What you can expect from siblings – especially when the crisis of a parent’s death approaches?

The writer, who must remain anonymous, wonders what you can expect from siblings – especially when the crisis of a parent’s death approaches.

Funny (or sad), isn’t it, how little is written and said about what happens between siblings as we get older? Here’s a cautionary tale, built on my own experience. It carries a warning. Pay good attention, the best you can, to siblings when a parent approaches death. Listen to each other. Don’t make assumptions. Keep doors open, not slammed shut.

I was 56 when my mother, who I’ll call Eve, had a stroke. She was 88. The thing about Eve was that she was never going to die! A very attractive woman, she’d been robustly healthy all her life, was dismissive of others who were ill, had survived four husbands, many lovers and was still on the look-out! She’d even enrolled at art school well past the age of 80. She had indomitable willpower, was worshipped by other women of her own vintage or younger and was a whirlwind of hungry energy, wanting more experiences than time allowed.

The stroke was a warning to her but also to her five children (age ranging from 63 down to 47). She had always played us off against each other – comparing one favourably or unfavourably with another, dividing and ruling us. We all knew this. We even talked about it, separately, but never together. Now, the endgame was upon us.

When she had her stroke, we reacted differently. Youngest Daughter, apparently, couldn’t bear to see her mother laid low and kept away. Oldest Daughter wasn’t sure how much power she should wield. The three men in the middle knew there must be changes – but how to make them?

Eve became very disinhibited. She had to be brought back from a holiday abroad by sons Number Two and Three because she had been taking her clothes off, dancing naked and doing other hitherto repressed things. Exhilarating for her, but alarming to others.

Sons and Oldest Daughter managed Eve’s admission to hospital. She had to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. She was wildly angry about what she thought a betrayal by her eldest children.

She appealed to the youngest – the one who had not been able to face the sight of her mum in such a psychotic state. And what happened next? You’ve guessed. The youngest charged to the “rescue”, took control of mum, declared that the rest of us were behaving terribly. Then came an avoidable chain of recriminations (including a court case) ending a year later in our mother’s death. Youngest Daughter did not come to the funeral. Two of us, hurt by her accusations, have not spoken with her since. An ongoing silence of nine years and it’s difficult to know how to break it.

This is just one version of what can go wrong for men beyond 50 when already damaged relationships with siblings are worsened by the decline and death of a parent. If only we had seen the shift in power better, managed it better. If only we had had some help from a neutral outsider. It has made me think hard about what older men can expect from a brother or sister. I’d be glad to read others’ experiences.

Son One

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