Embracing change: Gain vs. Loss

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There are so many hard lessons we have to learn in life. Our family, friends and even our enemies usually teach us. Sometimes we can find answers in books, on television, or in school.

Our personal encyclopedias of knowledge are the sum of our experiences, and it’s important to remember that not everyone has the same material available to them.

I read a lot as a young person, before life got so jam packed with responsibility that I spent less time with my books. I learned so much from the stories in those pages, and one lesson stands out.

It was a story of a young girl who had an older sister. They had always been so, so very close. No matter what life threw at them, they weathered the storm together.

Because of the vast age difference between them, the older sister moved out and married when the younger sister was still at an impressionable but somewhat selfish age. The older sister moved far away, and so the younger sister wasn’t around to witness her new life on a daily basis.

Instead, she had a picture in her head of what life had always been like. Subconsciously, she didn’t really acknowledge the changes.

One summer, the little sister went to stay with her older sibling, her husband and their new baby. She went with her old expectations.

It was disconcerting to have to share her sister – whom she had always considered her other half – with other people. It was even more disturbing to realize that instead of being the sun in her sister’s universe, she was now just a planet. An important planet, but still.

Her sister didn’t always have time for late night chats. She couldn’t just drop everything and take her to lunch, or to the mall. And worst of all, her sister would retreat behind closed doors with that man, that outsider, and share secrets that she was no longer privy to.

She became very unhappy that summer. She couldn’t understand why her sister had replaced her. In her mind, with its expectations written in chapters of the past, her sister had betrayed her.

And then she had a disagreement with her sister’s husband. It was silly, really, but blew up when she complained to her sister about the husband, and her sister, instead of immediately taking her side, chided her about learning to get along with others.

Furious, the little sister called her parents and told them she was flying home early. She had been betrayed. Her sister never had time for her, she had pushed her aside in favor of new people. What about family?!

The morning of her flight, her brother in law had to drive her to the airport.

She sat fuming in the passenger seat.

He tried to explain, to help her write another chapter in her book of knowledge.

I will always remember his speech, if not word for word, at least in summary.

“You were always number one,” he said. “But then your sister found a love of a different type, a type you don’t yet understand. And then she had a child, and another new love.”

The little sister rolled her eyes. All this talk about love. She understood love. Who was this guy? He was just a guy. He didn’t understand sisters.

“The thing is,” he continued, “You’re not number one anymore. You’re not number two either. But if you could learn to settle for number three, or later on, number four, you’d see that it’s not so bad.”

“It doesn’t mean your sister doesn’t love you. It just means that life has changed, and with it, so have priorities. You can still be a part of your sister’s life. An important part. But not number one.”

This was an earth-shattering revelation for the sister. Not number one.

“And you’ll most likely find that you’re gaining more than you’re losing. Yes, you won’t always win disagreements. Yes, your phone call might not be the first she returns. But you get a brother. And you get a niece, and maybe on down the line more children who will love you and call you their favorite aunt.”

He parked the car and looked at her. She stared back, tears forming, still unyielding in her posture but her heart beginning to understand.

I think of that story often as our family grows. As my favorite aunt married later in life. As my uncle remarried and gained a step child.

And now as my sister prepares to share her life with someone.

I haven’t always agreed with, or honestly, in the beginning, even liked my new uncle, my new aunt, my new cousin or my future brother in law.

But I was happy for my family members when they found their partners, understood when my place in things changed, and because of that have gained so much.

I have an uncle who is remarkably gifted in research, wholly generous and incredibly funny.

I have an aunt who is so strong she can handle anything that gets thrown at her.

I have a cousin who, although I rarely see him, is still one of my favorite people to run into and is brilliant and funny and has a rebel soul that is kindred to my own.

And one day, I will hopefully have a brother in law – no, a brother. A brother that I have always wanted. One who keeps my sister in line, wink wink, and helps my family do life.

That last change, that newest change, will be hard for me. My sister has three boys, nephews that I have helped to raise and have loved fiercely since the moment I saw them. And now they have a daddy, and instead of just calling up my sister and saying, “Hey, I’m coming to get the boys,” which has always been cool with her, I have to remember to ask if it’s cool with him too.

I have to learn that his ideas on child rearing and family and the general way things should be done is going to be different than mine, that it will most likely affect my sister’s way of thinking as well. And that it’s ok. That’s how things work.

I will know my place. I will accept it. And I will be glad for all I have gained instead of mourning something lost.

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30 thoughts on “Embracing change: Gain vs. Loss

  1. You’re such an amazing storyteller.

    I’ve never had a sister, but my sisters-in-law have come to be almost that close. I can talk to them for hours. You’re so lucky to have a sister like that, and nephews, and to be able to witness your sister and her future hubby start their lives together.

    1. I can now speak from experience and say that your sisters-in-law are fantastic! I can see why it’s easy to talk to them for hours. And the food?! Oh. My. Gosh.

  2. This is a very sweet blog. And it is hard growing up and moving on. And its especially hard realizing you are no longer number one. But when you realize why you’re not number one anymore its so awesome. You are an awesome sister and I’m ok with not being number one because I now have an incredibly funny, dependable, sometimes dorky brother in law. And I also have the most fantastic little red headed blue eyed monkey nephew (who looks like me I love it). I hope my future sister in law will feel the same way about me that I feel about your husband. Thanks for writing this post.

    1. I am thrilled beyond measure at the place we are in our relationship. I feel like it could not have happened without my forced realization that it’s perfectly ok to accept the decisions people make for themselves and their own families and not feel compelled to always have an opinion about it. 😉

      Your BIL and nephew love you bunches, even if you’re always digging in their butt wounds or sucking snot out of their noses.

      I hope your SIL loves you like you love P as well. She is a sweet person at heart, and I hope that we can get to know each other soon.

  3. Wow, Jules this was really good and a really important message. It applies to changes throughout life–embrace the new because you never know what treasures might be waiting you.

  4. What an insightful take on this. My husband and my boys are the most important people in my life. They replaced some others for those top spots- but I definitely still love those other family members and friends- they are high up there for me, but can’t be number one.

  5. You really tell a story well! (What was that about being rusty???)
    I come from a very broken family, have a sister that I never got along with and parents that have always blamed their children for any marital problems. Even though I have never known what it’s like to be in a supportive family or to even get along with your family members (from my birth family), I have always been happy for people that had that experience.
    I am glad that you have such a great relationship with your family, a very lovely story!

    1. Thank you for the sweet compliments!

      And Kerstin, I can tell you it has not always been this way. My family is hot headed and stubborn – all of us. But we love each other so fiercely that we just can’t stay mad at each other long.

      I think the rule among us is “I can call you a rat bastard, but if anyone else does I’ll kick their ass.”

      I hope you find yourself in supportive relationships nowadays!

    1. Thank you Paula. It’s hard to share someone close to you, even harder when you and the person you’re sharing with come from different backgrounds. But taking a chance and making the effort to reach out to that person can make all the difference!

    1. It can, but an attitude adjustment can make all the difference! I wrote this from a place of complete love and hope, and I’m betting it doesn’t offend the ones it was written for. They are bright, worldwise people, (with five boys, OMG) and I just wanted to BIL to see that no matter how different we might be, and how much we might disagree, having him around is more important that any ego I might have about my place in the family.

      Thank you also for coming by and all the comment love!

  6. You paint a beautiful picture with words, Julie! Love it & you! Thanks for the shout out for my son and me. We joined the family a little later in life, and have felt like outsiders at times, but we both know — we are all family!

    1. Thank you, Aunt Karen. I love you too! (And L, even thought I see him every, oh, three years or so!) You guys joined a crazy family, and if I had been older when it had happened, I would have done a better job in reaching out and making sure you felt a part of it in every way.

      I’m so glad you stuck around and I hope “the outsiders club” no longer feels that it is.

      BTW, I can’t wait til we’re living closer. I really miss you and five minute conversations in the driveway on trash pickup day are NOT enough. 🙂

      1. YIP! But the great thing about being closer will be the trips to the lake! We had a great Easter weekend up there, but more family means greater times! Sam needs to roll down the hill! He will love it!

  7. I liked this a lot. It’s very true. When I was 13 my very beloved brother got married. By chance, the person he picked knew exactly how to make me feel included. I love her like a sister and though my brother died many years ago and she has remarried, she is still an important person in my life. She expanded my circle of love.

  8. this is beautifully written. What a wonderful perspective and way of saying “I love you and you will always be important to me, but I love these other people too.”
    It’s hard sometimes for people to accept change.

    1. Thank you, Leighann. I’ve been playing a lot with perspective in my thoughts and writing lately, and I hope to spend much of the year continuing to explore it!

  9. Wow, this is a beautiful post! I had brothers, so I wasn’t as close to them as you are to your sisters, but there are other relationships that shift and change as time passes (friendships that grow closer or more distant) and I’ve had to adjust to that. As you say, change isn’t always bad – it’s just different, but it can bring good things with it too. 🙂

    1. I’ve learned that I really like change, once I’m past the initial shock of it. I’m enjoying the great adventure I’m on, for sure. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Oh go on, make me cry. My baby sister married a year ago and I had mixed feelings (though I’ve never admitted it to her). That she had someone else to talk to, confide in, share secrets with – but yes, you’re right, I haven’t lost her, I gained a brother. And she gained a life partner, and there is nothing but good in there.

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