My sister, My friend

Someone with whom I am very close, my sister, 7 years my senior, has been homeless since early March.

The roots of her homelessness go back decades: She married in 1970 just out of high school.  She and her husband never quite got the knack of home finances, declaring bankruptcy multiple times.  When they split-up in 1989, she moved back with our parents.  She worked and went to college, and only lacked her student teaching to receive her diploma.  A few years later, she decided to try technical school in computers, which resulted in another unfinished course.

After our mother died, our dad deeded his house to my sister because he was afraid she would end-up without a home after his death.  She mortgaged it and did not make the payments, losing it to the bank.   She bounced-around from friends to relatives, who helped her in generous ways –giving her a home, helping her keep a vehicle, paying her bills.  My husband & I have loaned her money and have helped with her phone bill.   Yet, with all this goodwill and assistance, she has wound-up at the Salvation Army Shelter for Homeless Women in her city.

At first, I was devastated for her to be brought to such straits.  Although I had seen it looming on the horizon, I didn’t really believe it would happen.  After all, she is my sister.  We grew-up together, learned the same values in the same family.  We are “respectable” and “responsible.”  And, I admit to a bit of shame: I didn’t talk to anyone about it except Ric.  In a worship service, I wept while we sang “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”  But, I didn’t tell anyone why that song touched me.

Gradually, I began to ask for prayers from trusted friends for her, and for me.  I didn’t know what my response should be.  She has a full-time job and 2 grown children, a beloved grandchild, a church community –it would be impractical for her to move (even if my husband and I asked, which we aren’t.)  And, we realized long ago that “loans” or “gifts” are poured into a bottomless pit.  Even though my initial reaction was to somehow “save the day” (I love to be the hero), I’ve accepted a more minor role in the drama.

We still talk by phone and email.  I have her birthday gift & card ready to mail.  I have been encouraged by the reaction of social workers who are advising my sister: they have expressed disbelief that she has a full-time job and still needs to live in a shelter.  We are receiving “tough love” from professionals who help people in the direst situations.  She is being pushed towards independence.  Living 750 miles away, I have had to accept that her advisors know best and see clearest.

I am still feeling my way in and through this relationship and its changes.  In many ways, nothing has changed: we still share the same jokes, the same memories; she loves my children and is endlessly supportive of them.   I am trying to be kind and accepting without endorsing the poor choices she has made.  I pray she will find the maturity to pull herself into a better life.  And I pray that she will find friendship with me, not judgment; love, not condemnation; belief in possibilities, not despair.

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6 thoughts on “My sister, My friend

  1. The pain and helpless feeling must be overwhelming. I do most certainly join my prayers to yours.

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  2. This is very hard news! I’d find it very hard not to try to enable as well, not to try to take away her responsibility for her own life. It sounds like you are being present to her and her situation (and your reactions) as wisely as you can. I’m glad you are reaching out to others to ask for their prayers.

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  3. Cynthia Smith

    Thank you both, Rick and Amy, for your comments. I am feeling less alone about my sister. I spoke with my sister yesterday and feel an update is in order. Her social worker is considering placing her with an elderly woman who has requested a live-in companion. Just by “chance,” the woman was my brother’s neighbor for years, so our family is known to her. Also, my sister had received effective treatment for chronic pain (yes, a homeless woman with full insurance.)
    There’s life to life yet!

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  4. Thanks for the update. Your sister’s social workers sound like creative problem-solvers.

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  5. Cynthia,
    I have been absent from the blog for a long time. Thank you for sharing your burden of pain and grief over your sister’s plight. I, too, have experienced some of that with a sibling who filed for bankruptcy. In fact, all of the family gathered around, gave support, and prayed a lot. Sometimes praying a lot and sharing the burden are all you can do. It must have been just how Jesus felt on the cross, when everything he had done seemed to fail. It takes a lot of hope and courage to believe in the resurrection. Hopefully your sister is now experiencing a little of that resurrection. My sibling is after a long bumpy ride.
    Sr. Ruth

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  6. cynthia, i’m praying for you and yours, and understanding your situation more than you will ever know. miss you all terribly!

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