My Epic Sister Saga

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

December 23rd, 2015 • Random RamblesPrint Print

Last night, when I called my mom and said, “It’s your daughter calling,” she asked, “Which daughter?” Innocuous-sounding enough on the face of it. However, given that I easily speak with my mom as often as five times a day, and given the ways my sister entirely abandoned my mother, and by extension me, over the years, the question triggered a cascade of awfulness that woke me up from my much-needed slumber in the wee hours of the morning. After three hours of struggling to sleep, I got out of bed and decided to start writing snippets of this epic saga.

As with any epic saga in my life, I’m never sure where to begin. Russian doll fashion, each story requires another story to explain the significance of the first story, in a never-ending sequence. And that kind of paralyzes me. So I guess, to overcome this impasse, I’ll just dive in, wherever, and allow the story to unfold in whatever haphazard fashion it does.

I must say that I am conflicted in sharing this story, as it does not paint my sister in a positive light. In addition, I am conflicted about sharing certain details about her life, when those details are inextricably intertwined with details of my life. In other words, we are connected. We are sisters, no matter how broken the relationship may be, and no matter how distant we have become as a result. And that means that our lives intersect in many places. Her story is my story is her story, in a never-ending back and forth loop. Where do ethics dictate withholding information, out of respect to my sister? Where do ethics dictate sharing openly, out of respect to me – specifically, to my healing process? I do not know. So I will bumble through this as best I can and ask for forgiveness if I make a mistake.

When I was a child, my sister was my hero. I would sit in her lap and watch television with her; we would play together; and she would dress up as the Shabbath Queen on Friday evening – disappearing into her room, which seemed like a magical wonderland to me, then coming out in her Purim costume, which I took to be the regal dress of the Shabbath Queen, and playing Shabbath activities with me. My sister doted on me and looked out for me. She threw elaborate birthday parties for me, when my parents forbade them; she nursed my scalded arm when, at the age of six, I spilled a pot of boiling oil on it; and when my teeth were a complete mess when I was ten, she yelled and screamed at my parents unrelentingly, until they agreed to get me braces. My sister was, for all intents and purposes, my second mom, often more of a mother to me than our actual mother.

My sister also tormented me.

When I was three years old, we were on a see-saw in the park. To this day, I distinctly remember the elation I felt as we went up and down. Not only was I delighted by the sensation of the see-saw, but I just absolutely adored my sister, and I was so incredibly happy to be on a see-saw with her. I also distinctly remember when my sister was down, and I was up, and she made a false motion of starting to go up, then jerked down onto the ground. I remember the smirk on her face. I remember my elation turning into utter confusion, as I flew off the see-saw and through the air, landing on my face in the dirt. I remember my mother running up to me, hysterical. I remember hurting. I remember crying. I remember my blood in the sand. I remember people in the park rushing to help, and searching everywhere for my two front teeth, which had gone missing. I remember the conclusion that my teeth must have gotten shoved back up inside my head. I remember feeling betrayed by my sister, and not understanding – either the concept of betrayal or the notion of my sister hurting me.

My two front teeth eventually grew in, with ample space and a gap in between – ironically leading to the pileup of teeth that my sister advocated fixing years later. I didn’t actually think about that irony until I was writing this story right now.

Then there was the time when I was five years old, and my mom, sister, and I were at a department store. I was standing near a cactus bush, and my sister shoved me into it. I remember the absolute agony and, again, my sister’s smirk. I was screaming, wailing hysterically. My mother, embarrassed by the commotion, roughly grabbed me, which made me hurt even more, and started yelling at me. That was actually the typical way she responded to my pain – she would scream at me, making everything exponentially worse. So there I was, with cactus needles stuck in me, throughout my body, with my sister pleased by my suffering, and with my mother wanting me to just shut the fuck up.

Many years later, when I was a young adult, I believe somewhere around 21 or 22 years old, my sister and I were at an airport together. I think it was in Los Angeles. She got some kind of splinter in her finger and was complaining to me about it. I told her it was payback for shoving me into a cactus bush when I was five. My sister was taken aback and clearly experienced the interaction as one of me being utterly callous. She amplified her complaints about how the splinter was hurting her. I knew she was trying to get me to pay attention and give her TLC. I was unapologetic about my remark, and I did not offer her any sympathy.

We need to go through things to get to where we are today. I needed to go through that experience, in the way I went through it, to release the unresolved hurt, anger, and resentment from the cactus incident. Having gone through that experience at the airport, and another experience which was yet to come, I released my sister’s lifelong hold over me.

I am, by nature and by all the work I have done on myself, a compassionate person who is able to hold complexities. I can simultaneously feel and express compassion for someone while also being angry at them for a way they hurt me. In that moment, at that airport, however, it was impossible for me to do both, and I took care of me. I do not regret that choice, as it freed me.

That said, I do recognize the bewilderment and emotional pain my sister felt at that time. To this day, my sister remains conveniently oblivious to the power she had over me when I was a child; to the ways she hurt me during my childhood; and to the extra impact her actions had, given that she was six years older than I, as well as a mother figure to me. In addition, she has flat-out denied doing anything hurtful to me, ever. In this case, she claimed that she did not shove me into the cactus bush, but that I fell into it. I think she even made up something about how she had tried to help me in response. That last piece is fuzzy. Regardless, it was clear she felt profoundly wounded that I could possibly think she would do something so awful to me.

Which is really twisty shit. And in this way, my sister is exactly like my father. The only thing worse than someone inflicting violence on you is that person denying s/he inflicted the violence. The only thing worse than that is the person blaming you for the violence, or turning the tables and claiming you are the perpetrator of violence, simply because you are sharing the hurt you experienced through that person’s violence. Because my sister is toxic in this way and other ways, I have ultimately had to cut her out of my life, as I have had to cut my father out of my life. But not before many, many years of actively pursuing healing and reconciliation.

If my sister were able to acknowledge the ways she hurt me, and to recognize the impact those behaviors had on me, perhaps she could feel compassion for how I behaved that day at the airport, 25 years ago. But in the many attempts at healing and reconciliation, which I made over the course of a decade, it was clear that my sister sees herself as the consummate victim, inculpable of any hurtful actions, and that she sees me as an abuser. Period.

Among my many healing and reconciliation invitations to my sister, I wrote a heart-felt letter sharing my perspective that we grew up in a fucked up family; that we each were adversely impacted by the various traumas of that family; that we each behaved in ways that were hurtful to the other; that we each have set off on our healing journeys since our childhoods; and that it is my hope that we can offer each other compassion and understanding and develop a new and healthy relationship in our adult years. Her response was basically that I am an abuser and that she will not have a relationship with me unless and until I acknowledge and apologize for all the terrible things I have done to her.

It feels as if she wants to sit me in a chair against the wall, and point a finger at me, the way my father used to do, shaming and humiliating me. My perception is that she wants to be right; she wants me to be wrong; and she wants me to “fess up” to being a horrible person.

The problem is that for each of the issues she has with me (all of which she has always assumed I have been unaware of, but which I have been poignantly aware of since the incidents that sparked those issues), I had a different experience. Like when I intervened in my cousin’s violence toward his daughter – throwing my body between them, and calling the police on my cousin – my sister saw it as an affront against her personally, saying, “You always come in with your combat boots and fuck everything up.” My sister was mad at me because, in response to my interrupting violence in our extended family, said family circled the wagons and not only cut me out entirely, for seven years, but also punished my sister, for simply being directly related to me.

So in effect, my sister is mad at me for having been “big and loud,” as it were, and she wants me to apologize for mucking everything up in the family. As if my interrupting my cousin’s violence makes me a violent person, specifically toward my sister. I question that she points a finger at me and blames me for the situation, instead of holding my family accountable for violence and lauding me for intervening quickly and powerfully.

Same situation, radically different perceptions.

My sister is also angry at me, and sees it as a terrible personal affront to her, that I did not consult with her and get her agreement, before authorizing surgeons to perform brain surgery on my mother. This one takes the cake.

At 9 pm on November 16, 2008, I received a call from a hospital in San Francisco. My mother had a life-threatening accident. Her brain was hemorrhaging severely, and she was barely conscious. All the flights had left Los Angeles for the day, and the first flight out was at 5:00 am. So the first thing I did was find a friend who would rush to the hospital in San Francisco, to be by my mother’s side. I wanted my mother to see a familiar face and get the personal message that I was on my way.

It’s interesting who shows up in times of duress. In this case, it wasn’t one of best friends at that time, who was busy bemoaning some fight with his girlfriend and could not be bothered to rush to the hospital, and it was not my mother’s best friend, who was on her way to bed with a headache and could not be bothered to rush to the hospital, but it was my childhood best friend, Veronika. She was basically out the door while still on the phone with me, and she was by my mother’s side within half an hour. Ultimately, I think that was best, as my mother was fading in and out, and Veronika was like my mom’s own daughter, given how much time we spent together growing up.

Once that was taken care of, and in between frequent calls to my mom, I looked up my sister’s information and contacted her at every place I could find contact information for her. I then busied myself preparing for the trip. I don’t know how I knew to do this, but I started pulling things that my mother would relate to. I wanted to fill her hospital room with her soul. I packed her art work; I packed a silk purple scarf with gold tassels, which I knew she would love; I packed photos of her and people she loves; and I otherwise prepared myself for the journey. Needless to say, I could not sleep a wink that night. I did not know if my mother would be alive in the morning, and I kept calling her, encouraging her to hang on.

When I landed in San Francisco, I rushed through the terminal, grabbed a taxi, and instructed him to drive as fast and furiously as possible – my mother’s life was in the balance. On the way, I received a call from the doctors, telling me that they needed to do brain surgery on my mother immediately. I asked them what would happen if they did and if they did not do surgery. In graphic detail, they described cutting open my mother’s skull. Tears were streaming down my face. I could hardly stomach it, I was just a mess from listening. I don’t remember what odds they said she had of surviving the surgery. Next I asked what would happen if they didn’t do the surgery. The doctor said that if they did not operate on her within about an hour, she would certainly die.

I channeled my mother, meditating on what she would want in this situation. I remembered her saying that she was opposed to surgery unless it was a life and death situation. Obviously, this was. “Do it,” I said. They were planning on moving ahead in less than an hour. I didn’t know if I would make it to the hospital in time or see my mother ever again.

When the taxi arrived at the hospital, I paid the cab driver, asked him to pray for my mother, and bolted. I ran, ran, ran down the halls, up the elevator, down the upstairs halls and through the doors of the Intensive Care Unit. When I saw my mother, I tried to stay strong but convulsed in sobs. There was blood everywhere. She had a fractured head, broken ribs, punctured lungs, and broken hip. She was delirious, barely conscious, and viciously angry. “Take it off! Take it off! Take it off!” she yelled. I called for the nurses. My mother’s arms were strapped to the sides of the bed, because she kept pulling out the tubes, and doing so endangered her life. I tried explaining this to my mother, in a soft and loving voice. “Shut up!” she spat venomously. “Shut up! Take it off!”

It was utterly agonizing to watch my mother suffer so horribly. But I got my shit together and calmed down, then started channeling into my mother all the energy healing I had cultivated through my own journey self-healing from chronic pain. I channeled. I went into a trance. I saw the energy of my grandfather – my mother’s father – hovering over my mother’s head, protecting her. I told my mother that her father was there, over hear head, watching over her and protecting her. I otherwise operated as the healthy and positive soundtrack for her brain. I gently held her and put healing hands on her, moving around and over her body; I sang to her; I guided her on how all the parts of her body were healing – her nerves, her blood, her muscles, her organs, her brain, her head. I prayed. I took her through a guided meditation of healing. I believed whole-heartedly that she could hear and understand me, and that her body was following my guidance, even though at that point, she was pretty much unconscious.

The doctors and nurses were amazing, hovering around me as I did what might have seemed like voo-doo shit. They just let me be and do my thing. I channeled angels. I told my mother that angels were there, and that they would protect her. I followed my mother all the way down to the entrance of the operating room – talking, singing, and chanting nonstop. When we got to that entrance, and the nurse told me I could not go any further, I did another blessing of angels, then I said to my mother, “OK Mommy, this is it. I can’t go into the operating room. It’s all you now. But I’ll be here, upstairs, and with you in spirit. I’ll be praying for you and sending you healing angels. Are you ready?”

Unbelievably, she nodded her head yes. While unconscious. It was one of the most extraordinary moments of my life.

After they wheeled my mother away, I noticed a man waiting to go into the operating room, by himself. My heart went out to him for being alone at such a time. I was deeply “tuned in” to Universal healing energies at that time. I asked this man if he would like me to bless him with angels. He said, “please,” in a way that made it clear to me how important that gesture felt to him. And so I did.

This is the first time I have been able to write this story. It was so traumatic, so overwhelming, despite also being glorious, that I could not handle the overwhelming energy until now. I have burst out crying while writing this, as the memories flooded me.

There are so many things I have to share about my sister during this saga. All I will say for now, for this installment, is that she condemned me, she saw it as a personal affront against her, that I did not wait to get her agreement before authorizing the surgery. Wait? Wait? Our mother would be dead if I had waited.

Not only did my sister not show up for any part of my mother’s months-long ordeal in the Intensive Care Unit, hospital, nursing home, or move to a senior living center; not only did my sister not contribute one penny to any of the tens of thousands of dollars of expenses that I whole-heartedly took on – I would do anything to help my mother – but my sister actively antagonized me, bitching about how she didn’t have “a mechanism of protest” because she was not there. Pitch a fucking protest tent outside the hospital, I thought at the time. JUST FUCKING SHOW UP. But she didn’t. At all, ever, in any way, except to find a bankruptcy lawyer for my mother, many months later. I thanked her for that. She has yet to thank me for anything.

When I was on the verge of homelessness and newly-diagnosed with cancer, late in 2010, I asked my sister to just please pay for my mother’s alarm monitoring that month, to the tune of $50. My sister didn’t even write back.

So that’s one small piece of this epic saga, and all I have energy to write today. Inshalla, I will have the energy and discipline to continue writing in installments, until this whole story is out, and I am released from it entirely.

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