At my brother's wake, I was told by a well-meaning yet misguided mourner that I "had some big shoes to fill." While it is ridiculous, not to mention impossible, even to imagine that I could replace my brother in any way, for myself or for anyone else, not a day goes by when I don't remember that I'm my parents' only remaining child, and that with that, comes certain responsibilities.
When my brother first died, my thoughts were filled with my own, personal losses: how I would never be an aunt. How when my parents eventually died, I'd be alone, with no sibling to share the grief and the responsibilities. But as time has passed, I've also started to feel the pressure resulting from my desire to minimize my family's losses.
It's been many years since I have doubted my own mortality; my surgeries and my battle with depression have necessitated the formation of both short-term and long-term goals, showing me the importance of making each day count. But while I still feel (and am) relatively young, my family's recent losses and health scares have served as yet another reminder of the relentless passage of time.
My husband and I eloped, and while my parents love him and are thrilled with our marriage, I know that they are disappointed not to have been there, and their disappointment serves as a glaring reminder that this was their only chance to witness the marriage of their child; my brother is no longer around to afford them a second opportunity. The same sentiment holds true for my grandmother. Therefore, while I don't regret the way we were married for a moment, I do feel twinges of guilt at denying my parents a moment of happiness and hope for the future. I can't help but feel the same weight of responsibility with regard to having children. My grandmother is ninety-four years old, and while she's in good health, I still recognize that her remaining days on this earth are numbered. Will she live long enough to see her first great-grandchild? After my father's stroke, one of my first thoughts was, would he live long enough to see his first grandchild? While certainly not a good reason to have children, I cannot help but remember that I am my parents' only opportunity for grandchildren. And now there is no son to pass along the family name; it will die with my father.
I have always felt somewhat of a disappointment to my family, particularly when compared to my brother. I neither attended the college my parents wanted me to, nor chose the career they would have wanted for me. And my brother's effortless intelligence couldn't help but inspire a spark of inferiority in my heart of hearts, however unintentionally. And while I can't do anything to change the past, I do find myself preoccupied with future decisions, wanting to protect and care for them when they need me.
I may not be perfect, but I'm all they have.