My sister is dead, I told the bank manager.
But she isn't.
She lives in Washington with her husband, having moved 5 yrs ago from L.A. where we were both born and raised.
The bank manager expressed his condolences and accepted the paperwork from our lawyer to remove her name from our Trust and Wills as an executor to our estate and guardian to our children should my husband and I die before they're of legal age to take care of themselves.
I told him she was dead to remove her from my psyche, distance myself from loving her. Five years ago she told my DH she didn't want any contact with him, me, or our kids, her then 8 and 5 yr old niece and nephew, in a response to an email my husband sent her.
She'd missed our daughters birthday again, sent her a present with the one she sent for our son's birthday three months later, and spelled her name wrong on the card. This wasn't the first time. She'd disappointed our kids many times, missing birthdays and special events with a quick message left on our answering machine she couldn't make it after promising to come.
Her sins were many, and mounted with the years without apology. My husband got tired of it, emailed her five sentences politely informing her the spelling of our daughter's name and asking her if she was going to send them birthday gifts to please do it on or around their birthdays.
My sister decided he was asking too much and emailed back that “though I am deeply in love with your kids, and it breaks my heart to do so,” she was withdrawing from their lives entirely. She informed my husband she would prefer no contact at all, with any of us, though she'd established what my children believed was a fairly close connection, email exchanges with my son, calling every few months to touch base with both kids.
She has, in fact, exited our lives almost completely. She sends the kids birthday cards when it strikes her fancy—two weeks late to our daughter last year, but managed to get a card to our son within days of his, professing her deep affection and love for him. It took all my will not to shed the card in a million tiny pieces, her sentiment to him for her self-image alone.
Love is an action, what we do, not some abstract in our heads, my DH and I raise our kids to practice.
My kids relationship with my sister was important to them because they have no other on my side of the family. My mom died when our oldest was just 4, so she never really got to know our kids. She did love them though. How did they know?
She came to visit often.
She called them on the phone every couple days.
She mailed them presents on time, called to sing Happy Birthday on their special days.
She spelled their names right.
She stayed abreast of their lives through me, my DH, and through the kids, consistently showed interest in their interests and feelings, and shared her world with them.
My mother often extolled how much she loved the kids, to me, to them, to anyone who'd listen, but she also showed it, so my children knew it real.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I knew when she was gone my relationship to my remaining family would fragment. She was the conduit, fervently believed people come and go but family is forever, the folks with which your love an loyalty should reside. And there is no questioning my mother's love. She showed it to me throughout my life as she did with my kids, worked at staying connected even when it was contentious between us.
In a thousand lifetimes I could not repay my mom for her precious gift of love I now model and teach to our children. But I can not buy into her belief [and society's rhetoric] that family and love are synonymous anymore. As if not to be bothered to fill in where my mom left off, when she passed, my family checked out of my life, and within a year or two exited the lives of our kids.
My father, like my sister, practice love more in the abstract. He never talks to my kids, never calls [even me], never asks to talk to them when I call him, rarely even asks about them. He manages to get them birthday presents on time because I email him and call him multiple times the month before their special days. (Near death, my mother insisted my father take her to Toys R Us and bought each of our kids their next birthday gift and made him swear to mail them on time, hoping to establish a tradition (an action) for his grandkids he'd carry on after she was gone.)
The rare occasions I call my dad, he always professes how much he loves my kids, how important they are to him. He reminds me to tell them that grandpa loves them, and misses them. But I don't. I tell them, “Popi says hi.” I don't want our children to ever get the impression it's acceptable to say you love someone when you take virtually no action to show it.
Love, like potential, is meaningless unless put into action.