I Hope That I Get To See My Sister Again: Elizabeth’s Story
HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Elizabeth” is a pseudonym.
Growing up in a fundamentalist family is a unique experience for everyone.
For my ten siblings and I, we were consumed by an “attitude of gratitude” that our parents instilled in us from an early age, and any lack of gratefulness was a rebellion that had to be beaten out. They also taught us that an illness was God teaching us something, and intervention was only acceptable under dire circumstances.
Due to this mentality, we were blind to the mental sickness that was creeping slowly into each and every one of us, accepting it as “normal” and “God’s will”.
Though we all suffer from varying degrees of mental sickness, one sibling experienced hardships that surpass anything the rest of us have faced. When my oldest sister was a little girl, our grandmother (we called her “Nana”) noticed that she was adopting a passive state and not acting normal for a girl her age. When Nana pointed this out to our parents, they just brushed it off and were offended that anything could be wrong with a child under such “attentive” care.
Another factor was that they didn’t (and still don’t) believe in health insurance, so any medical expense was out-of-pocket, and only mild care like dental health was taken care of due to the impoverished lifestyle our parents adopted for all of us. This selective blindness allowed our parents to see my sister as a girl in perfect health and focus on building character and obedience.
Years passed, and my sister became more and more withdrawn, putting on a face to keep our parents happy.
Her life was becoming a miserable mess, but she didn’t show it for fear of punishment and rejection. When she went off to Harvard (something that didn’t happen without a big fight), she was still marred by the view on healthcare we were raised with, and didn’t see a professional to start working through her issues, mostly because she didn’t see them herself. A life of neglect was all she had ever known.
Upon graduation from college, she moved to Germany for business and to be with her husband. She would visit home once or twice a year, trying to maintain a relationship with the rest of us at home even though her relationship with our parents was crumbling. She was able to keep this up for 12 years, but spring of 2007 was the last straw. As everything she had tried to smother surfaced, she was overcome by the depressive state our parents modeled as “normal”.
She stopped coming home.
We kept up by email over the next two years, but she stopped that also because I, in my naivety, had become the synapse between her and our parents. I was hurt then, but looking back, I see that it was the best choice given the situation.
In early 2009, my family came home from vacation to hear a phone message from her (my sister’s) sister-in-law. My sister’s husband had committed suicide. When our parents successfully contacted my sister to express their deepest sorrow, she was very upset that they knew, and replied via an official stamped letter from her lawyer stating that she was changing her legal name so we couldn’t find her. My understanding is that some siblings were in contact with her after that, but those communications were eventually cut off as well, and none of us have seen her in over 6 years, or heard from her in over 4 years.
My family was seen as the pinnacle of perfection by most, and what happened behind closed doors was viewed by select individuals who couldn’t do anything to help.
As I begin to realize how neglected my siblings and I were, it frustrates me even more that our parents think it isn’t their fault. Observing the individuals my siblings and I are becoming, they are blind to the reflection our instability has on them, thinking it’s our fault for leaving the community they created. As some of us seeked out therapy and realized that communicating with our parents regularly was hindering our ability to heal, they compared us to my oldest sister, assuming that the months will turn into years for the rest of us as well.
I hope that I get to see my sister again someday, but I am now starting to understand why she cut off contact.
I can’t hate her for that.