Thursday, June 26, 2014

Am I Daughter Enough?

My sister estranged herself from the entire family two years ago. Long, complicated, tumultuous story, but the fact remains that she and her husband cut off all contact. I truly believe none of us will hear from her again.

They say when a person leaves your life, you slowly learn to live without her. This is both sad and soothing to know. The truth is, I have: She no longer comes up in conversation, and I think of her less with time. Because her name starts with the letter B, I mentally remind myself to not mention the "B word."

If someone asks about my family, I still have to momentarily stop and concoct an easy answer: Yes, I do have one. It's slowly dissipating, but it exists. End of questions?

If someone asks if I have any siblings, my heart sinks a little and my mind scatters: There is the legal answer (yes, I do); there is the technical answer (yes, I do); there is the emotional answer (no, I don't).

The hardest part of her leaving has been trying to be essentially the two children my parents thought they would always have. When holidays come around like taxes, I have to steel myself for the extra effort. Can I be cheerful, loving, gracious and satisfactory enough to keep my parents fulfilled with just me? Will all that smiling and surface conversation mask the elephant in the room?

I constantly ask myself if I am "daughter enough" for them.

My sister and I were opposites and that polarity kept my parents fulfilled in a way that I alone cannot replace. I had to deal with mourning her loss (grieving over a living person is a complex process unlike grieving over a dead one). I know she's out there - breathing, making friends, and building a life - but she is also completely gone.

When my parents redid their Wills recently, they did it in part to cut her out. It was one of the final pieces that made the door to reconciliation close. I was in turn made the exclusive beneficiary. It wasn't a happy moment: With it, came an added responsibility and expectation that I would fulfill their final wishes and be the executor of their estate. I would also stay firmly planted in their life, or there would be another call to a lawyer.

They say being a parent is a great responsibility, but with age, being the child becomes a growing responsibility. They raised you, and they're aging, and now it's time for you to pay them back. Despite a childhood that was a mix of good and terrible times, I always pretend all of my memories are happy ones. When my father leaned in and asked on Father's Day what my happiest memories are, I came up with a really longwinded tale told through rose-colored glasses.

I do this frequently to keep them appeased and to hopefully ease their hurt over losing a child I can't replace. I can't be their two daughters. I can only ask myself if I am enough as the one left behind.

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