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Monday, May 20, 2024

Through the lens of the youngest: On the unbreakable bond of siblings

5 min readIn the heat of arguments, they wield words that cut deep, yet they are also the ones who genuinely comprehend us, knowing exactly how to offer solace.
Profile picture of Zulaikha Palma

Published about 1 month ago on April 10, 2024

by Zulaikha Palma

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Artwork by Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro/TomasinoWeb

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I am not a very affectionate person. Stubborn like a hard shell, I have never been one to flaunt my heart openly. I confine my "I love yous" within, never letting them escape into the world's ears. Hugs have always felt foreign, and affection was a discomfort I'd rather avoid.

As the youngest of four siblings, this act stemmed from growing up in an environment where maturity was prized and childhood swiftly abandoned. I felt the pull to mature, sensing the tender embrace of youth slipping away with each passing moment.

This guise led to various consequences, including my struggle to express my emotions to those closest to my heart. It became an excruciating dilemma, where I tried to be nonchalant, yet I also longed to find the perfect moment to pour my overflowing heart out.

But deep within, I confess, despite this sturdy facade, one certainty remains: my capacity for caring and loving runs deep. And among the cherished few in my life, held profoundly close to my heart, are my sisters.

Love-hate relationship

Photo from Little Women (2019)

Photo from Little Women (2019)

In the 2019 film adaptation of Little Women, Jo March was right when she said: "Life is too short to be angry at one's sister."

As one looks at it, sibling relationships are a curious paradox. They can be both our staunchest adversaries and our most steadfast allies. Often, we find ourselves in a state of animosity towards them, yet our insides twist with unease at the sight of their tears. In the heat of arguments, they wield words that cut deep, yet they are also the ones who genuinely comprehend us, knowing exactly how to offer solace.

While there are days we prefer to keep our distance, we remain just a message away, ready to offer support when they are at their lowest. They may yell at us and hold onto grudges for the most minor slights, like borrowing a sweater without asking or stealing some of their money, yet they will still summon us to join them for dinner.

As common as it may seem, an intricate dance of dynamics within my sisters also exists. My oldest sister, burdened with adult responsibilities beyond her years, became an unintended third parent, leaving scant room for carefree youth. Meanwhile, my other two older sisters blazed trails of ambition and drive, carving paths through education and career pursuits. Their opinions echoed my own, molding my thoughts in their likeness. We mirrored each other's habits and manners, forming an unseen, unbreakable bond.

The eve of parting

Photo from The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Photo from The Virgin Suicides (1999)

There's a saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder. It's often said that only in absence do we genuinely understand the importance of someone. This was something I had never before understood or felt until I went through the crushing ache of my oldest sister leaving for another country.

Like the traveler in Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken, I stood at a crossroads where two paths diverged right before me. Two events happened on the same day: one path led to my oldest sister's departure—a significant moment in her life—while the other led to UST’s Homecoming Walk, a major event not to be missed.

Despite the seeming foolishness of it, something deep within me felt pressured and insisted that the latter was the right choice, never considering the possibility that I might not see my sister again for the next seven years. As her departure date approached, the sorrowful realization of our brief time together overtook me, knowing that I could not be present on the day of her departure. I found myself suffering with the pain of consequence, wishing I could turn back time and choose differently.

Through 6,921 kilometers, my oldest sister embarked on a transforming journey to the picturesque streets of Paris, France. With her a world away, I am left with regret that runs deep in the chambers of my heart. As the months passed without her reassuring presence within our home's walls, it felt like there was a missing puzzle piece.

Diane Zosky, a professor of social work and interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Illinois State University, described this common experience as "empty nest syndrome." This refers to the feelings of sadness, loss, anxiety, and loneliness that parents or caregivers may experience after their children leave home. It's worth noting that siblings can be affected by this phenomenon, too.

When an eldest sibling departs, a transition ripples through the sibling dynamic. The youngest, now the sole child at home, often grapples with a poignant sense of loss, while the middle sibling ascends to the role of the eldest, prompting a recalibration of roles and dynamics. This shift has been palpable in our sibling dynamic ever since the departure of my oldest sister.

Anyway, don't be a stranger

Photo from Little Women (2019)

Photo from Little Women (2019)

The time spent with my sisters always feels fleeting, never quite enough. Often, I reminisce about the moments when we playfully dubbed ourselves the Salazar sisters from Four Sisters and a Wedding, finding joy in our shared quirks and similarities. We would also giggle and playfully argue over which of us would best fit into the roles of the March sisters. But like the Salazar and March sisters, we, too, have drifted apart.

As the years passed and the sweetness of childhood gave way to the bitter taste of adulthood, our once-tight bond began showing signs of strain. It was one of the hardest pills I had to swallow: realizing that my sisters' differences, once overshadowed by our shared experiences, began to surface. The innocent laughter of our youth was now intermingled with the weight of responsibility and the inevitability of change.

Gone are the days when being together was enough to fill our hearts. Each of us has embarked on our different paths, driven by unique ambitions, or just to pursue independence. Being the youngest, I often felt like Dexter from Seven Sundays, sensing a need to mature quickly as those around me seemed to have done. This realization left me feeling somewhat abandoned, with the unsettling thought that time is slipping away too swiftly, ready to bid farewell to the cherished childhood moments I hold so dear.

Know it's for the better

At these times, I became aware of the crucial need to treasure our loved ones while they are still within our grasp. I began to think about how many times I had taken my sisters for granted. The everyday yet valuable moments we all had shared—the excursions to the grocery store, the outrageous kitchen antics, the soul-stirring conversations late at night—had vanished into obscurity.

As adulthood swept in unannounced, we needed to dance to the changing rhythm of sibling dynamics. One sister now resides a world away; another focuses on her career; a third embarks on the journey post-college; and the fourth balances the rigors of university life. The four of us have never gathered again under one roof. The lingering uncertainty of our last day together dawns on me, revealing the fleeting nature of our shared moments.

While I may not have the courage to tell them how much I love them, I know for sure that my love for them will always transcend barriers of expression. Even as our interactions may appear to diminish in frequency or depth, moments where we're no longer each other's first call, and the urgency to leave our childhood home behind becomes intense, our love will always endure. As Erica Goode says, "Sibling relationships outlast marriages, survive the death of parents, and resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship." And I am certain that this is true for us as sisters.

Personal Essay

Siblings

Sibling Relationship

Sisterhood

Love

National Siblings Day

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Zulaikha Palma

Blogs Writer

Zulaikha Palma is a Blogs Writer at TomasinoWeb. As a journalism major with a passion for writing, she sets out on a journey to enrich her skills and infuse her words with life. Although she is new to the writing scene, she strives to craft pieces that resonate with hearts and minds alike. A cinema enthusiast at heart, she immerses herself in a variety of film genres, relishing horror, musicals, and indie, coming-of-age films. Among her cinematic favorites are La La Land (2016), When Harry Met Sally (1989), Roman Holiday (1953), and Lady Bird (2017). When free time comes knocking, she curates film reviews and conjures video edits of her favorite movies, TV shows, and actors. She also enjoys cooking her favorite dishes, cuddling with her cats, and listening to music by Taylor Swift, TV Girl, Sufjan Stevens, and Phoebe Bridgers.

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