Family Loyalty

This post comes from an ‘event’ that happened over 7 years ago. I don’t think of it often, but when I do, I’m still neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with how things played out and question if I had done things differently had I known that outcome.

I don’t write often about my older brother, Mark. Mark and I were 12 days short of being born a year apart. Brad didn’t come along until 6 years later. Obviously, the earliest years of my life were spent with Mark being very much sharing the spotlight with me. That is true, in some instances, through high school. Our birthdays, less than 12 days apart, were in July, and birthday parties were always cookouts with a few of the neighbors invited, but not with our friends as part of the festivities (I did get a separate party for my sweet 16 and got to invite a few of the girls around my age from church) instead of a neighborhood event.

Mark and I, for being so close in age, were very different back then, and grew even more different the older we got. As adults, we saw each other when the family got together, i.e., holidays and parental visits when they’d travel north once they’d moved to Florida. We did exchange birthday cards annually – never mushy, meaningful ones – but that was our interaction beyond the times as a family unit.

Mark had a heart incident and found out that he was in heart failure. I don’t know much of the actual medical details, only that he was given 2 months to 5 years to live, that the disease would progress in its own time, that he was put on a lot of different medications, and that he retired from his state government job on disability. (He did end up living an additional 5-1/2 years from diagnosis, and he didn’t follow all of the things his doctors wanted him to do, so there’s that).

All of this happened not that long after he and his wife of over 20 years divorced. I actually grieved this divorce… I enjoyed my time with Sally far more than with my brother. Sally and Mark always “hosted” family gatherings once the parents had moved to Florida, and the true only time I enjoyed those gatherings was when I was in the kitchen, alone with Sally, cleaning up after whatever we had snacked or dined on. Feeling like it was still necessary for me to wear the mask of what I thought my parents wanted to see me be, alone in the kitchen meant a reprieve. And as I got to know Sally in those interludes, I began to enjoy her company.

When Mark and Sally split, we heard Mark’s version of the story. Out of what I can only call “Family Loyalty”, we had no contact with Sally. I often thought about her and missed her, but her name was never mentioned, and then Mark ended up marrying another woman for whom I saw red flags upon my first meeting with her.

When Mark passed away, Sally, and all of her siblings as well, attended the memorial service. They were there largely in support of Emily – Mark and Sally’s daughter. The moment I saw Sally, I made a beeline for her and wrapped her up in a tight hug from which I didn’t let go quickly. I asked her, “Are you happy?” and she responded that she was, and my heart felt lighter.

Once all of the craziness of Mark’s wife and his will finally settled, I asked Sally to meet me for lunch. I had no intent other than to hopefully get to hear her side of what happened. Her story was very, very different than the one given by Mark, and it made much more sense to me.

All of that is background information… One of the things Sally said to me was that she and Mark had divorced, but she was made to feel as though she was divorced from our whole family. And that was tough for me to swallow, considering the grieving process I went through when she no longer had a place in my life.

I thought about that for a long time and questioned myself about why I didn’t choose to keep in contact with her. I mean, we weren’t super close friends, only seeing each other at my family’s events and gatherings, but I did think of her as a friend. And then, I stretched the idea out further… I had two ex-husbands and I wondered how I’d have felt if either of my brothers had decided to continue to have friendships with them after we were divorced. Honestly, I don’t think I’d have liked that, and it would have made me question my brothers’ loyalty to me.

If I’d have consciously thought about all of that back when they first divorced, I’d have had difficulty if I’d have been called on to make a choice. Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending upon your thought process – we had stay in touch after that time, largely through social media and came to a head-butting bit of different political beliefs, and I finally said I needed to back away from all of that because I was tired of feeling like she was determined to make me see it her way no matter what. She did admit to that, because she felt that her way was truly the correct and only way. Now, I occasionally make a one- or two-word comment on the rare posts she puts on social media (she has never made a comment on any of mine). Brad goes out on a motorcycle ride with Sally and her brother Rick when time and weather cooperate, and he enjoys her company and knows not to bring up anything political.

I’m sure I’m not the first person who has ever been faced with the issue of family loyalty when a divorce happens with in that family. I guess I’ve always thought that “blood is thicker than water”, but now I’m curious how other people think about it. So please, share your thoughts with me!

Is this 100% true?

8 thoughts on “Family Loyalty

  1. I think it can be really difficult, it all depends on the people and the situation. My ex-brother in law stayed an inclusive part of my family, acting as a father figure when my ex moved away from their lives and after he passed away. My ex mother in law, who always blamed me for hurting her son, ignoring the circumstances, was invited to our family get together a over time. And in her 80s, told me she finally understood what happened and why it happened and that she was proud of me for choosing to go it alone. I recently went with my daughters to visit her in assisted living and we had a really nice visit.

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  2. Well, if we are going to put it all out there, I will gladly chime in. I had always liked Sally from the day Mark and her started dating. In fact, as a young boy I had a bit of a crush. I remember always finding a way to sit next to her when she came to the house. Yes, when they divorced, I felt an obligation to my brother to disassociate out of respect for him and his unresolved feelings. I would have done the same with your ex-spouses if a continued friendship would have made you feel uncomfortable. Even harder to say, when at the time my own relationship with Mark had been strained for years. Why? Because it is truly family over everything. I liked Sally but loved Mark. After his diagnosis, our relationship was healed through long, honest conversations that were not always easy. I saw a different man. One who again resembled the person I had looked up to for the majority of my youth. And I am thankful for that.

    But I am most thankful you reached out to Sally after the funeral to meet. With Mark’s passing, I could rediscover my sister-in-law and stay a part of our niece’s life. Sally is still the warm, intelligent, and funny woman she has always been. We enjoy our time together on the bikes and off. It also put me back in touch with her brother Rick, who I very much see as my brother too. Now that my fidelity to Mark is no longer a requirement, I can feel free to have these supportive and loving relationships with my extended family. I refer to Rick and Sally as my brother and sister, all the time, because that it what they feel like to me. And I am lucky to have them. Outside of you, there is no one better I could turn to in a time of need. Yes, Sally’s politics are different than my own. I don’t know that we avoid it in conversation, as much as we don’t make it every conversation. I can listen to Sally’s perspective and beliefs, and though I may not agree, I respect her right to feel and believe as she sees fit. I can offer my opinion and feel as though it is heard and respected in return. But that it not the feeling you are getting from her, and I get that. Of course, this may be reflective of the fact that my conversations with Sally are face to face. We do not communicate through social media. And that certainly makes a difference I would think. To be honest, most of my close friends have differing political beliefs than my own. It just doesn’t come into play when I am choosing whom I call a friend. Well written, sis! You told a very faceted story with succinct and easily understood language. Love you!

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  3. Although I cannot intimately relate to the divorce side of this post, you were certainly in the middle of opposing forces: loyalty vs the desire for Sally’s friendship. And, stripping away the family dynamics, isn’t it about the simple relationship of two people who want to be and can be friends?

    In this case, it’s unfortunate that in addition to the feeling of being ‘divorced from the entire family,’ politics had to rear its ugly head and cause further division, prolonged by time and distance.

    On a family note, my sister and brother-in-law remain extremely close to his (ex) sister-in-law who was done very dirty by her ex, his brother. To this day, the brothers rarely speak. They closed ranks around her and will never forgive him for his behavior.

    This situation is family loyalty in reverse!

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  4. The phrase “Blood’s thicker than water” originated with the idea that bonds formed in war are stronger than those of family. It’s lost that meaning now for most people, but that’s where it comes from.

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  5. I’m so glad that you and Sally are reconnected – and Rick, too. That %!% motorcycle thing works in your favor – first with Mark as a reason to bond, and now with Sally and Rick. As it always was with Mark and Sally as a couple, it is still true that Sally and I don’t have a lot in common in our lives, so there is less (or no) reason to communicate. I don’t blame her for that, as I’m equally as guilty. But I’m at peace knowing that she is “out there” in my life.

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  6. Tough situations! I think it really varies from case to case, it can’t be black and white. I am glad that you and Sally were able to reconnect, even if you don’t communicate that much these days, at least you were able to make peace.

    I have different political beliefs than some of my close friends as well and some of my family. We just know that a relationship is much more important than one being right and one being wrong as far as politcs go. why waste time arguing when time is so short anyway.
    My sister in law and brother in law are in the process of divorcing right now but it really isn’t a dilemma for me. My sister in law is just a sister to me. Love her and her kids sooo much! Brother in law can’t get out of the picture fast enough!! He is a narcissisist and everyone has wanted him gone for years. She just had ot work up the courage and have enough confidence in herself to finally make the move!!

    On another note, I didn’t realize you and Brad were brother and sister! Both writers!! He writes beautiful poetry! So cool to have made that connection. I follow both your blogs and didn’t pick up on it. 🙂 Oh and my husband’s name is Brad. 🙂

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  7. I have friends with political differences than mine with no problem. Unfortunately, at the time this all occurred, she admits to truly trying to sway me to her side, and I don’t respond well when people try to shove their beliefs down my throat. And yes, my fabulous and very loved and loving brother is an amazing poet. I saw a comment by you on his post a few days ago and just smiled to realize that the blogging world is a “small world after all”.

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