32. I Make Up

32. I Make Up

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

I Make Up

Having a sister is like having a best friend you can’t get rid of. You know whatever you do, they’ll still be there.

~Amy Li

In the best of times, we were a unit: close, connected, loving, and always there for each other. My relationship with “Big,” the silly name I called my tiny older sister Ruthie, has been a constant in my life, a steady anchor, and fixed point in a whirling universe.

Sure, we had our battles growing up in bedrooms next to one another. There was plenty of sound and fury over who owned which sweater and who had neglected the daily job of washing and drying the dinner dishes.

But those scuffles ended quickly because we had a mother who didn’t tolerate the foolishness of embattled daughters. When the going got rough, she would have us face each other, noting that she didn’t care who was presumably wrong and who was presumably right. She had us hold out our hands and say the simple words “I make up!”

And as soon as we did, the magic worked. We were back in each other’s rooms—and lives.

We even went to the same college, with me trailing two years behind her. We took courses together, studied for finals together, and ultimately married in the same synagogue, sure our unions would be forever.

Mine has been, if fifty-three years counts as “forever.”

Ruthie’s lasted only four.

Our lives, once so similar, began to diverge. But nothing, we resolved, would damage what we had.

We had sister spa weekends, mutual friends that made sisterhood even more special, and then our “twin” careers as writers.

I generally wrote about hearth and home; Ruthie traveled the world and shared her adventures in faraway places.

When our father died suddenly, we mourned together. Ruthie, the “rational” sister, and I, the “emotional” sister, had different ways to mourn, but thankfully, we could still share loss and grief.

Then along came our most monumental challenge. Our mother—our remarkable mother who had survived two husbands, a challenging career and reasonably good health and independence for nearly ninety-four years—had a recurrence of the lymphoma that she had fought off a decade before. This time it was back with a vengeance.

Mom had already had the mild antibody treatments that had carried her through several months. But now they were no longer an option. Now, it was a matter of choosing heavy-duty chemo or rejecting it and saying, “Enough!” At ninety-four, she finally began to lean on us, her daughters, for help in decision-making.

I will never forget the phone call that began a siege unprecedented in our sibling history.

It came after a particularly sensitive office visit with Mom’s oncologist. This dear man, who had come to love Mom had told her that she needed to decide soon. My sister wanted her to opt for chemotherapy. She strongly believed that where there’s life, there’s hope. On the other hand, I was increasingly making peace with the concept of having Mom enter hospice care for palliative help so she could go in peace.

My sister and I fought through that terrible time. We had faced so many other rocky times together, but this time we became unglued, undone and ultimately torn asunder.

There was no banging of doors like those that echoed through our teen years. There was, instead, a terrible week that felt like a year of tangled feelings.

We became intransigent in our positions. And on one terrible afternoon, we faced each other across coffee cups and then stalked away, each of us retreating to her corner.

And my mother, bless her, sensed what was going on and announced that she was making her own decision. And it was to cease treatment.

Was it a victory for me? Maybe. Maybe not.

Was it a defeat for my sister? Maybe. Maybe not.

How would we ever forgive and forget this war with such high sister stakes?

Mom died peacefully just a few weeks after the hospice angels saw to her last days. My sister struggled with the what-ifs as we planned her simple graveside funeral.

We spoke civilly, calmly, but Ruthie and I both knew that the stakes were even higher now. Without Mom, we might drift into a new and potentially permanent coolness.

On the unseasonably warm December day of Mom’s graveside funeral, we stood by our mother’s grave, two sisters who had loved a mother—and each other—dearly and deeply.

We stood apart as the mourners gathered around the simple pine coffin that would be lowered into the ground.

Neither of us could possibly pinpoint who made the first gesture. It seemed to come spontaneously at the same instant.

In the noonday sun of that winter day, we approached one another, arms outstretched, and just stood, holding one another for dear life. “I make up,” we said through sobs.

Forgiveness had come in a great gulp of pain and hope. It had come just as the woman who had given us life was about to be lowered into the earth.

We both like to believe that Mom left us knowing that her daughters said those childhood words, simple—and profound—as they were: “I make up!”

~Sally Friedman

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