversation between us over my insistence that Amazing Grace be sung during the service. The minister my mother had requested perform the service strongly objected to including that hymn or any hymn associated with pagan religion and informed me through my sister that he would refuse to administer the funeral if I persisted. I did. In turn, my sister also refused to have anything to do with making the arrangements or attending the service.

You see her faith advises members against taking part in what they consider services associated with a “false religion.” A funeral is considered a religious service because it may include such practices as the congregation joining in prayer with a “worldly” minister or priest who is not of their faith, and God-forbid the funeral be held in a church. Mother’s was held in a funeral home.

People who purport yourselves to be God’s children — check yourselves. 

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Planting Memories

I don’t have my mother’s green thumb, but I surely inherited her love for flowers and house plants.

For years, I’ve told my daughter about how, when my siblings and I were growing up, mother kept an indoor garden of beautiful house plants. When I was still in grade school, most of those flowers flourished year round on the windowsill in our living room.

The one plant that was too large to sit in the window occupied a place on the floor beside the roll-arm upholstered chair. Its sturdy, bright green leaves must have been at least three feet tall. It was a Sansevieria trifasciata. (“What the…,” you say. My thought exactly, that’s why I prefer to call it by it’s familiar nickname “mother-in-law’s tongue” or “snake plant.”)

The snake plant is native to the tropics of West Africa, and while its average lifespan is 5-10 years, some have been known to live as long as 25 years.

I’m not sure if that particular plant was my mother’s favorite, but it sure was mine. The beautiful flower thrived for years, even surviving the move our family made from the cramped apartment in LeDroit Park to our more spacious house in Petworth; but like all living things, it eventually died.

Some weeks ago, my daughter surprised me when she presented me with the snake plant pictured above. “Had she grown tired of hearing me share memories about her grandmother’s snake plant?” I wondered. No, she’s just that kind of thoughtful person. I almost cried because the plant resurrected old memories. I purchased a snake plant early last year, but it came to an early demise shortly after I brought it home, probably due to my overwatering it. I didn’t know then, but I do now; water is not the snake plant’s best friend. (I did say that I didn’t inherit mother’s green thumb, remember?)

I am not one of those eccentric people who name their plants. However, I made an exception and named this one Millie, after my mother, Mildred, because my childhood recollection of my mother’s beautiful snake plant is as vivid as if I were standing in front of it today. Isn’t it strange how things that some people would consider insignificant are, for others, a lasting memory?

Lately, whenever I walk past and look at that plant gifted by my daughter, I think of my mother nurturing her plants with the same tenderness that she bestowed on her children, all those years ago.

Next month, May 12, is Mother’s Day. When that day comes, mother won’t get flowers from me as she did for many years, because (as some of my readers know) she deceased four years, nine months and 20 days ago. But this year, I’ll look with gratitude at my daughter’s (early Mother’s Day) gift, and smile as I always do, because it rekindles pleasant memories of my mother and her fondness for plants.

Plant-lovers will tell you that plant tending takes root in our mind, and just like every pleasant moment in our life plants sow something sweet in our soul.

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It’s My Birthday, Shh

If I live, I’ll have another birthday in two weeks. I’ve been trying to downplay it, but I might as well broadcast it because no matter how I try (every year) to ignore the approaching event, someone always reminds me. Just the other day a good friend asked, “Don’t you have a birthday coming up next month?” I know her well enough to know that immediately after I mumbled, “Uh-huh,” and tried to change the subject, and she asked, “What day?” she made a mental note to buy me a card. Oh, snap!

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the greetings and well-wishes, because I do. It’s just that my birthdays are no big deal to me anymore. Unlike milestone birthdays – turning Sweet 16 or reaching legal adulthood, the other B-days are, well, just birthdays. I suppose that nonchalance comes with age. Don’t get me wrong; I know that accumulating years is, as the saying goes – better than the alternative.

Although growing older doesn’t bother me, I am concerned about the undesirable things that most seniors resent like age-related challenges. The body changes:  physical and mental. The frequent aches and pains, and the multiple medications some must take daily. According to WebMD, “Adults over age 65 buy 30 percent of all prescription drugs and 40 percent of all over-the-counter drugs.” I was not surprised to learn that many seniors take five or more medications a day. No wonder on the few occasions when I go to a doctor one of the first questions the nurse asks is “What medications are you on?” It is not my imagination that when I say, “None,” I sometimes see her arch an eyebrow before she scribbles her notes on a page attached to a clipboard or keys them into the computer.

My philosophy is, if you are a senior and free of medical challenges or even if you are dealing with them, there are two essentials for aging with strength and grace:  (1) maintain a positive attitude and (2) keep a sense of humor.

So many people my age (and many who are younger) are taking age-related medications for high blood pressure, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis. You name it.

Let me knock on wood, my head will do, as I say that I am (currently) not dealing with any of those ailments. I know that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. Life is a day-to-day adventure. One day you could be perfectly healthy. You jump out of bed, cartwheel to the bathroom, hop into your workout clothes and hit the ground running. The next day you could be flat on your back KO’d by the flu or some other sudden illness, a heart attack, a stroke, or a terminal disease.

Life is like that. We may think that we are in total control, but none of us are. Control is quixotic as life is transitional. The only guarantee we have is that eventually, we all die. Better to enjoy each moment while we can. If life is blissful or relatively comfortable, then take it for what it is. If we perceive it to be miserable, then pray that it gets better. Succumbing to negativity only makes a bad situation worse.

As an aside let me share that in June 2014, I spent the last week, day, and final seconds with my mother at her home before she died of cancer. There are numerous things about that week and our time together that are resolute in my mind. Braiding her hair while she was propped up on the borrowed hospital bed provided by the hospice organization. The hissing noise made by the oxygen concentrator feeding her breath. Her smile and slight nods as I read Maya Angelo’s poems to her. But what stands out prominently is that during those weeks and days before she died, on the day before my sister’s birthday and four months before her 87th, mom seemed unafraid and at peace.

Before I digress further, let me get back on track about birthdays and aging and offer some tips to my cohorts.

Some age-related annoyances like occasional memory lapses or waning eyesight can be a pain. It is useful to stick post-it-notes wherever needed around the home as memory joggers. Store your eyeglasses in the same place so you can readily find them to read the notes. And don’t pitch a hissy fit if you can’t open a child-proof product, call a neighbor’s child and ask him or her to come over and open it.

Although, unlike numerous people my age (and many who are younger than I), I am not on any medications; don’t take that to mean that I don’t get occasional age-related discomfort. I do. Some mornings, especially after I have over-exerted myself while working out the day before, I wake up feeling like I rolled out of bed during the night, body slammed myself to the floor and then sleep-climbed back into the sack.

Ask me to what do I attribute my fair-to-middling health, and I’ll say “God and good genes” in that order. A scientist might say that it is the half-dozen vitamins and supplements that I take daily combined with regular exercise. And eating habits. Most days, I eat healthily. I rarely eat red meat. But I admit I am a magnet for sugary snacks. I easily avoid salt. Over the years I’ve developed a low tolerance for it. And I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs. Can I get a witness? (Who said caffeinated coffee is a drug?)

I won’t tell you and all the world how old I will be next month. If you already know, then you know. But if you don’t know, let’s play a guessing game. I will give you some clues. In the year I was born, Harry S. Truman was reelected U.S. President; Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in India, and if I were a canine, I would be 335 dog years old. Now, go figure. But shh, keep it quiet.

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