Oct 28, 2022, 05:55AM

My Sister and the Elephant

Walk around it, or call it out: which type are you?

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Today is my sister’s birthday. She would’ve been 45, if she hadn’t taken her life by suicide eight years ago, almost to the day. I wrote about it on Splice the week it happened, because writing had always been my top form of therapy, it’s how I process everything. This is difficult for many people to understand; I’ve lost friendships in my life to people who can’t handle my blatant honesty. The best ones stay, the trash takes itself out. Too many people put on facades in this world.

My sister Beth was an elephant in the living room person. There are two types of people when a giant elephant’s in a living room: those who politely walk around it, even ignoring the foulest stench of its shit before they’ll discuss something so unpleasant. And then there are those who turn around and exclaim “What the fuck is this elephant doing in the living room!” and then we talk about it. We work it out. It doesn’t matter how painful, ugly, messy or awkward it is, we deal with it.

I’ve never understood or gotten along with the people who walk around elephants, and every single day I miss my sister and her style of communication. She was my best friend, we laughed, we gossiped, we cried, and one of the most important things about her was that she was the glue of our dysfunctional family. She could make everyone laugh even in the most serious circumstances.

Alcoholism, drug addiction, abuse, poverty, religious abuse—we had a lot of elephants in our family living room. I’m not sure how the whole damn safari fit in there, but none of them were too big for my sister to handle, and in her absence, the family has fallen apart. Since her death we lost another of the six siblings, my youngest transgender brother to a heroin overdose, and yet another, a sister, to some weirdo religious cult, we haven’t heard from her in years.

In my immediate family I only speak to one beloved brother now. I wonder if it’d be different if she was still around. I miss her laugh most of all, I can still hear it in my head as though she called me five minutes ago. I wish she’d been at so many of my kids’ events—weddings, graduations, a medical school white coat ceremony where my daughter wore her pink dress (in photo). I still feel her presence at them and believe she’s in my heart.

She used to say, “In our family you got all the brains and I got all the looks,” and I’d reply, "Well, someday your looks will fade and I’ll still be smart.” But the joke was on me because she died at 37, frozen beautiful in time, and my lifelong migraine-riddled brain just gets dumber every day. I can hear her laughing about that elephant in the room. 

—Follow Mary McCarthy on social media.


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