My Brother Died And My Anti-Vaccine Siblings Are Telling Me Not To Come To His Funeral
Anti-vaccine rally protesters hold signs outside the Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas on June 26, 2021 (Photo by MARK FELIX via Getty Images)
In July, as the delta variant of the coronavirus spread and calls for vaccination became more urgent, the vitriol of four of my six siblings became more defiant and illogical against public health officials. While I have been dismayed by her anti-vaccination stance for months, I am particularly concerned now about meeting her at our brother Daniel's funeral in September. Daniel died of complications from diabetes at the age of 64 earlier this year, and we met in California this fall in his honor.
Now that we're middle-aged siblings living in three states, we'll use group text to keep in touch. One evening I sent myself a text message worrying about the Delta variant. I explained that although I had been vaccinated, I could still get the virus and abandon my two young grandchildren, both under 5 years old. Then I asked my siblings to get vaccinated before we met in California.
I woke up the next morning to find their answers.
Sibling 1: “You are told. Bunch of lies. You believe it Not me. My choice."
Sibling 2: “It seems okay that a million illegal immigrants can cross the border with the virus and that's okay. I'll get the syringe when YOU are all vaccinated. "
Sibling 3: “Yes, this is amazing and they are pouring into all of our cities !! Great spreaders and they will be voting in November. "
Sibling 4: "Anne, if they prove this is all a big scam so that [the Democrats] can cheat in the 2020 election, will you accept the truth or will you still believe all the lies?"
Sibling 3: "Brainwashed".
They told me to stay home. Siblings 3 summed up their collective feeling: “Maybe you shouldn't leave your house. You will not burden me or my choice with your fear of getting sick! "
What they wrote was consistent with what I know of fluffy deep state conspiracy theorists. It started as a low rumble during the 2016 presidential election and gradually turned into that full-bodied gibberish.
They equated the call for vaccines with "stamping 666" and "trial runs by [those in power] to see who obeys and who does not". They talked about "snatching weapons from my cold, dead hands" and "shipping all these alien illegals to all of our cities". One of my siblings told me, "I'll listen to God and pray for Trump."
I wanted to bring the conversation back to vaccinations, reminding them that hospitals are gradually testing positive for COVID-19 while the CDC is investigating whether the Delta variant can make them seriously ill. I wanted to ask her to think about all of our grandchildren.
But I didn't do it. I just stared at my phone in disgust.
They equated the call for vaccines with "stamping 666" and "trial runs by [those in power] to see who obeys and who does not". One of my siblings said to me, "I will listen to God and pray for Trump."
My siblings and I grew up in a large Italian working-class Catholic family in Macomb County, Michigan in the 1960s. The auto worker enclave there, of which the UAW is proud, had voted Democrats in the past, but has become increasingly socially conservative. Today it's a solid Trump country.
Our parents were hardworking children of Sicilian immigrants and lifelong Democrats. They were by no means enlightened social agents. They leaned to the left because, as they put it, "Republicans are for the rich". However, over the years my siblings have turned their backs on the liberal values we grew up with. My brothers and sisters are now unrecognizable to me.
It was not always like this. As small children, we invented our own "Let's Make a Deal" game and swapped personal treasures. My brothers paid me with their paper route receipts to do their homework. We laughed at each other silly about who could make the best imitation of our sailor's mouth.
We became godparents for each other's children. We helped each other out with rent, car payments, and the occasional plane ticket. When dad turned 80, he wanted a family reunion. We rented a hall, hired a photographer, and had dinner for 60. Ten years later, when both parents needed 24-hour care, we split the week and organized care stories.
Over the years I began to feel a change. I went to college in the mid-1970s and was an early member of the National Organization for Women. The initial good-natured ripping of my newfound feminism by my siblings turned into serious, angry opposition.
As we raised our children and looked after our aging parents, we continued to get along. We were mostly too busy to notice our differences. But our kids are grown up now, our parents are gone, and Donald Trump has shown up.
I have thought long and hard about this gap. I've come to the conclusion that they really believe that it comes at their expense when other people benefit - especially people who don't look like them. For them, success is a zero-sum game.
Two years ago we gathered at my sister's home in California to plant a tree to commemorate the first two of our siblings who died. We'd agreed to keep politics on the doorstep, but that was easier said than done, and more than once I stormed into my room.
Now we have another such gathering ahead of us. For a while I wasn't sure I wanted to go. My siblings made it very clear to me that they didn't want me there. I know that my family is not alone with this new difficult situation.
Studies analyzing the effects of divisive politics on family dynamics and friendships suggest low tolerance for those with opposing views. A post-election poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 13% of Joe Biden's voters and only 5% of Donald Trump's voters said they wanted to get along with the other side. Similarly, a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships in October 2020 found that family interactions between highly partisan relatives created an increasingly wide gap.
Before the Delta variant was a daily headline, I bought a ticket to fly to San Francisco next month. After many internal discussions, I decided to use this ticket and say goodbye to Daniel, even if my siblings say that I am not welcome. I will be cordial to everyone, but I will not take part in family activities. It is strange and very sad to know that I will resign - and separated from my family, wearing a mask. I will not only mourn Daniel, but also a simpler, happier time and the siblings I have lost through such unbelievable madness.
Note: names have been changed in this piece.
Anne Marie Biondo is a freelance writer who focuses on social justice issues for philanthropic organizations.
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