It was only a small thing, but the little book I found tucked away in a cupboard sent me spiralling down into melancholy yesterday and I was not prepared for it.
My week’s holiday had been lovely but perhaps there had been too much time spent unoccupied in which to think about my sister Margaret who I lost to cancer (aged 72) on New Years Day. This is not my first experience of grief and holidays.
You seem to be doing just fine and then you go away and once you ‘let down’ and relax, all your grief comes bubbling up to remind you that grief’s work has only just begun and is not at all finished as you had hoped.
When I opened the tiny book, there was an inscription … forgotten about but clearly in Margaret’s handwriting. It was as if she had reached out to me in my sorrow and spoken to me. It read:
To Little Sis, Happy 61st Birthday
Love always … From Big Sis xxx
And I was shocked. I can only vaguely recall her giving me this book. It reminded me of the time my mother died in August 1989 and a little while later, I had some photographs developed – as you did in those days – and when I opened the prints, there was a smiling photo of my mother with two of her sisters plus her aunt (who was 90).
I was almost physically propelled backwards as my mind tried to come to grips with HOW I now had a photo of my dead mother two months after her death. Where had it come from? Was it real and not something supernatural? Yes it was. It had been taken at the Baptism of Mum’s great-grandchild a few weeks before she died, when we did not even know she was ill.
I learned to treasure that last photo of my mother; she looked so happy and … well, ALIVE! So now my sister’s book and her words had appeared and spoken to me from the grave, reminding me that she was indeed my big sister and that she loved me and she looked upon me always – first and foremost – as her little sister.
Read here to mean that she was protective of me. The eldest child and the youngest child! Something that was both a blessing … and a curse … for her. I had been feeling sad and unloved and now her love for me had reached out and touched me in the heart.
Last night I had my cry and wrote in my private Journal about the sadness that I felt at losing her too soon. I wondered if I would ever get used to the void her passing had left in my life. I asked myself: “Will life ever be normal again? I cannot imagine my life without Margaret, my Big Sister.”
But of course, it will. Time will pass by and one day I will wake up and realise I have not thought of her for several days . I will feel guilty at first, but then I will realise that my life is being swept ever onwards by forces beyond my control and I cannot stop them. I have no wish to stop them. But I am torn between wanting to hang on to her memory and the need to get up and go on.
In fact, things are changing every day that she is not here. For instance, her youngest son and his partner announced their engagement last week and I am so delighted … thrilled even, for them. And then I thought of Margaret and how excited she would have been to witness this lovely event. Perhaps, this is what sent me spiralling into melancholy?
She had so longed for this outcome for her son; to see him settle down and marry, and now here it was …
Dear ‘Big Sis’, thank you for reaching through the grave and speaking to me through Between Sisters. Two things in the little book spoke to me in fact. The first one sums up exactly how I feel about my sister and it says:
“You can’t think how I depend on you, and when you’re not there, the color goes out of my life.” (Virginia Woolf in a letter to her sister)
And then there is the second, which simply made me smile as it summed up our relationship so well:
“She (your sister) is your mirror, shining back at you with a world of possibilities. She is your witness, who sees you at your worst and best, and loves you anyway. She is your partner in crime, your midnight companion, someone who knows when you are smiling, even in the dark.
She is your teacher, your defense attorney, your personal press agent, even your shrink. Some days, she’s the reason you wish you were an only child.” (Barbara Alpert)
This last one reminded me of us three sisters as girls when Margaret would sneak into bed with Jeanette and me, when she was afraid of the dark in her own room. Yes, and later she tried to be ‘our shrink’ too! And of course, there were those times as a child when I wished she would just go away … and now, conversely, I wish that I could get all that time back again.
Life is full of paradoxes, dear friends. We can so easily love and hate at the same time and that’s okay.That’s life in fact.
So in closing, let me just say: Appreciate the ones you love while they are still here, for too soon they will be gone and with it all their idiosyncracies, which strangely enough, will no long bother you leaving only LOVE to remain …