Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: Losing My Sister by Judy Goldman

The sibling relationship is a very special one.  It can be contentious or loving and is frequently both.  Your siblings know you in ways that no one else in your life does.  They share your history and know many of your secrets even if you've never told them.  Sisters definitely share a powerful bond.  A sister, in many ways, is a reflection of who we are, our nearest family, our closest ally and our bitterest enemy.  Only someone so important in our lives could drive us to such extremes of feeling.  Only a sister.  But when you lose your sister, you lose a large part of who you are.  You are never you in relation to your sister ever again and you have to carry your memories and your shared past alone no matter that past was whether it was idyllic, horrific, or just your garden variety sister relationship.  In Losing My Sister, Judy Goldman explores every facet of her relationship with her older sister, Barbara, from childhood to adulthood including her feelings at watching Barbara fight breast cancer for years and her stunned feelings of loss when Barbara loses the battle.

A lovely and loving relationship memoir, Goldman weaves her happy childhood memories growing up with Barbara in with the struggles they faced in their adult relationship.  As children, the sisters were very close and each happily played the role the family expected of her.  Judy was always the sweet, subservient sister who appreciated her older sister's protectiveness.  Barbara was the more assertive sister who sheltered her younger sister.  And as children, there was never any reason to push the boundaries of these roles.  But as adults, Judy no longer wanted to give Barbara charge of her life, choosing her own way as a wife and mother.  This abrupt rewriting of their understood relationship with its implied judgment and competition led to tension, hurt feelings, arguments, and estrangements over the years.  But Goldman is scrupulously honest when looking at the reasons she and her sister fall out, examining her own culpability and the possible ways in which she contributed to the ongoing rifts.

If she chronicles the ways that a sister relationship can break down, she also chronicles the depth of love that always rescues it.  No matter what memories Goldman shares with the reader, it is clear that her love for Barbara shines through.  And her shock and grief at the news that Barbara's cancer is terminal is profound.  In this memoir looking back at her relationship with her beloved older sister, Goldman writes with a reflective honesty and a touching poignancy.  Because she is a poet, Goldman includes some poetry that speaks to the complex and multi-faceted relationship she had with her sister.  The non-chronological narration might give some readers pause, especially when the sisters are not speaking to each other and there's a time jump backwards or forwards.  And while the devastation of losing a sister is clearly overwhelming, there's a bit of a tendency for Goldman to take on more of the blame for their feuds than is probably merited but that's a common enough tendency after the death of a loved one, to canonize them to some degree.  Over all though, this is a well-written and introspective look at the connection of family, the universality of relationship, and the ways in which we break away (or don't) from the long-ingrained expectation of who we are, especially in relation to our siblings.

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