Friday, May 17, 2013

Lessons My Sister Taught Me

Well, the update on my sister isn't the news we wanted to hear. The cancer is in her lungs, lymph nodes, and liver. She has an appointment with an oncologist to discuss available treatments and options and such, but I will say this about her .... She's utterly positive. When she called me with the news, she was practically giddy on the phone, "Hi sweetie, how are you?"

How am I? Seriously?

Then she gave me the news and, while she remained giddy and positive and fully understanding of what the diagnosis meant, I struggled to keep from crying. And then I began to remember things about her that I'd forgotten, or stored in some old memory box in my brain where it sat covered with dust until this morning. The box would be called 'Lessons My Sister Taught Me'. This is one of them .....

My sister joined the Air Force many moons ago and began moving everywhere. Spain and Germany; Delaware. I think New Mexico was in there, too. But soon enough she came back to California where the family lived and we got to see one another more often.

Still, she was a mountain girl, living in a small town in the foothills outside Sacramento, while I lived smack dab in the middle of our Capitol City. We were quite different; she enjoyed gardening, I enjoyed nice dinners with good wine; she was garage sale, I was Macy's. She was married, I was gay.


But this story isn't about that. This story is about the day she taught me how to say I love you. See, I was good at writing those words on a card, or signing them at the bottom of a letter, but I wasn't too keen on saying them out loud for whatever reason. But, one day, many years ago, she called just to chat--my sister loves to chat on the phone and I loathe it ... yet another difference between us--and we talked about all kinds of things, from what we were doing to what the world was doing. At the end of the chat, as we were saying our goodbyes, she said, All right then, I love you.

I said, Thanks.

Thanks; that was my response to my sister saying I love you. I mean, I guess I meant Thank you for loving me but that isn't really the correct response, is it?

So, as I tend to do, I sat there after that phone calll and wondered why it was so hard for me to say those words, and I realized that I come, came, from a family that didn't really ever 'say' the words. We showed our love; we knew we were loved; I guess we all felt we just didn't have to 'say' it. 

I also thought about that, somewhere, subconsciously, that I didn't deserve to be loved because I was the 'different' one; the gay son. I mean, my parents knew I was gay, and they were fine with that, they loved me, but I always wondered if they ever hoped that I wasn't; what parent wants a gay kid? No matter how much you love them, as a parent, you realize their lives would be easier if they weren't gay. So, I felt loved, but at the same time, unworthy of being loved because I wasn't the 'son' that had been expected.

My sister, thankfully, thought differently. Just saying I love you easily and simply, without force, made me realize that I was worth it.  And I thank her for that. See, after that conversation, and after my introspection, I listened to what she was saying: we all knew we were loved but she wanted us to hear it. And that made a huge difference.

Now, I didn’t change overnight and turn into one of those people that say I love you at the drop of a hat; it took time. And, I think the first time I said it back to her I probably choked on the words a little bit, as though they were somehow foreign to me. But it got easier and more natural.

And, I think it helped push away some of the Old Bob who might have been fearful of love and being loved. I think, having my sister teach me that lesson made it all the easier for me to tell Carlos I loved him, and to hear him say it back to me, and to keep telling him and telling him and telling him.

It wasn't that my sister loved me, I always knew that, and know that, it's that she made me realize I was worth it, and I could say it, and hear it and mean it and be it. That's just one of the lessons my sister taught me.

My sister, my hero.

There's only us, there's only this
Forget regret, or life is your's to miss
No other path, no other way
No day but today

There's only us, only tonight
We must let go to know what's right
No other road, No other way
No day but today

I can't control my destiny
I trust my soul, my only goal
Is just to be

There's only now, there's only here
Give in to love or live in fear
No other path, No other way
No day but today

There's only us, There's only this
Forget regret, or life is your's to miss
No other road, no other way
No day but today

No day but today
No day but today
No day but today
No day but today


the dogs' mother said...

xoxooxoxox - hardly seems adequate. Hangeth in there. She sounds like a strong woman and she's got a good family.

Ms Sparrow said...

So sorry your sister is suffering the indignity of cancer. She's lucky to have a great brother like you on her team!

BloggerJoe said...

Bob, I know I told you last week that my big sister is fighting breast cancer right now. Now, I need to tell you that one of my best friends who lives in PA while I live in AZ is fighting the exact same cancer your sister is. I'm extraordinarily lucky to be living two houses away from my sister so I can be there to help her and her family. For Lee, all I can do is email and send psychic hugs. Your updates help show me other things I can do for him. Thank you.

robertga99 said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. I do believe however that the power of positive thinking is a mighty, mighty tool she can use to fight this horrible disease.

Sending both of you lots of positvie vibes, love and light

anne marie in philly said...


a positive attitude is good to have when one is fighting for one's life. as I went through my own experience, I discovered a laugh gets people wanting to be with you; a "woe is me" persona makes everyone push you away.

something that helped me at the time was gilda radner's book: "it's always something". she too kept her positive attitude throughout her ordeal, which was far worse than mine.

please pass this info to your sister to let her know she is not alone. we survivors are all pulling for her!

Kevin said...

i know there's very little i can say to ease the pain of the pain of illness...

just know that you have an incredible support network around you, and at the heart of that network is your sister --- someone who sounds wonderfully focused on healing.

one way or another, with the help of family and friends, we get through these kinds of days.

sending virtual hugs.

Anonymous said...


I was worried when earlier you mentioned it was in her lymph nodes, but I'm glad she still has a positive attitude. Hang in there, and I hope there are some treatments available that will help her beat this.

Anonymous said...

Bob, I am so sorry to hear about your sister's cancer. I hope she can kick it's butt!!!! Thank you for sharing your story about saying "I Love You!". Those were the last words I said to my father before he died. I can't think of anything else I would have rather said. -- Tim

Anonymous said...


This was very profound and very personal. Having the ability to receive love is a prerequisite for being able to give it out. It sounds like your sister taught you some very important things. Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

Miss Ginger Grant said...

I need to borrow your sister... I never had one... so she can teach me to say "I love you" at the right time... before it's too late.

When my oldest brother was dying of cancer, on "The Night I'll Never Forget", he said to me: "am I gonna die?" Through my tears, and trying to hide the quaver in my voice, I said: "I hope not, Bubba." And he said "I think it's time.... I love you." And for the first time in my life, without it feeling strained, or forced, or fake, I said "I love you too." And I meant it. I sure hope heard it. I'm so glad your sister heard you say it!

Mind Of Mine said...

As I started to read this, I was taken back with the cancer story. I even had my generic. I'm sorry you have to go through this comment ready to post and then move on.

But then I read the rest and I was blown away. Somethings are never simple.

Helen Lashbrook said...

My brother sadly died of a brain tumour two years ago, but I made sure I said that I loved him. It is so important to tell those you love that you do.

When my daughter died five years ago next month, after a car accident, it was a great solace to me to know that she loved me and that she knew that I love her; because we told each other so. And now I make sure that my nieces know that I love them too.

Spread the love. I do hope that your much loved sister beats this, strong in the love of family and friends. Knowing that you are there for her can only make her stronger.

Ken Riches said...

Very moving entry, thank you!

Ron said...


Saying "I love you" wasn't a phrase heard in our family either. In fact, I don't think I have ever heard those words said by any member of my immediate family. However, we have loved one another. I know those people who say "I love you" at the drop of the hat. That's fine for them but for me, when I say "I love you" it has to mean I really do LOVE that person. I've been practicing the past few years with Bill. Saying those words don't come easily to me but at least I am saying them now. Progress.

A very nice and thought provoking posting. I still can't believe you're not a paid columnist. You're way better than any of those syndicated columnists I've read from time to time.

I love your blog!

Retired in Delaware

Jeri said...

To Miss Ginger,
There is no right or wrong time to say I love you, as far as I know. Say what you feel sweetie. Like Bob said, in our family I kind of force everyone to say I love you. They don't have to say it back because I know they love me. But to me it's always been very important to say it. The chance may never arise again so I don't want to miss out. Bob do you remember when Mom was dying and had not said a word for days. We helped her to the commode and as we were putting her back to bed I told her "I love you Mom" and out of the blue she said "I love you too sweetie"? That is still a very precious memory to me, Mom's last words to me and they couldn't be dearer to my heart. I LOVE YOU!!