When you were born, I knew you were so special and that I, as the big sister, had to take care of you and try to do right because I was your example. Mom and Dad both told me so. I don’t yet know who was to be my example and probably never will now… but I tried my best to do my best for each of you.
Though I know I did my very best, many times I failed. I was a very poor example because I needed a light to follow myself and quite often there just wasn’t any. Much of the time when I had the most responsibility, I was just a child myself, trying to find my way, exhibiting a bravado born of simply having to lead more than a true inner quality of my being. Fear was something I could stare down in the darkest night to keep you all safe.
Though none of you had red hair like mine and Mom’s, this picture always reminds me of reading to you or teaching you what I could. I found the matted print in a thrift shop last year for five bucks. Later that same week I found a glass and white frame at Home Sense in the clearance bin for five bucks because it has no backing. I decided it doesn’t need any anyway since it will have a home in my hall way against the wall where it rests still. Every time I pass it on my way to and from the bathroom I think, Love, Light and Healing to the little ones. Well, you know how many times a day that is because you know us girls, we pee often… It’s a beautiful print and I adore it for the reminder and for the wistfulness I feel every time I see it because I wish our lives could have been more storybook-like as in this pastoral garden. I wasn’t in charge of the paths our lives took, the decisions adults made. I was only in charge of making do with what we had, making the best of wherever we were emotionally or physically, making myself do things I didn’t want to do such as stealing because I couldn’t bear the thought of any of your little faces looking at me hungry, not knowing what to do yourselves. I still can’t bear the thought of any of you being hungry. Or alone. Or tired. Or hurting in any way.
In teaching you, my little brother, to read or you, my little sister, to tell the time, I gave all I knew how to helping you learn to get along in the world. To this day, I know some of you have chosen to keep me locked in that role and thus, continue blaming me for things that are nothing to do with me anymore as I want simply to be a sibling on equal footing in our adulthood. Sadly our adult years are riddled with misguided notions of who I am. Maybe this letter will help. But it is as if I damned by some of you either way. My husband used to say it’s because you are so pure and good, you take the shit and abuse of them ganging up on you and go on loving them, being there for them again and again and again even though they are all adults and shouldn’t blame you for anything.
He ought to know, he was forgiven countless times. Every time he said he was sorry. But this is not about him. This is about transferring patterns of behavior ingrained from childhood to my marriage. This is about realizing that I have far less to feel sorry for than I ever imagined. This is about survivor guilt and clearing it so I can move out of this role I’ve been stuck in for far too many years.
One sister used to send me Mother’s day cards. My brother still maintains he just thought he had two moms, me and mom until he was about five years old. When this brother was just a boy, Mom asked me to take him for a while. I did. When this sister was just a girl, Mom asked me to take her for a while. I did. Both times I was living in Richmond where they went to school – didn’t miss a day while staying with me and I didn’t have to push them, they wanted to go! And, as my sister said, she never had to worry about food because I always made sure we had lots. It might have been from running up the bill on the milk truck for eggs, yogurt, etc but we ate well. At one time I knew how to make a mean homemade bread, too. But it’s been so long since I baked bread I think it would now be brick like, fit only for protection the little ones, not feeding them.
What I didn’t realize was all the things I would never be able to protect the little ones from. Or that it wasn’t even my responsibility to worry about such things as making Easter happen when our parents didn’t get home in time to do it. Even when our father died, most of us were in our teens, I was 18 and my younger siblings said that I was their source of comfort, one sister whose daughter has hair the colour of mine, says she can’t remember Mom comforting her ever, it was always me because Mom was dealing with things too overwhelming for herself to process, I’m guessing, she wasn’t able to comfort anyone else in those particular moments. I understand that. Some days are like that for me now.
The thing is, for me, no matter how hard I tried, I was never going to be a good parent. Because I was not your parent. The reality, much as the three little stars in the above photo who paused for a picture with me on their way to their performance, is you weren’t MY little ones. We had a mother and a father and it wasn’t fair for them to tell me I was the example for you. They should have been the example for all of us. I know this now and in no way do I feel angry with them for this. They, too, were doing the best they knew how with what they had at the time. What more can we expect of any human than doing their best in that moment they are in.
I never had any children of my own and I’m quite content with that because of the over responsibility as a child and because I had the fantastic good fortune of being involved in the three Murray kids lives to the point that I feel watching them all grow from babies into adulthood and being there for so many of their challenges or milestones, having the grace and blessing of both of their parents to play such a role in their lives, has fulfilled any maternal longings I might have had.
Tonight as Christmas 2012 nears, I want to say dear little ones, Murray little ones, too, I love you still and I always will.
I also want to say I am sorry.
I am sorry I failed you in any way, to keep you safe from harm or prevent any pain you may have endured because I could not be there for you. I was still learning myself.
I am sorry I did not know what to do many times and just did what I thought was the right and best thing to do.
There isn’t much advice I can give anyone that they don’t, as adults already know so let me just share these two phrases I have on either side of my bathroom mirror.
I truly believe, even on the painful ones, that every single day is a gift. I also believe Courage is the road to Freedom. To the left, gifts, to the right, freedom. What more could one ask or what better message could one share with little ones, who no matter how big they get, will always have a special corner of my heart reserved for little ones, the sweet memories and experiences we went through to being who we are today.
Finally, to little ones everywhere, those gone before and those with us still, may you find your own heavenly star and take wing with a glow all your own in your own special way, lighting the world as you go in the same way your sweet love and presence brightened all our lives.
With love, light and laughter always.
Goodnight, dear little ones, fly high.