Today five years ago my sister died. She died a long and painful death from cancer and every day I miss her, my memories are tainted by those last few days of her in the palliative care ward where she slipped away from us forever.
Her grave is in Brisbane so every year mum and I struggle to find some way to ritualise our grief. Sometimes we go to Saint Peters and light a candle. On the second anniversary of her death we did just that. There was an African congregation in the main part of the cathedral so respectfully we removed ourselves to the Lady’s chapel, so as not to intrude on their worship, so we could quietly contemplate this somber occasion. As we seated ourselves and hung our heads in what we thought might look like prayer (neither of us attend church) an incredible drumming and chanting began to rumble around the lofty ceilings and penetrate the walls of the Lady’s chapel so that contemplation, or prayer or simply remembrance was virtually impossible. As the chair vibrated beneath me I saw out of the corner of my eye mum’s shoulders shaking and I thought perhaps she was crying, defeated by the impossibility of finding a place to adequately express our grief. As I reached out to her I realised she was actually laughing, and trying to hide it. Then we both sat there, heathenous and inappropriately giggling uncontrollably because it seemed like just the sort of practical joke Gail would play on us. She would make light of a serious situation.
We had a very troubled relationship, Gail and I. Filled with sibling rivalry and petty jealousies. That changed when I got cancer and disappeared almost completely when she got cancer. I used to say that playing the cancer card was often a “get out of jail free” strategy and she used to tell me how she milked it for better seats at a concert and to get discounts! But one day when I was visiting her she was being an absolute cow, so I withdrew my former statement and said having cancer did not give you the right to be a complete bitch. She went off her trolley at me. We made up. But it still haunts me. She moderated then. She was so full of resentment about not being able to watch her sons grow up. Can you blame her. I wanted to be able to allow her the freedom to express her anger and frustration, but when you’re living with cancer the people around you feel so helpless. And do you really want them to spend their last days with you feeling like shit, trying to tiptoe around, wearing a mask to hide their guilt, that it’s not them that’s dying but you. It was a truly fucked up situation.
I loved her dearly. And I am really pissed off that she was taken from me before I could get to know her properly. That sounds odd because we grew up together, but we hardly knew each other as adults. I left home when she was just 17. By the time she was in a long term relationship, with a dickhead I could not stand, she had moved to Seaford and I was teaching in the country. I saw her at Christmas. When her relationship was on the rocks she happened to kiss another man. It was only a kiss, and she was living with a tyrant, so she deserved more. He found out. That evening I got a call from her and she said in a teary voice that she had rung to tell me she was nothing but a whore. WTF? Did Nick tell you to say that I asked. Yes, she replied. Put him on the phone I said. And I let him have it, as much as I could without pushing him to violence. I hope he drops dead from some nasty venereal disease the filthy scumbag. She left him, thank God.
I could not believe this was my sister, allowing a pig like him to treat her like this. She was strong. She took no prisoners at work. I have heard her on the phone to people. Once when she was pissed off about her rental property and the key not working. She was answering the phone for work and speaking to the landlord on the mobile. She could transform from sweet obliging accounts department officer, “sure no problem, love, leave it to us” and return to the landlord to serve him up his balls for breakfast. Unbelievable. It was like watching an artist at work.
When she was sick and didn’t know she had cancer she had terrible pain in her hip and she went to see the doctor. She had two enormous sons. They were chubby, healthy and damn heavy. One was a baby, the other a toddler, just walking. Both still in nappies and both fiercely averse to getting them changed. The doctor said the X-rays showed nothing and he suggested no heavy lifting for a while. She looked at him incredulous, “excuse me? Have you seen my sons? She indicated to them. They were with her. Innocently gazing upon the idiot from their chubby visages. She was a working mum. No heavy lifting indeed.
I can’t believe she was never sacked. Once her boss asked her to do something unreasonable, like get him a cup of coffee and she replied, “sure, or….you could do it your fucking self”. At which point he laughed. She was ferocious.
She fought her disease for an entire year and eventually it beat her. It took away a human being who would have enriched my life, had she been allowed to stay. I miss her and everything she could have been, with a ferocity that is as large and commanding a presence as she was.