It’s my sister’s birthday today.
We were born seven years apart, which may be why we always had a good relationship. By the time I was a teenager, she was living away from home in the city, and then she travelled, got married, and set up home with her husband in Bendigo, a three hour drive from the suburbs of Melbourne. So, we weren’t physically close like many sisters are, but she was always in my orbit, and I’m sure I was also in hers. We’d call each other every month or so, and visit for a day or two when we could. We’d often make the effort to visit on our respective birthdays, and we ALWAYS had a good time when we were together.
This post is my way of visiting her today, because she died in January 2011.
She was my go-to person when I needed advice, or support. She was the one person I could talk to about anything that was concerning me, and I’d know she’d listen, pay attention, and be interested. That’s a gift she gave to me.
Thanks to my supportive husband and family, and the fact we were living overseas when she was diagnosed with cancer, I was able to make three extended visits to be with her in the nine months she was ill. If I had still been living in Australia, I would have visited more often, but they would have been brief snatches of time between work and other obligations, so although living thousands of kilometers apart when she was dying was difficult at times, and scary, there were benefits.
Those extended visits of four to six weeks were wonderful. We talked and talked, about cancer, treatment options, dying, death, the after life, religion, funeral planning, and our usual favourite subjects, relationships, my writing, her art projects, flowers, photography, our family of origin, and the families we had created.
By the time she died, I felt we’d both said everything that needed to be said, and although I knew I’d grieve, I expected to be able to deal with her death reasonably well.
My parents died suddenly when I was in my early twenties, and I was still being surprised by bouts of unexpected grief up to forty years later, so I’m aware this is part of the grieving process, but I also thought I’d gained a wisdom with my added years which would help me accept my sister’s death. So, it was a shock earlier this year, to discover myself crying at unexpected intervals, the tears prompted by a fleeting thought, the words of a song, or a sunset viewed from our new home, but most of all I think they stemmed from the fact that I was home at last, and she wasn’t.
So much has happened since she died. I know she was excited about my writing, but I was okay knowing I wouldn’t be able to hand her a copy of my book before she died. I was also aware that the life I’d planned when I returned to Australia, one that would include regular days spent together because we were both retired, was not going to happen, but I coped well with that, too.
It’s the little things I want to tell her that bring on my grief. I want to tell her what’s happening with my kids, where I’m living, what my next book is about, and all the details of the garden I’m planning.
There will always be things I want to talk to her about, but those unexpected tears will come less and less as the years go by. Time is a wonderful healer.
Happy Birthday, Helen. I miss you.