It’s been a week since my sister’s wedding, which was beautiful – as was she – and I’m finally beginning to decompress. As the Maid of Honour (MOH), I was asked to give a speech. You’d think this would be an easy task. After all, I’m a writer, and over the years I’ve written speeches for everyone from CEOs, to corporate execs, I’ve written personal speeches and eulogies, and even written for friends speaking at their own sibling’s weddings. But this one really stumped me. It took me weeks to write, and re-write. It occured to me somewhere between drafts 7 and 12 that it’s because I’ve never written anything I care about so deeply before.
It had to be from the heart, to be spoken aloud, not only in front of an audience, but to the person in the world who is closer to me than anyone else: My sister. Once I finally did write it, I realized how many things I should have said aloud earlier. My mother, who lost her brother when she was 24, is a constant reminder that we need to tell the people we love just how much they mean to us. And while I hear her, like most children – even grown ones – I hear but I don’t always listen. I’m going to stop with my sappy rambling now and just reprint the speech below….
When we were kids, one day my sister and I had one of many blowout fights. My mother, a trained childhood educator, sat us down, and explained to us compassionately that it was important for us to work though our differences. “”One day,” she said, “the rest of our family will be gone, and your sister will be all you have left.” Erica and I looked at each other, considered this option, and, at the thought of being left alone with each other, burst into tears. My mother then burst into tears, and my father came home from work to find three sobbing women, a sight which the poor man would become all too accustomed to in years to come.
So, we did not get along when we were growing up. That’s not to say we didn’t have fun together. We did. Our parents are adventurous and intelligent and they had us along for the ride from day one. Whether it was climbing the camel’s hump or travelling to sun filled destinations, hanging with my Grandparents Gladys and Iz in lake placid or skiing every weekend in the winter. Even when we went on a cruise and our parents shoved us in a cube with family friends the Schrager girls, with a shower toilet and a curtain that exposed a PICTURE of a window because we were under sea- lever, and we had a blast. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what an amazing childhood we had, how many people we met because our parents were open-minded, and how many adventures we shared together.
We were talked to with adult vocabulary, which we subsequently used to torment each other. No I was not in your room, I was simply standing on your lintel, was not an unusual phrase in our house. We’ve always found things to fight about, whether it be dad’s shoes or disagreeing about how we’d like to remodel Peter’s house, I’ve found in you a worthy adversary, banter partner, and the only person capable of seeing directly through me. Mom always said you can only drive each other this crazy because you know each other well enough that you know exactly which buttons to push. There is certainly some truth to that statement. But it took me well into my twenties to realize just how right she was.
You are the only one who knows exactly what it was like to be raised by Sharon and Rob. We were surrounded with a lot of characters, a lot of culture, languages, and adult talk at a very young age. We were encouraged to be individuals, even if that meant Erica would dress like a boy for several years. We were equally comfortable at Hillsdale and at summer camp, and Erica relished the month every summer she spent up north with Therese and Jean Guy, living immersed in French in St Donat, playing tock and “visiting” with Therese’s elderly relatives.
I remember the weekend I went to visit you in Vancouver, your first year at UBC. That was the weekend we talked for the first time as people. We told each other about all our deep rooted issues with each other, we both cried, we both yelled, and it had to be resolved because we were sharing a closet sized dorm room with a bed fir for one seven year old. Over the past decade our relationship has continued to evolve, as you’ve become a close confidante, my vault, a position I know you sometimes thinks comes with far too much information.
I love our dinners, shopping – just not for bathing suits, never again – and hanging out with you and laughing. We still don’t always agree – in fact, we rarely agree – but I always respect and benefit from your perspective. And there’s no question that I’m a better person as a result of having you as a sounding board. While you don’t always agree with my choices, you’re always there, and have never, ever faltered in your support.
You make me laugh harder than anyone I’ve ever met, your sharp… You’re a natural athlete, a former competitive swimmer, a lifeguard, and I know you like to hide when you play the piano, but that doesn’t make you any less brilliant… You’re the best dog aunt around, although I’m pretty sure you taught Luca that lie down means flail on your back with your legs in the air. I always have fun with you, even if it’s doing the most asinine things like singing Lionel Richie, or making a game trying to herd our parents towards the gate before they missed a flight and got stuck in a forging country.
I first met Jer at YCC, one summer 5 years ago. My parents were out of town, and my girlfriend Alison and I went up together to visit our respective siblings on visiting day. I got to the camp and excitedly ran to Erica’s shack, where she lived as head of senior waterfront. I knocked on the door, waiting for my sister, but when it opened there stood a handsome lanky fellow with no shirt. “Hi, I’m Jer” he said, “I’m head of junior waterfront.” Now despite the fact that my parents met during an instructor’s course for lifeguards at McGill, it never occurred to me that Erica might have something going on with another swimming enthusiast.
Over the next few years I got to know Jer, first as Erica’s friend, then as a boyfriend. Oh, I’m sorry; I may have just made a faux pas. Guys, am I allowed to tell people you’re dating yet? It’s ok? Oh, good.
Anyway, I’ve gotten to know Jer over the past five years. Like Erica, he comes off as very quiet. But that certainly doesn’t mean he isn’t opinionated. Jer, you really are a wonderful addition to our family. People have asked me a lot in the past few months if I was excited because Erica and Jer got engaged and there’s going to be a new member of the family. The truth is, while I’m delighted to celebrate, I don’t really feel like anything is changing, because Jer has been a member of our family for quite some time already. Jer, in you, I’ve found the brother I have never had. You’ve proven not only that you’re there for Erica, but for me too, whether it be changing a light bulb or –despite your objections -being asked your take on my life or relationships, you’re always there. You guys are really an amazing match, and it’s been amazing to watch you grow and evolve into the couple you are today, real young adults who really respect and listen to each other.
Erica’, you’re not only getting a great guy, you’re marrying an amazing family; Ricky, Lauren, Matt, Galit and Scottie, you’ve not only welcomed Erica into your family, you’re included all of us. Dad and Ricky just have to stop getting matching haircuts, it’s freaking me out.
I would be remised if I did not mention those who are not with us to celebrate here today. Our grandparents Celia and Syd, Uncle Lionel, Daisy and Jack and especially Gladys and Isadore. Gladys, the quintessential lady, would have relished seeing you today, dressed up and grown up into the beauty you’ve become. She also would have thanked you for finally bringing a Jewish doctor into the Bishin family. Isadore would be so proud of you, and I think in Jer, you have found a man who is very much like our grandfather; a family man with good values, a heart of gold, and the sort of real stand up-guy the whole family can really count on.
Ecky, you’ve seen me at my best, and you’ve seen me at my very worst. There are days when we have hated each other, but we have never stopped loving each other. Thinking back onto mom’s words, I can safely say that there’s no one in the world I’d rather be left with that you. You are not only my sister; you are truly my best friend. I could not be more proud of you than I am today, and I love both of you very much.
Let’s raise a glass to Erica and Jer. I wish you a life filled with happiness, honesty, and, like our grandparents, 50 plus years of companionship and love.