As I write this, it is Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021, this afternoon I was moving some items around to organize them in my spare room closet when I decided to look through a box of old photos.
I have tended to avoid looking at old photos since there are those photos that remind us of those no longer with us or those childhood photos that sometimes serve as a reminder of events that you may prefer to forget but today, I ran across the photo attached with this blog.
The girl on the left is me, the one on the right is my sister Carmen and the baby in the middle is our sister Shelly. This photo was taken on the day of Shelly’s baptism in 1968. I was five and my sister Carmen was four.
As I looked at this photo, I remembered in fact that today is actually Carmen’s 57th birthday. Looking at this photo reminded me of the good memories that we shared. As kids we were like two peas in the same pod, we did everything together. As we got older though there were cracks in the adhesive that held us together, I remember when I was eight and Carmen was seven, I got some of my Dad’s duct tape and used it to divide our room in half. I was taking a stand that I was no longer willing to live in a messy room and her mess was always making it over on to my neat and tidy side it was one of our first battles. We could be best friends one minute and the harshest of enemies the next.
Carmen was diagnosed with cancer her senior year off high school. She would receive treatments at the University of Michigan which was near the college that I was attending. I would go up and hang out with her when I could. I remember taking her on an outing, she was allowed out of the hospital for a few hours, she didn’t have much strength and had lost a ton of weight, but she had gotten a wig and she was determined to find a dress for prom even though no one was sure that she would be able to go. That day we found the perfect size one prom dress to fit, she even wore it at the hospital, it seemed to make her feel just a little bit normal in a very not normal time.
Carmen survived cancer but cancer changed her, as one might imagine but those changes had consequences. Carmen seemed bent on living life to the fullest, never quite sure if the cancer could come back. She had plenty of proof that the situation was precarious as she watched most of the kids being treated at that time not make it. It was the early days of cancer.
Carmen decided that she needed to live life to the fullest and since she had gone back to living at my mother’s rather than my grandparent’s she went from living in a rather strict household to living in one with very few rules. From my vantage point this was the recipe for the sister that I had grown up with, to slowly slip away. Without going into the details which don’t seem necessary and are Carmen’s own story to share or not; over the years it just got harder and harder to have Carmen in my life, unfortunately this actually holds true for each of my sisters, even my youngest sister who hadn’t yet been born when that photo was taken.
I think of my sisters often, send them love from afar and question whether my decision to excise them from my life remains the right one. So far, the answer to that question remains yes. You can love people and not have them in your life. You can accept people and the choices they make without inviting them to share your world. I don’t judge them, they are all working through their life with the tools at their disposal, I am just remembering the airline rule to put your mask on before helping others, it is my responsibility to myself to ensure that my life goes the way I want it to, the way that feels good to me.
You may think that this sounds selfish, but I would ask you this, if an arsonist set fire to your house over and over again would you continue to invite them over? I am betting not, even if they got help, got treatment but continued to play close to matches, I am still betting you wouldn’t have them over.
There are lots of “arsonists” in the world, those that want to tear you down rather than raise you up, those who you know would not have your back if it came right down to it. I am not telling you to banish people from your life, that is a big decision that needs to be made by the individual with much reflection and compassion for all involved, but I am saying that if you have an “arsonist” in your life who regularly sets fires in your day to day, what are you doing to protect yourself from the flames?
Happy Birthday Carmen, I send my love and good thoughts hoping you are well and far away from the flames!