The second week of December will always be the toughest of times for every remaining member of our family.
My mother surrendered to her battle with cancer on Dec. 10, 1973, bravely hanging on until the day after my father’s birthday. Dec. 8 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of my brother Max, who died from the same disease.
My sister Sue will celebrate the birthday of her youngest son, born on the same date our mother died, a cruel twist of the calendar that must make the day a mix of celebration tempered by painful reminders.
I can’t comprehend how Sue handles it; I have never asked and she has never offered to share because we deal with grief in our own ways.
Sue and I were born a mere 15 months apart. Although I am technically older, she has become the big sister to all of us since our mother passed away, the cable that somehow keeps the fabric of our family stitched together.
Mom used to embarrass us with stories from our childhood when we were home alone with her before the births of our younger brothers. Mom used to say Sue and I were either talking about marrying each other or trying to scratch each other’s eyes out, rarely treading anywhere near the middle.
Throughout the highs and lows of our relationship, my sister has remained the rock I could always lean on, even in the darkest days of my drug abuse while my marriage crumbled beneath my clumsy feet.
We still argue from time to time, but get back to common ground because of her patience and her ability to handle my outbursts, even on the rare occasions when I might be right.
I write this now because once we put that difficult week in December behind us, the holiday season will be upon us.
I had originally decided to skip Christmas dinner with the family this year so Joan and I could cook a turkey at home with my son for a change. My sister accepted my decision to be the black sheep once again missing from this year’s table without any discernible transfer of guilt.
Sue and her husband are dealing with serious health issues at this time, although you couldn’t tell by talking to either of them.
Somehow, she silently managed to help me change change my mind.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized you don’t get to choose what Christmas will be the last that everyone gets together.
I remembered my older brother Gerry once joking that it’s not officially a family reunion until Sue cries, and that helped spur my change of heart.
So merry Christmas, sis, and consider this an early version of the card you get every year only because the bride always remembers to send it.
Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired journalist and Sooke resident.