I Hope That I Get To See My Sister Again: Elizabeth’s Story

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I Hope That I Get To See My Sister Again: Elizabeth’s Story

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Elizabeth” is a pseudonym.

Growing up in a fundamentalist family is a unique experience for everyone.

For my ten siblings and I, we were consumed by an “attitude of gratitude” that our parents instilled in us from an early age, and any lack of gratefulness was a rebellion that had to be beaten out. They also taught us that an illness was God teaching us something, and intervention was only acceptable under dire circumstances.

Due to this mentality, we were blind to the mental sickness that was creeping slowly into each and every one of us, accepting it as “normal” and “God’s will”.

Though we all suffer from varying degrees of mental sickness, one sibling experienced hardships that surpass anything the rest of us have faced. When my oldest sister was a little girl, our grandmother (we called her “Nana”) noticed that she was adopting a passive state and not acting normal for a girl her age. When Nana pointed this out to our parents, they just brushed it off and were offended that anything could be wrong with a child under such “attentive” care.

Another factor was that they didn’t (and still don’t) believe in health insurance, so any medical expense was out-of-pocket, and only mild care like dental health was taken care of due to the impoverished lifestyle our parents adopted for all of us. This selective blindness allowed our parents to see my sister as a girl in perfect health and focus on building character and obedience.

Years passed, and my sister became more and more withdrawn, putting on a face to keep our parents happy.

Her life was becoming a miserable mess, but she didn’t show it for fear of punishment and rejection. When she went off to Harvard (something that didn’t happen without a big fight), she was still marred by the view on healthcare we were raised with, and didn’t see a professional to start working through her issues, mostly because she didn’t see them herself. A life of neglect was all she had ever known.

Upon graduation from college, she moved to Germany for business and to be with her husband. She would visit home once or twice a year, trying to maintain a relationship with the rest of us at home even though her relationship with our parents was crumbling. She was able to keep this up for 12 years, but spring of 2007 was the last straw. As everything she had tried to smother surfaced, she was overcome by the depressive state our parents modeled as “normal”.

She stopped coming home.

We kept up by email over the next two years, but she stopped that also because I, in my naivety, had become the synapse between her and our parents. I was hurt then, but looking back, I see that it was the best choice given the situation.

In early 2009, my family came home from vacation to hear a phone message from her (my sister’s) sister-in-law. My sister’s husband had committed suicide. When our parents successfully contacted my sister to express their deepest sorrow, she was very upset that they knew, and replied via an official stamped letter from her lawyer stating that she was changing her legal name so we couldn’t find her. My understanding is that some siblings were in contact with her after that, but those communications were eventually cut off as well, and none of us have seen her in over 6 years, or heard from her in over 4 years.

My family was seen as the pinnacle of perfection by most, and what happened behind closed doors was viewed by select individuals who couldn’t do anything to help.

As I begin to realize how neglected my siblings and I were, it frustrates me even more that our parents think it isn’t their fault. Observing the individuals my siblings and I are becoming, they are blind to the reflection our instability has on them, thinking it’s our fault for leaving the community they created. As some of us seeked out therapy and realized that communicating with our parents regularly was hindering our ability to heal, they compared us to my oldest sister, assuming that the months will turn into years for the rest of us as well.

I hope that I get to see my sister again someday, but I am now starting to understand why she cut off contact.

I can’t hate her for that.

5 comments

  • I too have cut off all contact with my family, as your sister has done. My siblings do not and likely never will understand why, nor do my parents. I am glad that you and your siblings have been able to accept her decision, and I hope you are able to reconcile with her at some point. I understand she has taken legal action to sever ties (I’ve done that, too) so it may be very difficult to locate her, but if she knew that you share her perspective now it could be very validating for her even though it may not lead to renewed contact.

    I wish you the best. This is so difficult for those of us who have “left the fold.”

    • I too relate to what y’all are saying about being generally shunned by family or practically severing most ties. I’ve been constantly astounded with how loving and accepting just about anyone but my parents can be.

  • I have a hard time believing that your sister went to Harvard when your parents were so adamantly backward. The process to get in is grueling and it seems hardly possible that she was even able to figure out how to do it, let alone go through the interview process etc without your parents help or even their knowing about it. It kind of makes it hard to believe you. Would you please elaborate on how that was possible? Honestly, you maybe should just edit your post and put that in there because it hurts your credibility if the reader is educated, and that would be the worst thing possible because these stories are important and need to be told. Wishing you well.

    • Rachel, assuming that the author wrote her article in chronological order, her sister would have graduated from college in 1995: “Upon graduation from college…she was able to keep this up for 12 years, but spring of 2007 was the last straw.” At that time, it was still considered a novelty to be home-schooled (look up the statistics and number of home-schooled students), so the Ivies accepted a much higher percentage since doing so would add to their diversity. In essence, it actually wasn’t that hard, comparatively, to gain acceptance.

  • I’m so sorry. I can understand why your sister cut off ties. But I hope that you will be able to talk to her again some day.

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