Am I an Only Child?

Today I read an essay by David Sedaris titled Now We Are Five. He writes about the death of one of his sisters and his family’s subsequent vacation at the shore. He spends a little time reflecting on how the death of his sister changed his identity within his family. I get it. How do you answer questions about the size of your family after one of them dies? But I quickly brushed that acknowledgment aside and decided it could not be that hard to go from, “I’m one of six kids” to “I’m one of five kids.” You’re still part of a group. Try going from having a sibling to being an only child. Of course I owe David Sedaris an apology because loss is loss and there is no ranking it. I’ve frequently considered how I would answer the question, “do you have any brothers or sisters?” even though I have not yet been asked. Will I just say no? Will I explain that I had one brother but he died? Do I then have to say when he died or explain how? I guess how I respond to the question will depend on who’s asking and how they ask. Just yesterday I was talking to a coworker who didn’t know about Tom. When he looked confused by a reference I made, I leaned forward and whispered, “Oh, my brother died in April,” as if I was telling him he had spinach in his teeth. I was irritated with myself for the rest of the day that I had not given the end of my brother’s life appropriate reverence. In the end, how I feel is more important to me than how I’m perceived. So how do I feel? I feel like a sister without a sibling. Epilogue: On January 9, 2014, someone finally asked me if I had any siblings. I froze. After a long pause, during which I assume the other person wondered if I heard the question, I said, “I used to.” Of all the answers, this was likely the worst. Then I stammered as I tried to explain, “I had a brother but he passed away. I suppose he’s still my brother. Yes, I have one brother.” I felt sorry for the person asking and he felt sorry for me.

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