According to Webster a sister is “a female offspring having two common parents.” So, in the strictness of that definition my sister and I fall somewhat short in that we share only our Mother in common.
In my family, I am the eldest child; my sister the baby. Eleven years separates us and also, due to our differing fraternal parentage, the commonalities of our backgrounds are not completely similar.
My sister came into my life when I was 11. She was a small, vulnerable, non verbal and her newborn self was frequently in need of attention. I fell in love with the idea of her long before I appreciated any speck of her personality. She was my constant. We were always together. Due to circumstances in which we found ourselves, I was charged with much of her care. My twelve year old self learned the skill set of motherhood in practice with my sister. I could change her, feed her, bathe her and in later years pack her lunch, readying her for school with the greatest of ease. The gifts of self confidence, autonomy, self reliance and problem solving were mine at an early age largely as a result of this alliance. I am less clear what this alliance delivered to my sister save my dedicated love of her.
Fast forward as both our life journeys continued. I married my childhood sweetheart,had a child of my own, went back to college studying nursing and got my R.N. Jane left home to join the U.S. Navy where she served our country as she was posted in duty stations all over the world.
Largely, save leave time, when she always came home, she was away a lot of the ensuing years but that early bond continued to be the tie that binds.
In the later part of 2002, it became painfully clear that our Mother was not herself. Thus began my journey though my Mother’s illness. Dr.s visits, care providers, medications administration and tweaking, endless paperwork and the like. The nature of my Mom’s problems worsened daily and soon the management of these problems largely became the substance of my life. In tandem with the management of our newly founded business, At Cumberland Falls Bed and Breakfast Inn and the learning curve necessary for its success, the solitary care of our Mom began to be more than I felt capable of managing solo. My sister had 3 years left to complete the 20 year military career to which she had dedicated her life.
When those three years were nearly completed I was exhausted, disheartened and dealing with the despair only known by those caring for someone they desperately love and is never going to get better. During all of this time Jane had come to Asheville to visit with Mom and help me every month for a few days. It helped but I confided in her that her big sister needed her help desperately and so did our Mother.
Transitioning out of the military which had largely been her life was a big step but she did not falter. Again, my baby sister, as she had many times in the past, put her hand in mine in total faith and solidarity. Together we soldiered on stronger in a pair than as individuals making our journey with our Mother.
This blog is a thank you to my sister, Jane Armstrong.
Patti and Gary Wiles