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'5 years ago, I had a trivial argument with my siblings. It ended up exposing a family secret.'

As told to Ann DeGrey

It has been five years since a simple argument on New Year's Eve irreparably divided my family. It all began as a minor disagreement over the dinner menu which had been organised by my sister Sarah*.

She knows that my brother Max* and I have been vegetarians for many years, but we feel she deliberately made sure that everything was meat-based. It wasn’t out of character for my sister to cause trouble and she knew that we’d have a problem with her choice of food, so why did she do it? 

It didn’t take long for this food-related argument to escalate into an argument that had a domino effect.  

"Seriously, Sarah? Not even a salad without bacon?" I remember asking, trying to keep my tone light. But she dismissed my complaint as trivial, saying that we need to "get over" ourselves and should just "pick around the meat."

That really set Max off – he and Sarah have never gotten on very well – and he told Sarah she was selfish. Sarah then swore at him and things went downhill from there. They started yelling at each other and calling each other names. And then it got worse – much worse. It was like the food argument opened the floodgates to let in other grievances which included exposing a family secret.

Watch: The signs you have a toxic sibling. Post continues after video.

Video via YouTube/Psych2Go.

In the middle of Sarah and Max yelling at each other and me trying to calm them down, our Aunt Jen* turned up which was a big shock to me and Max. Why on earth did Sarah invite her? We had been estranged from our aunt for a couple of years as she caused our mother so much stress, that we blamed her for contributing to our mum’s death.

I pulled Sarah aside and reminded her of what our mother went through because of her sister and asked her why she invited her to our family dinner. "It’s very triggering having her here, you should have given us a heads up," I told her. 

Sarah told me to mind my own business and swore at me. She also said, "She’s family, we can’t cut people off forever."

But, in the end, it was almost a blessing that our aunt was invited because she let a family secret out of the bag – something I believe she deliberately exposed because she felt sorry for me.

Max refused to say hello to our aunt, instead telling her she should be ashamed of herself for how she treated our mother. That led our aunt to make a snide comment to Max about his scruffy appearance; "You look dreadful. With all that money your mother left you, couldn’t you afford to dress up a bit?"

There was an awkward silence. I remember looking at Max who seemed lost for words, then looking to Sarah who didn’t look surprised. It was clear to me that they were in on something together.  

Our mother died with plenty of money, but she’d left very little to us; aside from her apartment, which we sold and shared that money equally between us. 

But I always wondered what happened to the money in her bank account and I had no reason not to believe my brother – who was the executor of her will – when he said she’d donated the money to an animal charity. Okay, that made sense, she was a huge animal lover. But then she knew that I was struggling financially after my divorce. It just didn’t add up.

My brother caught off guard, glared at our aunt and then turned to me. I asked, "What money?" and that’s when Max confessed. He said he was sorry, but our mum had left him the bulk of her money, aside from a "small amount" that she wanted to give Sarah to help her acting career. 

I was horrified. Not only had my brother lied about the state of our mother's finances, but my sister had been in on it. 

In other words, our mum had looked after my siblings and forgotten about me. It was like being struck twice by the same sword; finding out that my mum thought so little of me, and that my siblings didn’t care either. They’d gone behind my back and made sure they benefited from our mother’s death while I was the one who was a single mother

I burst into tears and left. Then, in the next few days, communication among us disintegrated. The unresolved anger and the revelations about our mother’s will felt devastating.

Listen to Fill My Cup where Clinical Psychologist Dr Rebecca Ray joins us to shed light on why we people please, how to set better boundaries and reminds us why we need to look out for our own needs. Post continues after audio.

My initial attempts to discuss things further with Max and Sarah only led to more bitterness and accusations. I felt utterly betrayed and alone and decided to cut them both out of my life. At first, I felt it would be temporary but as the years dragged by, neither of my siblings reached out to me. The only family member I have in my life now is Aunt Jen who I’ve forgiven for the pain she caused our mum because she has been very supportive of me, financially and emotionally.

Over the last five years, I’ve focused on myself and my son, who now has no memory of his aunt and uncle. In saying this, I do hope that we can reunite at some point. I’ve kept up with news of my siblings through a cousin who told me Max lives interstate and Sarah is engaged to her boyfriend. Hearing that news did give me a sudden "pang" of longing for them. Maybe we’ll talk again one day. However, I feel like I’m thriving in the peaceful existence I’ve carved out for myself, far away from the drama and hurt that seemed to define my relationship with my siblings.

Names have been changed due to privacy.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

Feature image: Canva.

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