What if an entire family is mired in grief, loss, traumas? Who helps whom? I have siblings who don’t speak to each other due to some ineffable words and actions and they openly do not like each other. They do not talk to each other.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as a close family member, my sister, faces a terminal diagnosis. I have three siblings, and all three are disabled. One is dying rather quickly and one is on hold with his cancer and vascular diseases. The eldest seems to have stopped his at a certain point by watching his health and not smoking.
But how do I offer support when I find myself wrapped in a blanket shaking, watching cat videos to distract me, make me avoid the fact that I don’t know how to offer support, I don’t want to face her death, and we always had a tough complex relationship, having been pitted against each other as we grew up? I am in shock, and I feel I need a lot of support now since my sister is dying. We had not been close growing up, and in fact actively disliked each other, much because we were set against each other by our father. While we didn’t know what he was doing, I see it now but my siblings do not.
As to my sister? She needs help, practical real help with doctors and groceries and living as well as the help with her multiple cancers. Who will give it to her? I try, and without my husband I could not be doing as much as I do. I am leaning on him hard for moral support.
As I think about it, there is so much damage when a parent is abusive. With trauma and abuse, the abusers often try to pit siblings against each other, perhaps to keep them from being strong together. I am not sure. I know in my family, my father spread vicious and evil words about my siblings to them about all of us; we were designed to not like or trust or help each other. As a result, things happened out of this acrimony, and no one is speaking to anyone. He would threaten to beat X if Y stood up for him/ her. Anything to pit us apart so we could not join together, trade stories, find strength with each other.
When children don’t have their basic needs met such as medical care, adequate food and shelter, love from parents, it’s bad. Add abuse and terror onto these lacks, and children can be in survival mode for a long time.
As adults, this survival mode continues with my disabled siblings. I am convinced that their trauma and abuse made them more prone to sickness and their stressors contributed to unhealthy habits such as smoking with lung and oral cancer. Smoking is soothing to them, a comfort, but smoking remains a significant factor in their cancers and heart and vascular diseases, lung diseases.
As adults, this survival mode continues in a sort of competition: be the most damaged and you get some attention, the most abused, the sickest. Be jealous of any sickness in the others, because it might somehow diminish your pain.
Of course this isn’t true; there is enough pain and grief to go around for all of us.
I’ve never been the strong one, the brave one, and I am not now. Still somehow I figured out that it was cruel and untrue, most of the perniciously malignant tales told about each other. Rather than sticking together and helping each other, my siblings don’t speak to one another.
I am the true middle child, a peace keeper when I can be one, but I’m not sure there is enough time to have my siblings make peace with each other before sister dies.
Nor am I sure it is my job nor the right thing to do. I am HSP, and I ponder things for a long time, too long to be decisive . I don’t know the right thing to do. I have a hard time forgetting or forgiving some awful things done to me, things that made me terrified of life. I consider myself in a constant state of recovery from trauma. (To learn more about being an HSP, go here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201609/9-common-traits-highly-sensitive-people. And this site as well is very good, and saved me from much anguish once I realized: I am off the charts Highly Sensitive, having every single trait: https://hsperson.com/.)
And does one forget and forgive awful things done by a sibling who is very sick? A nice person would do so, and I do like to consider myself a good nice person. But I don’t always, for these wounds and the damage goes deep.
What I would like is grace under pressure, but that’s not my strong suit. I am an HSP and don’t do well under pressure. I’ve learned to not stand out if possible, for that can bring abuse. I’ve learned to not make waves, not speak up, run and hide.
Run and hide. That is what I would like to do. Run and hide. I don’t want to be in the middle. I don’t want to be the savior. I want this not to be at all, but wanting does not make it so.
So I deal with my grief in silence, knowing death is imminent—months, a year? I deal with my grief alongside anger and depression, despair and more anger.