They had adored one another as children – big sister, little brother. Then, the parents' divorce separated the two resulting in their living in different states, visiting on holidays and summers. The split came about thusly:
At age 15, big sister was allowed by law to choose the parent she lived with. Little brother was too young to be given the choice and further, government bureaucracy required that big sister go alone to a courthouse to answer questions from a judge about her homelife.
Sixty years ago, 15-year-olds were nowhere near as sophisticated as they are nowadays, big sister then being even more naive than many. She was frightened and nervous during the proceeding but did the best she could.
Life went on. In their adulthood, the sister and brother lived on opposite coasts of the United States. They hardly ever saw one another and then, mostly when sister traveled to the west because brother did not like to fly.
Time passed. At one point they developed a habit of spending an hour or so on the telephone together each Saturday and sister looked forward to that every week. It lasted quite a long time until brother's girlfriend announced she was now an orthodox Jew and brother could not talk on the telephone on the Sabbath anymore. No alternative seemed possible.
Thereafter, communication became a haphazard affair – neither regularly on nor entirely off.
Decades went by until circumstances brought big sister, now an old woman, to live in the vicinity of her brother. She thought, hoped they might be able to forge a new kind of sibling relationship in their dotage.
At their first holiday together, brother accused sister, who had taken on the caregiving their mother in her final months, of not equally sharing the small inheritance. Sister was shocked. It was nowhere near true; in fact, she had used her own money to clear up a few hundred dollars of extra bills that came in late.
Apparently, brother had been harboring his misbegotten belief for 20 years.
Next, brother refused a gift from sister because, he said, he could not afford to respond in kind – that is, monetary kind. Who, thought sister, tots up the price of gifts to make sure they come out even?
For those and some other disagreements, there was no resolution and for several years they each lived in their nearby towns without communicating.
Out of the blue, sister was hit with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. As she prepared for surgery, she thought to inform her one and only relative, if only so that he had that family medical information for his own use if ever necessary. After vacillating, she sent a neutral, informational email.
Brother was terribly busy wrote his wife, but in several exchanges between the two women, there seemed to be some room for a rapprochement that sister welcomed even if something god-awful had brought it into being.
As she prepared to leave for the hospital at 5AM on the morning of her surgery, sister checked her email for what she surmised would be the last time in awhile. There, time-dated at 2:43AM on the morning of that frightening medical ordeal, was a note from brother.
There was something he wanted to clear up, he wrote. The gist was that because of sister's conversation with the judge 60 years previously, brother had “lost his family” and grew up with the wrong parent which had ruined his life.
But oh, he added in closing, sister was his one and only relative so she had better survive, signing off with “love.”
The ride to the hospital felt longer for the old woman than it really was and she couldn't get her brother's monstrously timed note out of her mind even as she was wheeled into the operating room.
Because neither brother nor his wife has followed up since then, the old woman assumes they have come to see that with such a grotesque message sent in the final hours prior to sister's surgery, an immutable line was crossed.
Even so, not a day has passed – nor a few nights - that the old woman has not been haunted by this sad, painful story in all its aspects, wondering again and again from whence such cruelty arises.
PERSONAL ADDENDUM: As just about every TGB commenter has mentioned over the past several weeks since this difficult new "adventure" in my life began, an optimistic outlook - within the context of reality - is crucial to a good recovery. With some effort, I am maintaining that and it is in no small part to the warm, loving support of this TimeGoesBy community.