Grief – The Unexpected Visitor

Sisters and Friends

Sisters and Friends

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.

When we were very young

When we were very young.

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.

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21 thoughts on “Grief – The Unexpected Visitor

  1. A lovely tribute Juli and I draw comfort from our shared experience. There are days when I really, really miss my sister and get angry because she is not here. Knowing I am not alone helps. Thanks.

  2. A wonderful tribute. Though the years may make the little bouts of tears come less often, it’s surprising still how often they can happen and what makes the tears appear.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

  3. Grief always surprises me with its intensity and as you so aptly noted in the title of your post, its habit of dropping by unannounced. Even so, anniversaries always seem to usher in the myriad emotions that clothe grief – longing, sadness and the snap of anger. (At least it seems so to me). It doesn’t appear to matter whether they are anniversaries of birth, death or events that were special in a shared existence. Birthdays, however, do make one want to celebrate a life! Thank you for sharing this and letting myself (and others) celebrate the life of your sister and your friendship!

    As an aside, you touched on an interesting point when you noted that living overseas brought a curious blessing during your sister’s illness. As much as I miss the everyday interactions with my family in Australia, I find that when I do visit, the weeks that I spend in their company allow for many deep and thoughtful conversations that may not have otherwise occurred. It seems that your sister was present in your life and you in hers, no matter that you lived half a world away. And through your writing, she is still present. That is indeed something to celebrate. Take care!

    • Thank you, Maritza. Like you, I felt there were many benefits with living overseas, not only because the time spent with family and friends on visits home was quality time, but also because some of them managed to visit me. My sister visited me for a month when we lived in Florida, and another month when we moved to the UK. We would never have had that extended time together if I’d stayed in Australia.
      Not long after we left Australia, my neighbour’s eldest son moved to Norway to be with his Norwegian girlfriend. We visited them three times during the time we were in the UK. I love Norway. He even thinks in Norwegian now!

  4. Beautifully described Juli. It’s been 28 years for me and although I still feel a surprisingly intense ,gut wrenching grief when I light the candle placed closed to the carefully selected flowers each year, the grief now comes partnered with gratitude for my own life and the opportunities that still await me. Appreciation of existence is often a gift that comes to those of us who have lost someone precious much too soon. Much love.xxx

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