This past week my Uncle suddenly passed away. He was the oldest of five, but certainly lost way too soon. This was my Dad’s brother. They were very close in age and thus experienced a lot together growing up. Most of my Dad’s siblings have great experiences and stories they share and continue to create today. It’s very difficult to watch them go through the loss of their brother. It was the first time I ever thought about or tried to understand the actual impact of losing a sibling, particularly when it is unexpected and too soon.
Naturally my thoughts progressed towards my own sister and three brothers. My parents constantly stress to us the importance of remaining close to each other. At some point it became white noise because it’s collectively agreed upon that we are indeed very close. However, as we have gotten older and geographically spread out, I don’t see or speak to them as much as I used to. I find myself appreciating them more in their absence than ever before. This isn’t a foreign thought. The phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is well documented. But regardless of any lapses in communication and time apart I remain positive about our relationship. We still have our nuanced way of very easily giving and receiving the same level of love we’ve had all along in our communication and with that I know my parents are at ease.
There’s a general arc to communicating with people; a differentiated curve distinguishing certain parts of a conversation. You begin with greetings, then maybe some pleasantries, and then you are able to truly and enjoyably converse before it rounds off to conclusions and goodbyes. Siblings don’t follow these arcs. The Sibling communication model is a circle. It’s continuous with no need for a beginning or end, without any angles, simple, and certainly pointless. No matter our age, income gap, accomplishments, experiences, or where we go our way of communicating loops back around to the same impenetrable immaturity, inappropriateness, and hilarity we’ve had since we were kids.
My thirty-one year old sister Katie with a daughter and established career is the same to me now as she was when she convinced my brothers and me of just about everything with her bullying tactics and at one time, butch-like frame. Thanks to her, my boyhood memories of music were Ace of Base and Paula Abdul – the kind of music that gets a little boy constantly wearing wind suit’s ass kicked. Then there’s my very determined older brother Kevin who in his spare time added a new kitchen and bathroom onto his house with his own hands, but to me he’s still the same kid who had me and my other brothers tediously crimping staples and paper clips to create 6” wrist slitting death traps for Mother’s day that we liked to call “beautiful homemade silver jewelry.” My twin brother Brian and I will go out for beers and maybe exchange serious social commentary respectfully like adults, but we still childishly accuse one another of smelling like a first grade classroom and ignorantly refer to the other as being ugly. And lastly, my social and very independent little brother Patrick remains not a day over 12 years old when I think of him and is that same glorious Irish tempered hot head who we erroneously impersonate with a fake New Jersey meets Chicago meets mythical leprechaun rooted accent. This is much funnier to us than anyone who’s ever had the unfortunate pleasure of listening.
The point is I feel strongly that as long as we maintain this ball busting, adolescent view of each other our relationship will remain unstrained. We don’t do small talk or much catch-up because we have to do that with just about everyone else on a daily basis. The polite and civil versions of ourselves need a break and my brothers and sister are the perfect outlet for the impolite and uncivilized. The more we reduce each other to our most vulnerable selves the closer we get. And as we grow older we definitely have a greater appreciation for when we get to be together even when it’s prompted by something as unfortunate as a funeral. Death always offers perspective and perspective is a good thing.
I stood at the funeral last week thinking about my sister and my brothers and that if one of us were to meet an untimely death I know I would feel heartbreaking shock and sadness, but because of our efforts to remain so close I would not feel regret. And that will always be the goal. We hopefully have a lot of years left for all of us. There will be more weddings, kids, career achievements, and moves along the way, but ultimately I’ll still communicate with them the same way I always have: With unflattering, inappropriate, insulting, witty, childish messages of backhanded love. My brothers and sister respond “Aw, thanks” when anyone else would say “uhh, what?”
There’s a powerful bond between siblings. You grew up together, but you never have to be grownups together.