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!