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by Julia Sneden

A couple of weeks ago, I lost my older brother. He had battled all sorts of physical challenges during the past twenty years, and had emerged triumphant, or so we thought. But he died at the age of 75, three days after having sustained a massive internal hemorrhage.

Hes the one who coined the use of sib to indicate sibling, perhaps because he knew that I found it slightly annoying. As siblings do, we each habitually did things that rattled the others cage, just for the fun of it. Receiving an email with a salutation of Dear Sib, may have rattled my cage, but was better than a dismissive Dear Kid, which was his other affectionate name for me. More likely he, a lover of precise language, thought sib preferable to the more common use of sis to indicate a sister. Inasmuch as I was that sister, I contentiously demanded my full due, not just a non-gender-specific term like sibling or worse yet, sib. No doubt if he had referred to me as sis, Id have objected to that, too, snapping I do have a name!

Ive been a part of his life for almost 73 years. For more than 50 years, that part has been tangential, which is what happens when siblings grow up. Your lives are no longer entwined on a daily basis, and you become deeply involved in other things and other people. You work hard to make a living, and if you marry, you work at being a good spouse and then, perhaps, a good parent. Your time is consumed with things like new roofs and toothaches and kids who dont always understand you and vice versa.

But the remarkable thing about siblings is that no matter how tangential the relationship, there is always a core memory of shared childhood. It is indestructible. If youre lucky, that core is made of love and respect. Ours was, even when we didnt agree on things. And boy, did we disagree on things. There really wasnt much chance for sibling rivalry in our household, because we were just so different from each other:

He was tall and lanky; I was short and compact.

He was shy and quiet; I was most emphatically not.

He hated heights; I spent my childhood in the very highest tops of trees.

He could draw; I couldnt.

He was fascinated by the natural world; I loved our dogs and cats, but not his bugs and smelly white mice, and fish and pigeons and rabbits and caterpillars and baby alligator, etc. ad nauseam.

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