I found much to connect with in David Sedaris’s recent reflective piece in The New Yorker, ‘Now We Are Five’ (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/10/28/131028fa_fact_sedaris).
Sedaris’s sister, Tiffany, died in May this year, at the age of 49. She committed suicide, and although Sedaris had not communicated with her for 8 years, her death provoked a profound sense of loss.
‘A person expects his parents to die. But a sibling? I felt I’d lost the identity I’d enjoyed since 1968, when my younger brother was born.’
Until May, Sedaris belonged to a family of six siblings. Now, there are five.
‘”And you can’t really say, ‘There used to be six,'” I told my sister Lisa. “It just makes people uncomfortable.”‘

My sister died in January this year. Amidst the multi-faceted and infinite aspects of felt loss, I was unexpectedly struck by how diminished our sibling group has now become. The experience of going from five of us to ‘just four’, felt much greater than the loss of an individual. We seemed to have lost something indefinable that had hitherto made us the family that we had been.

‘Each of us had pulled away from the family at some point in our lives–we’d had to in order to forge our own identities, to go from being a Sedaris to being our own specific Sedaris.’

So too has it been for my family. We probably still do it, that pulling away, but there is always a coming back, even if unpredictable and transient.

The poet and physician Dannie Abse believes that ‘Men become mortal the night their fathers die.’ When the generation that appears to separate you from your own mortality is removed, it is a defining life moment, not merely in terms of the experience of losing a parent, but also in terms of what it means for the living and passing of one’s own life.

The death of a sibling is momentous for other reasons. Yes, it does indeed make you aware yet again of the fragility of life. It also challenges your sense of self and identity, especially that significant part of you that has always been bound up in ‘family’, much of which disappears along with the sibling you mourn.

CQ

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