‘Healing rifts: How my siblings and I realised life’s too short for grudges’

Aug 15, 2020
Linda says she and her siblings now cherish every moment together. Source: Getty.

I am the youngest of three children and my siblings are much older than me, by 15 and 17 years. My brother, the eldest in our family, was already off to join the navy by the time I was born.

As you can guess by my age (over 60), and my brother’s age, he was a Vietnam vet. He loaded Agent Orange onto aircraft from the aircraft carrier he was deployed on, and all he had for protection from this vile chemical was a pair of rubber gloves and an apron. By the end of his shift he was wet to the skin with Agent Orange.

As I was the baby and he was my big brother and in the navy he was my hero. I loved him so much and loved all of the post cards he sent me from all over the world, I received a coconut once with the address and stamps on the coconut shell! Another time, a guitar arrived in the post, along with many more weird and wonderful items, way too many to write here.

He was the only boy and so was the favourite with Mum and Dad. He was spoilt and they doted on him. At home our meals were typical Australian meat and two veg, but when my big brother was due home on leave we got roasts, chocolate pudding, apple pie and all sorts of yummy foods. As a child I thought him coming home was a real treat, not just for the presents that he always brought home, but the food too.

We visited my brother every chance we got, driving or flying to wherever he was based. The trips only became more frequent after he got married and had a baby – I was an Aunty at age 10!

Then, when I turned 12 he told me I was too old to get anymore gifts from him, including birthdays and Christmas. I was so upset Mum had to keep me home from school. My mood slowly changed and I got used to the new normal and continued my hero-worship of my big brother. I spoke about him all the time, I am sure people got sick of hearing about him.

However things started to get funny with the big bro when I was getting married. I invited him, along with his wife and daughter (my niece) to my wedding and wanted my nine-year-old niece to be my flower girl. When he told me I could not have my niece in my wedding and that they were not coming, it was like an arrow through the heart.

My wedding went ahead and I sent him pictures from the day, but they were returned. He stopped talking to Mum, he stopped talking to my sister, he withdrew from the whole family.

Twenty years passed and we didn’t even have a phone number, letters were returned, it was like he had fallen off the world. Until one day, my sister was working in Sydney and who should stroll into the Oxfam store she was managing but my brother and his wife.

My sister walked right up to him and he didn’t even know who she was. She had to tell him that our mother was really sick and he said he was sorry and wanted to speak to her and me too. As it turned out he had become an alcoholic, had a breakdown and suffered from PTSD. He had been in a bad way.

Sadly, my mother did not have long left in life and my brother was too ill to come and visit. Likewise my mother was too ill to visit him, so Mum departed this world having never hugged her son or kissed him again one last time.

Now the three of us keep in touch and visit regularly. We will never ever let one minute go, let alone another 20 years. Now we cherish every second.

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Have you healed a family rift? Do you agree life is too short to hold grudges?

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