Since the inception of the “holiday” National Siblings Day, my four siblings and I inevitably shout out to each other our gratitude for our relationship, forged in our tribal need to keep our parents happy and at bay. We are Irish twins: five kids, seven years apart. And boomers. We grew up with many children all our age in a 1950s development of Cape Cod or garrison-style houses. Biggish families. We didn’t think much about what it meant to have brothers and sisters. We took for granted that there would always be lots of people who loved us and would look out for us.

Our children have fewer siblings. I was so lucky to have quick delivery of a girl who was two weeks late. Everything went as planned. No problem nursing her, no problem watching her move through all of her milestones. When I became pregnant again three years later, I felt an inkling of concern, but I and my friends quickly dismissed it as my Irish tendency to crepe hang – if I anticipated some problem, then it couldn’t happen, or at least I’d be prepared for it, and it would be easier to bear.

When Emily was born, two weeks early, I was not really prepared for a pediatrician saying, “There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is we thought you might be diabetic because you delivered such a large baby. You’re not. But is there any cystic fibrosis in your family?”

There was. It’s an inherited disease. My cousin on my father’s side had a 2-year-old who had cystic fibrosis. She was doing well, but the parents still had to go through a physical therapy regime and give her pancreatic enzymes after every meal. I knew so little about my cousin’s daughter and this disease, which came to dominate my life.

My older daughter did everything a young child could to make things all right for her parents: She didn’t demand attention. She gladly handed us medicine, diapers, spit pans. She performed happy songs but then made herself quiet so we could deal with our sick child. I spent many hours in the hospital with Emily (25 times total in her five-year life). Her older sister accompanied me on these trips and loved the hospital playroom more than her sister did.

In spite of the hospitalizations and the quickly declining quality of Emily’s life, we did have a somewhat normal family life. We enjoyed summers at my sister’s cottage at the lake; we went to Disney World; we celebrated birthdays and other holidays with my large extended family. Emily’s death came as something of a relief to the adults in the family. We had all seen how hard her life had become, her gasps for air, her difficulty walking. My two girls, though, were true siblings: They snuggled with each other, fought over who should sing along with “Annie” on TV, kept secrets from their parents, spent time with cousins playing with dolls and creating plays.


For her sister, Emily’s death was a blow. Rebecca was intellectually ready for it, but not emotionally. Actually, that describes how I felt, too. The 9-year-old sister adapted to the changed dynamics of the family by being both the dutiful older child and the wisecracking, cynical younger one. The pain of loss was deep, however. How could it not be?

When I remarried, our blended family consisted of my daughter, now the youngest, and two older brothers. They didn’t grow up together, but they get along even though they have few shared memories of their youth.

My surviving daughter took a long time to commit to marriage. Why would she when her own parents couldn’t hold it together after their young daughter’s death? When she did marry, it was with the commitment to have children. And she did. She has two daughters: 3½ years apart, just as she and her sister were.

She has fostered a sisterly love that she wished she had been able to continue with her sister. She is fortunate that she has perfect daughters (and I’m not saying this just because I’m their grandmother!). They are smart, funny, loving, caring, thoughtful, ambitious girls – the list could go on and on.

I love them dearly. I think my daughter is proud and so grateful that she has these two healthy daughters. My husband, when he sees how well these two interact with each other, says, “All I can think of is how much Rebecca lost by not being able to grow up with her sister. And how lucky these two are that they have each other as best friends, as trusted, loving siblings.”

I am thankful for my own siblings, but I’m also thankful that my daughter has created caring relationships between these two siblings, who will always have each other for support, love and shout-outs on Siblings Day.

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