Thursday, May 28, 2009

Willingness to Change

A while back, Nancy was asked to contribute to Thicker than Water, Don Meyer's collection of essays by adult siblings of people with disabilities. She agreed, and here is the essay she wrote, entitled "Willingness to Change":

I've flown home from Baltimore on Christmas Eve day, even though I was invited to stay with my boyfriend's family through Christmas, with him. As soon as my plane lands, I head for my sister's apartment to pick her up. She'll be staying with me for several days. This has been our tradition (even though we are Jewish, we require a Christmas tradition). It is important to me to make sure my sister has holiday plans. Plans, presents, family. We have other family members, but I am the main one for her. I am "it," and I have been for many years, and I expect always to be.

She seems happy and untroubled when I pick her up. This is a relief, because when I told her I was going away for the weekend before Christmas, she asked, "Can I come?"

"No, not this time," I said. "I'm going to visit Jim's family. But you'll have a chance to meet them later on, I promise. And I'll be home to get you on Christmas Eve, and we'll spend Christmas together as we always do. I've already made our reservation for the brunch at the Seaport Hotel."

I was rattled. It was hard for me to say this "no" to my sister, and indeed, only possible for me to allow myself to visit my boyfriend's family at all because I'd made the plan to come back before Christmas. Only later did I realize that my sister's desire to come with me to Baltimore was unlikely to be about her wanting to meet Jim's family, but about wanting to travel, which she loves to do.

We are on the verge of huge change, my sister and I. I am forty six years old. I never thought I would marry and didn't think I wished to. But now, to my astonishment and very great happiness, this has changed.
But with the change comes anxiety and fear. How do I reassure my sister? How will she adjust to change? How will I? We were the single daughters. Despite our differences, we were a pair. There was reassurance in that, and safety, and routine, for both of us.

In telling her the Christmas plans, I had carefully avoided talking to her about New Year's Eve. This, too, we have often if not always spent together. But soon after I pick her up, she asks me.
"I'm going away over New Year's with Jim," I say. I take a deep breath, and then I add: "Jim and I are courting. When a couple are courting, that means they're thinking seriously about marriage. During courtship, they need to spend time alone together, and that's what we're doing. We are probably going to be married. So, I can't be with you on New Year's Eve."

"Oh," my sister says, and then adds, "Very interesting."

There is no explosion or difficulty. She seems pragmatic. I explain further that, in marrying, I would still live where I do now, and would not move away to another state, as our other sister did.

A few days later, my sister pulls together a little Christmas present for Jim--a (slightly used) bottle of aspirin, which is a very typical present type from my sister. This delights me, and Jim, who is beginning to get to know her, and who says, when I tell him this story, "Well, it is very interesting."

What the future will hold, I don't exactly know. Plans, presents, family. These are now happening for me with someone else. There will always be a place in my life for my sister, but it won't be the same. Things will change, that's all I know and all I can know. That, and the fact that I will always be nearby. In choosing a husband, I am not changing my choice to be "it" for my sister.

But I will be a different "it," all the same. It scares ms, because the "it" that I was worked very well.

My sister is the one with autism, supposedly the one who wants things to be always the same. But I think it may have taken me all of these forty six years to find my own willingness to change, willingness to open my life and my heart fully.

1 comment:

Katheen said...

This was great - I love Nancy's insight that she rather than Susan may have struggled with this particular change. Thanks for sharing yet another wonderful piece of writing!