I’ve been wanting to write a sort of ‘review of the year’ for 2013, but it’s proven difficult. I want to write about the good things that have happened, but to do this I need to write about the bad.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about the sorrow of the year, but I think I have to. It’s informed everything I’ve done since then, and who I am now. What follows, then, isn’t meant as a pity post. It’s taken me a while to write, and has been difficult to get through, so bear with me.
In February, my younger sister died. She was an intelligent, silly, beautiful, fragile, kind and beloved young woman, and her death was unexpected, sudden, and still unexplained.
This was my first experience of personal grief. All the relatives I love are still alive and healthy, and for the youngest of us to die first was shocking.
Of all the people we love, for many of us our siblings are the ones we always expect to be with until the end. We know them intimately, from the people they once were to the people they are now. Whether you are close to a sibling, separated by many miles, or in the midst of a fight, you know they are always there. You were together during nightmares, for first steps, when everyone fell out on holiday, when new friends were made, bad jokes were laughed at, and dream plans made for the future. You expect to share certain rituals with siblings, to attend family weddings and funerals, to play with each other’s children, to think of their partners as part of your family.
When those opportunities are forever ripped away, you are left with a strange vacuum. I tried to find help for sibling grief online to understand it better and found myself turning to academic journals when bereavement support sites let me down. Adult sibling grief isn’t written about much, although all of us who have brothers or sisters will, at some point, experience it.
Once I’d accepted that my sister had really died (which took weeks) I started to write a journal about my feelings and experiences. It was therapeutic, and I’d advise it for anyone else going through similar. I also gathered together all the cards, notes and little things my sister had given my over the years, and put them together in a box. So many of the cards said the same thing: that she was proud of me, and had faith in my creativity. She knew I loved to write, and believed in me more than I do in myself. The same had been true of me with her: she was an amazing artist but her self-esteem was very low, and she never pursued it or believed in her talent. Looking at her notes helped give me the strength to quit my job in order to write later in the year.
We had, I think, a beautiful celebration of my sister’s life. Money was donated in her memory to an animal charity she supported. We paid tribute to the person she had been and wanted to be. The crematorium was overflowing with family and friends who knew and loved her, which was an incredible thing for all the family.
Weeks passed. I went back to work. I started to read books again, and eventually, after several months, to write fiction. I attended the beautiful wedding of my brother and sister-in-law, one of the most wonderful days of my life. My partner and I went on a lovely highland holiday, I caught up with old friends, and I made space to do things which made me happy. I quit my job to concentrate on writing. I stepped through time and tried to pick up the pieces of who I used to be.
I am a humanist, and not a religious person. I will not see my sister again, but I can take comfort in the memories of our time together. I think about Claire now when I hear certain pieces of music, watch her favourite films, and read books she would have liked. I thought about her when I started to write the book I’ve just finished, and ended up writing something which looks at identity and loss.
Some days are still very hard. There are still moments which make me feel like I’ve been punched in the throat, and when I want to do nothing more than curl up in the shower. Then there are days when I read something beautiful, spend an afternoon writing or laughing. I keep going, because that is the only thing to do. I look forward, and cherish what is behind me.
I take comfort in the words of Douglas Dunn:
Look to the living, love them, and hold on.
Picture at top: Horses I stumbled across the morning after my brother’s wedding, which our sister would have loved .