Memory - Mary Ličanin Photography

Don’t Send me Flowers


I wouldn’t have even remembered the holiday had it not been for the 9am wake-up call on Saturday, the first in some time that Goran and I explicitly decided the night before, to sleep in.

I don’t necessarily disbelieve in Jesus or the Christian values I was raised with, and I’m open to the possibility, but I find it hard to celebrate holidays in a way that is supposed to be based in an absolute belief that an event occurred, when I’m not really sure whether or not it did.

I choose to celebrate life every day. Easter would be no different – the holidays of spring all come with a common message of birth, rebirth, and new opportunities to do new things in new ways. Who can challenge anyone’s enjoyment of that? The beauty is that every day, regardless of season, holiday or belief, is a chance to renew ourselves, choose new habits, learn or try something new. So optimistic!

This Easter, the rude awakening that came at 9am on that aforementioned Easter Saturday we agreed to sleep in on was a flower delivery person. When we didn’t answer the knocking, the jovial guy (clearly, and almost annoyingly, a morning person) called my phone from our doorstep. I could hear him leaving me a voicemail. “….flowers!….not home!…..leave them at the office!….thank you!” Every phrase I could understand was punctuated with a smile. I suppose most people are pleasantly surprised at the arrival of unexpected flowers, and I also suppose that would make me feel like a Santa Claus, too.

Lying in bed, I went through the motions in my head of listing of potential candidates that might want to surprise me with flowers. In reality, I knew noone on that list sent them.

I noticed the look of confusion on Goran’s face, remembered his hearing isn’t half as supersonic as mine and realized he was trying to figure out what was going on. “My sister sent me flowers.” I sighed, and then pulled the blankets over my head, just not wanting to deal.

No matter how hard I tried, there was no going back to sleep for me. I was frustrated. Then I got frustrated at being frustrated, because really, who gets frustrated over flowers?! We begrudgingly got out of bed, had coffee and got dressed to head over to the apartment complex office before they closed, to pick up the flowers I didn’t want, and to read the card I didn’t need to read, to see they were from someone I didn’t want them to be from.

But sure enough, they were from her.

The war that’s raged in my head and heart for months slapped me across the face in lavender and lilac. I carried them straight-armed because they smelled like infection and I couldn’t stand for it to be under my nose.

“We can keep them outside,” Goran offered, always doing what he can to make things better.

My sister is 20 years older than me. She battled mental illness most of her life. A few years ago, she had a breakdown and had to be hospitalized. It wasn’t the first time. That’s not entirely her fault. After that, she was diagnosed with cancer. She beat that. She was surprisingly strong (stronger than I would have been) through it all.

Unfortunately, somewhere between the breakdown and the cancer, she met and was preyed upon by some opportunistic people, who saw her as an easy target. And she was. She lives alone,  has a big house, is paranoid and quick to hide things from her siblings, and can be manipulated into thinking just about anything is her idea and a damned good one.

Most of my siblings have tried reaching and/or helping her. One by one she alienated all of us – even me.

For a time, she’d tell me about her financial difficulties, and, being in a decent financial position (and understanding what it’s like to be on the opposite side of the coin), I sent money. She was one of the few that helped me when I wasn’t sure how I’d afford groceries, and it felt good to be in a position now to help her. Only after a time, it started becoming more clear that she didn’t have money because these people who she made her new family were either directly using her money, or costing her so much money that she didn’t have enough to make ends meet.

I wrote out a budget for her to follow. Eventually, she got her finances in order – or so she told me. I never know when she is lying.

So that morning, lying in bed wishing there were no flowers waiting for me, I kept asking myself over and over , Why the f*ck did she spend money she doesn’t have on flowers?!?!

In August, after weekly phone calls about a domestic situation with this new family of hers, I offered to fly up to NY to help her handle it, because clearly she was having a hard time handling. In return, she basically told me to f-off. She chose to protect the people who were using her for her money, house, and anything else they can drain from her, and while I was trying to help her, I was somehow turned into the villain. I was hurt, but more than hurt I was angry at her for making such a foolish choice. I decided then to stop calling every week to check in.

She repeatedly makes bad choices, and then is adamant about sticking to her poor decisions, refuses help she needs, and then lies about it…. yet, I can’t help feeling sorry for her. I know she is truly alone, although she’s surrounded herself with people she pretends in her mind is her family, and I know she realizes we (her siblings) have all stopped checking in. I sent her a Christmas card in December, with a note saying I hoped she was well, and ended with “I love you”. Because I do. She’s my sister, no matter how stupid she is, no matter how many mistakes she makes, no matter that she lies to my face, and no matter how angry I get at her for making choices that put her in bad situations.

Only now I don’t know how to love her.

I stopped calling her after she turned on me. It wasn’t the first time she had been nasty with me, but, like everyone else in my family has, I usually let it go because she has problems. This time, though, I realized I was being dragged through the drama and she had no intention of making a change. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want it. I made it clear to her that I am here for her if she wants help. Otherwise, I decided, I couldn’t afford (emotionally) to be a constant sounding board, helplessly getting phone reports of the drama she has no intention of doing anything about.

All this makes me wonder, am I being compassionate enough? Am I being a good person? Am I being selfish because I don’t keep trying to reach her? When does compassion become enabling? Is showing compassion to myself okay, if it means showing less compassion to someone else? Is this a situation where I’m supposed to “put my oxygen mask on first”?