This post is not about H, or infidelity, or therapy. Instead, something very different but equal on the heartbreak scale.
My sister is 11 1/2 years younger than me. She had just turned 7 when I left for college. I missed much of her growing up years, but when she gave birth to her first child, 5 years ago, I promised myself I would be more present in her child’s life, even though I live a hundred plus miles away in a different state.
My sister and brother-in-law are typical middle class Gen-X parents. They love their kids, have tried to provide a comfortable life for them, and in my opinion have done a great job. Even so, mother and her first daughter have had an uneasy relationship. As a toddler, my niece began throwing fairly violent tantrums, including hitting and kicking her parents. She’s an otherwise sweet, smart, funny girl. Recently, the uncontrollable behavior has increased, and my sister and brother-in-law have sought help from doctors and therapists. Last week she was tested for a wide range of mental health disorders, including oppositional/defiant, bipolar, sensory processing, etc. A diagnosis is a couple of weeks away.
Throughout this summer, I have awoken to frustrated texts from my sister, all cries for help. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot I can do on a daily basis, due to distance, as well as my inexperience with raising children, with or without mental illness. I try to be positive and supportive from afar.
Anyway, I was able to travel to their home this weekend for a visit. Honestly I was hoping my presence would be a deterrent for a meltdown, since I’ve never really seen it happen while I’m with my neice. Her parents and toddler sister could use a break from the rage. Unfortunately it was not to be, and I’ve now experienced several tantrums over the past 24 hours. When she’s not crying/kicking/screaming/throwing things, she’s very pleasant and good fun to be around. It seems to come from out of nowhere.
My sister, on the other hand, is a shell of herself. I know she’s tired, angry, and disappointed that her family isn’t what she had hoped for. I observed her staring at her daughter, just waiting for the next fit to begin. And when it did, my baby sister lost it. She screamed at her husband, who was trying to move the girl into her bedroom to calm down. She screamed at our mother, who was also in the house at the time. She screamed at me, and in front of her younger daughter.
I guess H does factor in here after all. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that H was subjected to quite a lot of yelling and screaming by his family throughout his life, especially as a child. It made a very negative impact on him, and he’s only now, at 50, figuring out how to appropriately cope. And all I could think of while in the midst of the conflict today was these babies that I love so much, and how their mother’s harsh words and actions might affect them later in life. I asked her to stop raising her voice. I told her lashing out isn’t going to be productive. She sneered and walked out. My brother-in-law expects her to pack and leave with the smaller girl any day now.
My sister tends to enact a scorched earth policy on people who disappoint her – she and our brother have barely spoken in years due to a conflict, and her relationship with our mother isn’t great – so I fear our relationship may be coming to an end since I spoke frankly to her this weekend.
She’s my best friend. For 37 years and counting, I have loved her more than anyone else on Earth.
My heart is breaking, for the pain this family is going through, and because I feel so helpless.