A Relationship With My Sister

This past weekend was an unusual one—my brother, two sisters, and I got to spend the evening together—along with our combined children, cousins, and spouses. Like many families, the four of us don’t live near one another: two of us are in New Jersey, one in Virginia, and the other lives in Istanbul. When we are together, we are reminded of our shared youth. We laugh as we recount stories from our childhood, each of us filling in the gaps in our combined memories. Even the things that once pained us about ourselves—our insecurities, the mistakes that we made in our youth—now make us laugh as we recount them with one another.

I realized this weekend that, although each one of us has a unique—and somewhat different—perspective on our childhoods, the truth is that each of us has had a direct impact on making each other the people we are today. It is this impact that I want to understand better, to see how each of my siblings has helped make me the woman I am—the wife, the mother, the friend.

I will begin with my sister—the youngest.

There is a three-year age difference between my sister and I, but growing up, it may as well have been a lifetime. When I was getting ready for school dances, she was playing Kick-the-Can with neighborhood kids. When she was graduating from high school, I was in England studying Shakespeare. When she was at college learning about being in the military, I was falling in love in Istanbul. And when she was in the Army stationed in Germany, I was back home learning to be a mother.

I didn’t really know my sister—not the music she loved, the friends she had, nor the heartbreaks she had experienced in her life. If it weren’t for a chance meeting we had when she was seventeen and I was twenty, this may have always been the case.

Our parents divorced while she was a junior in high school. She was the one who witnessed first-hand the devastation that occurred the day our father walked out. In the days and months that followed, she was the one who stood by my mother. And I believe that, in truth, my sister was the reason our mother got up each morning. I was not there for my sister during this time. I dreaded coming home, so I stayed away as much as possible, even going as far as moving to England the following year—the year she was graduating high school.

Our father should have been the one to take her to Ireland as a graduation present—a tradition in our family—but their relationship had been almost irreparably damaged. Instead, I took a week off from my studies in England to travel with her. It was during this trip that I think I truly saw her for the first time. I remember putting make-up on her and being surprised by how different her features were from mine—I had always thought she looked like me—but her lashes were so long they almost touched her eyebrows, and her lips were smaller and more delicate than my own. It was as if by seeing these differences, I suddenly wanted to learn more about who she truly was, not the person I had always thought her to be. We spent the week getting to know one another, and for the first time, we connected not as sisters, but as friends.

One of my fondest memories occurred just a few years after this trip to Ireland. My sister, after attending a military university and joining the Army, became stationed in Germany. She had only been there a couple of months when my daughter was born. Although we hadn’t lived near one another prior to her leaving, just knowing that she couldn’t come home to meet her niece took away some of the joy of her birth. My sister, being the incredibly loving and selfless person that she is, came up with a plan: she would fly home for Memorial Day weekend to see the baby and surprise my mother. It was an elaborate plan that involved my brother (who picked her up at the airport), my older sister (who provided a place to rest prior to getting on a bus to Atlantic City), along with my mother’s best-friend (who picked her up and drove her to Cape May) and her daughter (who videotaped the arrival). It worked perfectly, and because it was being filmed, I am able to watch—over and over again—my sister meeting her niece for the very first time.

In so many ways, my sister—with her selfless approach to life—has made me want to be a better person. Through her, I have learned how to be strong while still being compassionate. As I think now about the advice I have for my daughter, I can only think of one thing: to see my sister as I do, and to know how fortunate she is to have such an incredible woman in her life.

Published by Erin Rehill

A few years ago, my then eight-year-old daughter told me that she wished I could write down all the things I told her so that she wouldn’t forget them when she got older. In that moment, my daughter gave me such a sense of validation, something I hadn’t really experienced in that way. As parents, we don’t often receive confirmation from our children that we are doing a good job, or that we even know what we are talking about. Since that time, I’ve started to pay more attention to the things I tell her, often thinking to myself “Will she remember this when she is older?” So, this is for her, my words of advice to be read, thought about, laughed at, and maybe even used, when she is older.

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  1. I could not possibly be more honored to be the subject of this amazing post. I can’t even express in words the value that I place not only on our kinship but on our friendship. You are a blessing in my life each day and the memories that we have shared are priceless to me. I love you.

  2. Even though you weren’t close with her when you were younger, it’s neat how you’ve gotten to know each other as adults. My brother and I were very close growing up but now live on opposite sides of the country and don’t have much in common – so I’ve got the opposite thing going on 😛

    1. I think, like any relationship, even those with siblings needs to be tended to—and that’s not as easy with boys (I think). My brother moved to Istanbul almost three years ago, and we talk every few months or so. We are still close, but it’s not the same as with my sisters.

  3. You brought tears to my eyes — and, yes, Meghan was my rock at that time. She was and is a very strong person, and there was a bond created that will always be special to me.

  4. This is such a wonderful tribute. I remember all the excitement of surprising your Mom. Erin you hit it on the head.Meghan is a strong, caring and incredible woman…I’m looking forward to reading more.

  5. I think one of the greatest treasures you can have is your sister. My husband looks at our two girls bickering back and forth and wonder if they’ll ever get along and I always reassure him that it will be okay… we hope.

    visiting from #commenthour

    1. I didn’t fight with my younger sister growing up, but I did with my older (that will be the other post). That being said, we are very close as adults so I think you’re right to reassure your husband that your daughters will get along in the future. How old are they?

  6. What a beautiful tribute to your younger sister. I’m glad you were able to connect after having been apart for so long. I know my sister is my best friend, and we talk on the phone every day, and she lives about an hour and 15 minutes away. We get together several times during the year, the those phone calls keep us close.

    1. I agree, without the phone we’d be in serious trouble. We try to see each other every couple of months or so, but we talk regularly. Thanks for reading, supporting, commenting—it means so much to me.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. My kid are 5 years apart, and more than anything I want to be sure that they are there for each other when they are adults. I’m so close in age to my siblings, and two of them are girls, so I sometimes think it’s hard for me to relate to my own kids. We’ll just have to see as they get older.

  7. This is really sweet! I’m still working on a relationship with my younger brother. I had hoped initially to have Wee ‘Burb and her sibling be 2 years apart, but circumstances have prevented that. I hope eventually she has this kind of sibling relationship, no matter how far apart they are.

    1. I completely agree. I don’t think the actual age difference matters. In fact, I think there is something to be said about having a larger age difference (although I am biased since my kids are 5 years apart).

  8. Beautiful words as always, Erin – i am the oldest of five kids and I often think about our relationship as siblings, and how our shared experiences were viewed so differently by all of us, and shaped each of us differently. What a beautiful tribute to your sister – and how AWESOME that the four of you were able to get together again for a fun weekend! Can’t wait to see the rest of your thoughts on your other sibs!

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