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Sisters and Brothers All These Years
Taking Another Look at the Longest Relationship in Your Life
by Lillian S. Hawthorne


I grew up as one of two siblings. As children, my sister and I were neither especially alike or close nor were we especially dissimilar or distant. We simply knew we were sisters, and we took our relationship for granted, scarcely giving any thought to what that relationship meant.

As married adults, we lived far apart from each other. We kept in touch during those years through letters, phone calls, and most recently, e-mails. We remembered each other’s birthdays, anniversaries, the births of our children, their accomplishments, and the births of our grandchildren.

We also visited each other periodically. During the earlier years, these were family visits with our parents and all of our children present, so there was little opportunity for private time together. During the later years, when our parents were gone and our children had moved away, we did have time for personal visits and talks together, just the two of us. Over that time, I noticed that the conversations seemed to shift from wondering about our families’ futures to sharing memories of our own past. Even if we disagreed about things, the more we spoke with each other, the closer we felt.

Then a few years ago, we each began to have health problems, although mine were far milder than my sister’s. She experienced two minor heart attacks, and when I visited her afterwards, she seemed increasingly frail, quiet, and preoccupied—almost as if she were slowly beginning to slip away.

Two years ago, my sister suffered a major heart attack, and for the first time, the prognosis was guarded. I made arrangements to fly out to see her, but on the evening before I was scheduled to depart, the hospital called to inform me that my sister had lapsed into a coma and was not expected to last the night. I was told that, if I wished, the telephone could be placed next to her ear so I could speak to her. The caller assured me that hearing was the last sense to go, and that words spoken could be heard almost until the last few moments before death.

So I spoke to my sister that evening. I told her that I would be with her the very next day. I hoped she could wait for me, but if not, I wanted her to know that I loved her and I was glad we were sisters. It turned out that she did not, could not, wait for me; but I believe, or I want to believe, that she did hear those last words I spoke to her.

At her funeral, I looked around and saw her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and her friends there. But I realized that I was the one who had known her the longest. I was the only one who had shared and experienced the moments that made up her earliest memories.

Afterward, as so often happens following a funeral, I began to reflect a great deal, not only about my sister and myself but also about other siblings our age and their experiences with each other during their lifetimes. I observed and spoke to many older siblings; I asked questions and encouraged them to tell their stories, to share their remembrances of their sisters and brothers. I was struck by how willingly and unguardedly they spoke, as if these were experiences and feelings they had long wanted to discuss but somehow, until now, hadn’t had the opportunity or permission to do so.

The seed for this book was planted by those many different stories, and, from them, grew to have shape, purpose, and meaning. It is my hope that this book may be not only for siblings in my own generation but also for siblings in the younger adult generations, so that they can come to understand what it means to be “sisters and brothers all these years.”
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