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By D.G. Martin D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit unctv.org/ncbookwatch.

Writing about what keeps you up at night

By D.G. Martin Posted October 4, 2012 at 9:49 am

What is it about our families that brings love and hate so close together?

How can siblings go for years without speaking to each other? You know folks who are estranged tragically from the very people who could and should be their best friends, their brothers and sisters, or their parents or their children.

How do these relationships breakdown so hard and why is it so difficult to heal the hurtful memories that caused the severed ties?

And why, when the end of life approaches, do some people finally feel they must reconcile before they die?

Pastors, psychiatrists, poets, and novelists have wrestled with these questions over the ages.

Charlotte poet and novelist, Judy Goldman has examined these questions in her poetry and in two novels, “Early Leaving” and “The Slow Way Back.” In the novels she explored the complicated, beautiful, and painful relationships that come with being part of a family. While fiction can be used to tell important truths, Goldman now believes poetry and memoir are better for her to tell the truth about her family relationships.  Now she has turned her poet’s and storyteller’s talents to a non-fiction account of her difficult, real-life struggle to find a happy and satisfactory relationship with a sister she both adored and could not abide.

Goldman’s memoir, “Losing My Sister,” tells the story of her family and her complicated and sometimes hurtful relationship with her sister. Their anger at each other runs side by side with their love.

Goldman was the little sister to Brenda, who was three years older. In her interview on North Carolina Bookwatch this weekend she talks poignantly about her sister.  

“We were raised to be close. We were bred to be close. Brenda-and-Judy, we were one long word. Mother told us how close she was to her two sisters and how close her mother was to her sister. It was part of our morning oatmeal, what we were fed all our lives. Anytime you put that much pressure on a relationship, you are going to turn it into a pressure cooker.”

“I think that a woman’s relationship with a sister can be the longest in a woman’s life. Husbands come along later. Parents die. Friends come and go. An older sister is there when you are brought home from the hospital and she is with you for a very long time. So it is the longest in a woman’s life, but it can also be the most complex, and it was in our case.

Goldman says the challenge begins early.

“That older sister is in the family, and she is the one. And then along comes a younger sister who is trying to breath the same air, taking up all the oxygen in the room. That’s a problem right off the bat.

“We were getting along fine …until we were in our thirties and both of our parents started the process of dying at the same time. It upset all the paradigms in the family.

“Brenda, like our father strong. I was supposed to be like my mother, sweet.

“But all of a sudden, I stopped being sweet. I stopped following my older sister. I started asserting myself in small unimportant, but consequential ways.

“Brenda, the strong one, was also dealing with some problems at home…and she was all of a sudden vulnerable, so she didn’t appear strong anymore. Nothing was the same.

“All the patterns were shifting.

“We were both so deeply sad, so profoundly sad, about losing our parents that I wanted Brenda to take away my pain. She wanted me to take away her pain and when neither of one of us could, we turned on each other.”
Goldman says that she tells her writing students, “You have to write about what keeps you up at night.”

In “Losing My Sister” she deals with those family relationship things that have kept many of us up at night and it will be a book that brings insight and comfort to all who read it.

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