Many years ago, when my brother was in college and I was in high school, he brought his girlfriend Kay home to meet our family. He told us she made him happy. He was excited for us to meet her and seemed very much in love. He wanted us to like her. We did. And then, he asked us to love her. It wasn’t hard to love Kay. She’s kind, friendly and never has a bad word to say about anyone. She taught me a lot about love.
There was a wedding. My brother made Kay a part of our family and gave me another sister. He and Kay made promises to each other in front of us all, in front of God. They said, “For better or worse, till death do us part.” He told us he meant it, and it looked like he did. We all became family, and we loved Kay as he had asked us to.
There were years of family dinners, holidays, parties, outings, vacations and so much fun. We laughed a lot. My brother and Kay became parents. I was an aunt to three of the best kids ever created. My brother and Kay made it all look so good. We loved Kay more with each passing year. She was family. She is family.
There were more years of ball games, school programs, job changes, shopping trips, vacations, illnesses, pets to love, toys everywhere, and we laughed. We cried on occasion, but we laughed a lot. My brother and his wife and kids seemed happy. It looked so real. It was so believable.
There were driving lessons, high school graduations, job promotions and graying hair. My brother and Kay were growing old together. They were community leaders and great examples.
And then…one day, my brother changed his mind. He said he wanted something different. After 25 years, he walked away. He shocked us all: Kay, his children, our parents, us siblings and our children, his friends and his community. Now there was confusion, sadness, disbelief and even anger. The laughter stopped in our homes for months while we tried to comfort Kay and mend our own broken hearts. Kay had not seen it coming. No one had. I do not think my brother had even seen it coming.
When he announced he was leaving Kay, he told us there was no one else. He made excuses. He blamed Kay. He blamed others. And then we met her—the “no one else” he was so quickly engaged to, the woman he now claims makes him happy. He admits he had admired her from afar for years, but she had not been available. Now she was. He introduced us to the reason he walked away from Kay, as he beamed at her like he used to look at Kay. He wanted us to like her. We tried, but we did not. Then he asked us to love her. We tried, but we could not.
They were married within days of his divorce from Kay. None of us were there. So now he’s used the words again, “For better or worse, till death do us part.” I wonder if he believed them again. I wonder if his new wife did, knowing he’s said them before to someone else and then walked away. I have trouble believing them. He says the first marriage that lasted 25 years was a mistake. He was never truly happy.
He wants us to include his new wife in our family plans now. He says she’s my new sister. He wants her to sit in Kay’s spot at our family gatherings. But then where will Kay sit? The rest of us did not walk away from Kay when he did. She is still our sister, our parents’ daughter. I did not utter the words “For better or worse, till death do us part” to Kay all those years ago, but I still live them. I live them because he spoke them. I live them because I still love her. I live them because, divorce decree or not, she’s still family. Love between sisters is stronger than broken promises, and it is stronger than divorce decrees. This is the hardest predicament I have ever faced. I have no solutions, only pain. My brother seems happy, but it is at the expense of so many. He has hurt people he says he loves. Who is this man? He’s not my brother. He’s the man that used to be married to my sister, Kay.
Through all the pain, Kay still smiles. She makes offers to stay away and tells us we need to accept the new wife. She tells us, “He’s your brother. He’s part of your family.” We tell her, “You’re our sister. You are part of our family.” I have people telling me, “Blood is thicker than water. Feelings change. Marriages end.” I try to reconcile it all. But isn’t love thicker than blood? My brother’s decision made me realize family is not always about genetics. Family is about love. When you love someone, there is trust, kindness, honesty and loyalty. My brother is not the kind of family I want to claim now.
His ex-wife is.