She is my Sister!

Photo by Arthur Ogleznev: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-a-glass-ball-1252893/

I am the youngest of 5 siblings.  And, I’m the baby — by far! My older siblings (3 sisters and one brother) were spaced about a year and half apart. I believe my folks figured they were done with four. Then about 6 years after my next oldest, here comes Deanno!  😊 (I like to think of myself as the reason my dad got a vasectomy!)

My 3 oldest siblings, Maudie, David, and Mona, were strong and successful people — both in life and career. But Jeannette, my sister closest in age, was not — not successful in the traditional sense for sure. I don’t recall much of my life, or my siblings, until I was around 6 or 7. My memories before that age are blurry and spotty — just a function of being young I suppose. But, around that age, a real bombshell hit. Jeannette starting demonstrating significant, often uncontrolled, symptoms of bipolar syndrome. (They called it schizophrenia then.)

Those were crazy and traumatic times. Jeannette would yell and scream. She would cuss out the parents and the other siblings. Dad would try his normal discipline on unruly kids, but it was pointless with her. My folks had her committed to the state mental hospital. But back then (in the 70s), all they were able to do was drug her into a controllable stupor. Compared to today, it really was the “dark ages” of mental health treatment.

Jeannette’s doctors encouraged my folks to just leave her in the mental institution — for “her own good”. But, my folks were not going to just leave her locked away. They made the brave decision to bring her home.  I respect the hell out of that decision! But, it was a decision that had a lot of implications for me personally. Growing up around the emotional outbursts, screaming, breaking stuff, the sobs of my mom — it was traumatic and formative. As I look back on those early years around Jeannette, I see the origins of my introversion and conflict avoidance tendencies. It also built a huge skill for empathy. I am who I am, in no small part, because of my life with Jeannette.

There was definitely a time in my life where I was embarrassed by Jeannette.  I did not want to be seen around her; I did not want my friends to know her.  I really did not even want to spend time with her. That being said, I also feel a closeness to her, more so than even my other sisters and brother.  Perhaps it is the shared trauma of her rowdy teenage years. Or the sympathy I learned to feel for her, as I became aware that she really had no control over the disease. Jeannette was certainly always more comfortable around me than the older sibs. My older sibs tried very hard to support their younger sister, but they did not spend the time I did with her growing up.  (They were young adults with increasingly independent lives, so were able to “escape” much of the chaos.  That being said, Mona, in particular, prioritized Jeannette’s well being later in life to a huge degree!)  Most importantly, I figure, was that Jeannette was never threatened by me — her kid brother, like she was likely with her older siblings.

Over time, I came to appreciate Jeannette for who she was.  I would not say we were friends.  Jeannette was not capable of having true friendships, as she was just too focused on herself. But it was clear that she loved me (and her sisters and brother), and she valued family. I learned to be proud of the gentle, if tortured, soul that she was. Underneath the disease, she loved me — and I loved her back!

Jeannette passed several years ago. She died too young — of cancer. I like to believe her soul, now calm and free of any affliction, is enmeshed with those of Mom and Dad. No matter what though, I know her presence lives on within me — in the life’s lessons that she taught me that I continue to apply.

I am proud to be Jeannette’s brother!

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