When I scheduled my colon surgery I reached out to my sister and asked her if she would come here to help me when I was released from hospital. After my last surgery I needed help simply getting out of bed and up from the couch for the first few days, and I expected to need similar help this time. Additionally, I knew I’d be limited in my ability to lift anything more than 10 lbs, so having someone on hand to help with anything involving lifting would be important.
My relationship with my sister has been a rocky one for most of our lives, but in the past few years it has improved. It used to be that she would lash out at me the majority of time; lately that has happened infrequently, and she’s been apologetic for her cruel behavior when it does happen. Getting emotionally eviscerated is never good, but this is truly progress considering where we started.
Sister seemed flattered that I asked for her help, and excited that she was going to take care of her “little sister.” Of course, she was also glad to be visiting Napa, too. After all, she and her husband own a house here that they purchased because they plan to move to Napa eventually.
In fact, their house in Napa became a focal point of her trip here in the weeks leading up to my surgery. Certainly she still crooned about taking care of me, but she also decided that she wanted to try furnishing the house while she was here so it could be marketed as a short-term rental and make it easier for them to take possession when they are ready to move. And this was probably the source of the stress that caused trouble for me.
Sister flew in the day after my surgery and took care of my house and dog until I was ready to be released. She also picked me up from the hospital on my release date and helped me with the chores I couldn’t do, such as wheeling the waste bins to the curb, and carrying groceries and laundry. However, she was clearly mostly focused on furnishing her house and preparing an online listing.
I accompanied her on most of the trips to the consignment and thrift stores since I was feeling well-rested and had only small amount of well-controlled pain. Sitting in my car as a passenger or sitting in a chair while she shopped allowed me to take it easy and take a look at what the shops had to offer, too. But as sister started feeling her time for prepping her house running out, she started acting more resentful and angry towards me when I asked for help.
One morning in particular stands out for me. It was waste pick up day, and I had asked her to roll out the big bins the night before. We were up early and the bins hadn’t yet been picked up when she discovered she had overlooked rolling one of them to the curb. Sister ran out to put the bin in position, then came back inside to get her breakfast ready. Just as she was sitting down to eat I found a bag of trash she had forgotten to put in the bins, so I asked if she could quickly bring it outside. She exploded at me.
Did I expect her to wait on me hand and foot? Why couldn’t I take the bag outside myself, since it seemed lightweight and under my 10 lb limit? Why was I being such a baby? I started crying and reminded her that my gut had been cut open just the week before. She was not deterred and downplayed my surgery; after all, I had small incisions, it couldn’t have been that bad and I was clearly exaggerating. I continued to cry and pointed out to her that there were other reasons I needed help besides my lifting limitations, including having pain and fatigue. And then I walked away and tried to remind myself that she would be gone in a few days.
What was truly hurting me wasn’t just this exchange, though. Over the course of the week sister had made the observation that her husband and I had similar thinking and communication patterns. I could observe her interacting with him in a patient and loving way, yet she didn’t do that with me. While I was crying that morning I asked her why this was the case. Why was she able to be so patient and kind to her husband yet so hurtful to me?
It took a few minutes for her to think and to apologize to me. But the damage had been done. I knew that her main focus had become readying her house and not helping me, and that I had better limit the number of times I asked her for assistance.
The outburst did help us build a bridge in one way, at least. Sister had mentioned that I had said a few things in the past few days that had hurt her feelings. At first she said she didn’t want to tell me what those statements were despite my request that she do so that I may gain better awareness. Eventually she did tell me, and it was helpful to have a better understanding of her tender points.
My family is so hard to deal with. I still have hope that at some point I’ll be able to enjoy time with sister without getting a picked on. I hope that day isn’t very far off.