Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It's complicated!

Many of you who read this blog know I have a sister - not many of you know that I have two of them. I am one of three girls and three boys. The girls came first - I am the youngest, Julia is four years older than I and my eldest sister Sandra is to years older than her. I have seen Sandra once since I left the UK in 1983 - Twenty years ago we met on the car park of Woburn Abbey and spent the afternoon together. Three sisters having tea and cake in the cafe there chatting away - looking like all was well with the world. How deceiving appearances can be! I last spoke to her to her fifteen years ago - on the telephone and I was looking forward to meeting up with her and the family in the UK a couple of weeks later - but it was not to be.
Are you wondering why? Did we have some terrible argument? Was a terrible secret unearthed? The truth is actually harder to believe than fiction.
My sister Sandra married for the second time a few days before we left South Africa. She had been living 'down south' for several years with her first husband and two girls but then he met someone else and they divorced. Julia and I heard that she was getting married and surprised her at the registry office and brought the girls back north with where they joined us a couple of days later for our 'last supper' - a family meal together before life for us in SA. He seemed a nice enough guy and all seemed well but after a few months of marriage it seemed all was not!
Her second husband was a control freak and created a wall between her and her family. Even her own daughter was placed on the other side of that wall - while the second daughter who has the same nature as her mother timid, compliant and vulnerable, was favoured and allowed to stay with her mother. Sandra's life was turned upside down. I was here in South Africa, our parents no longer there to advise or protest and my other sister Julia did everything she could to keep in touch and called in secret when 'he' was out. Even I was given an address to write to where the person could be trusted to pass on letters and cards from us. Occasionally Sandra and her eldest daughter were able to manage a secret tryst. It all sounds unbelievable that a grown woman would allow someone to come between her and her own child and actually conform to his rules, however after living in Africa, I have learned that is exactly how predatory animals operate. Separate the vulnerable from their loved ones who will defend and protect them...and then move in for the kill. Her new husband was not physically violent but from what I have heard he was verbally and emotionally abusive and a workaholic - he also expected Sandra and her daughter to work every hour God sent. Fifteen years ago, she arrived on my sisters doorstep in a taxi with a box of cash on her lap, the clothes she stood up, smelling of dogs (they had several as they lived on a farm) and looking a decade older than she was. She could stand no more and had left him. My wonderful sister Julia, nurtured and nursed her, arranged legal and medical advice for her, took her shopping, sheltered her and gathered the family together. We were all thrilled and wanted to do all we could to support her in her decision. Sandra spent some time with her exiled daughter - difficult time - its hard to turn back the clock and make right what has been done wrong - for whatever reason. We had scheduled a visit to the UK to celebrate our silver wedding and it was agreed that she would return with us and have a holiday here. Tickets were bought, plans were made, exciting times ahead. It was not to be. A week before we arrived she announced that 'he' had come for her. Inexplicably she went back to him. We were devastated, angry, confused and bewildered. I wrote her a very cross letter. I had lost a child - how could she chose to lose one of hers and her entire family? We heard that she was living by the coast in Suffolk - that she was caring for 'his' mother. We left it there having tried our best.
Last month we heard that her husband had died. Its hard not to celebrate - like these middle eastern countries do when their evil leader is toppled! Its really hard not to think of all the lost years that this has cost her. Already she and her estranged daughter have had an afternoon together although Sandra has yet to meet her two beautiful grandchildren. Julia has again been in contact and she there a plans, when the dust has settled, for a visit and a holiday together. I am not sure what my role is -  there are no norms or etiquette for situations like this. I didn't offer my condolences or send flowers when I heard and I haven't picked the phone up...yet. Its complicated!

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