I recently traveled to my hometown and just as he always is, my brother was there to meet me at the airport. Every single time I travel home, I feel as though I am giving him somewhat of a reprieve from being the primary caregiver to our parents. No, neither is sickly, fragile, or dependent but when emergencies, major or minor occur, my brother is the one to rush to their respective homes or to the emergency room. My brother dutifully texts or calls me to let me know what is happening. When he calls, I can hear the slightest bit of “damn it, it would be nice if your ass was here” tone in his voice. I always ask if I should come but he always says that we should wait and see. Usually I don’t have to drop everything and go though I know he would appreciate it if I did. He life is always rearranged to fit the needs of whichever parent. With every emergency, I feel even guiltier for living so far away.
My brother is always there to deal with the mind-numbing conflicts between our divorced parents. There are the bridal and birthday showers, family dinners, holiday dinners, etc. where guest lists have to be carefully negotiated. Heaven forbid our mother and our father’s lady friend are in the same space. The lady friend seems to be a nice enough person but for some reason our mother takes issue with her. Neither my brother nor I can really understand why. After all, our parents have been divorced for nearly 20 years AND our mother initiated it. Worse, the lady friend has been a friend of my sister in law’s family long before my brother and his wife even met but yet she has been excluded from events to placate our mother. It has only been in the last two months or so that our mother and the lady friend were in the same room and my mother was more than just civil, she behaved appropriately. When my brother told me this, I literally told him to hold the phone while I checked to make sure hell had not actually frozen over. Seems so trivial to expect appropriate behavior from a parent but it is our reality.
My brother is there to watch as our father swears he watching his diet in order to help with some health issues but it is obvious, he isn’t. My brother is there to watch as our childhood home slowly but surely becomes this place that neither of us recognize because our father does not do the necessary repairs. My brother is always there, hoping that our mother would actually drop by his house more often. He doesn’t feel that he has enough of his family visit while his wife’s family is always present. Not that he minds at all but I know he would like to every one present. Our mother, on the other hand, only calls my brother when something is amiss. She never to just say hello; never to ask if she can over and visit and never to initiate a family dinner. In her own logic, she thinks that she is “bothering” my brother though it is absolutely not true.
In my role as my brother’s keeper from a great distance, I run interference over the telephone by telling our mother to call my brother and let him know she wants to go to Costco or reminding her that she really should call or visit him and his family more often. I have even told her in the past that it is completely uncool how she will visit my brother more often when I am in town. It happened on this last visit and a few times before. I also call our mother every morning on my way to work to make sure she’s all right so that maybe, just maybe, my brother can go about his daily routine with some normalcy.
As my brother’s keeper, I have reminded our father that is not my brother’s responsibility to make our mother and the lady friend make nice with one another. It’s partly that of our father and mostly of our mother. She has to accept things as they are and not expect the world to tiptoe around her. I also check in with our father on Sunday nights to make sure things are well with him. Calling him in the mornings is not an option since he tends to stay up super late checking in on his own sisters and then he sleeps late.
Though I realize that my efforts from here are not the same as actually being there, I hope that in some fashion I am being a good sister. I let him vent and complain on those rare occasions that he feels the need to do so. If I could pack up and move my family back home, I would do it without hesitation. Though I really would like my children to live near family; mostly, I want to be there for my brother and share the responsibilities of caring for older parents. Maybe one day, I will be able to do better as my brother’s keeper.