A Tense Present

Sadly you already know that my sister ‘changed address’ at the start of the summer; you may not know though,  that yesterday was her Thanksgiving Service – a big party that she arranged before she left us.  She must have felt that we would need a little space before we held her celebrations, perhaps she felt by now we would be used to her not being at our beck and call. Hmmm.

To read what follows, you may need a little more background.

As sisters we shared a very irreverent humour and a belief that we shouldn’t pander to anyone who, in her words, ‘tries to knit around my guillotine’. We also had a pact that we would never say goodbye to each other.

We did though agree to keep things ‘real’ by allowing Sis a metaphorical red buzzer moment when she wanted one – this was rarely – hitting the invisible buzzer was a warning that in the following half an hour I may have to listen to some future talk I may not want to hear… However, despite the red button – which forced me to check in on her plans occasionally – we promised that a goodbye would never be part of this conversation.

Add to this context the fact that two years ago, it was my sister and BF (Best Friend) who encouraged me to start writing this blog to get me through a very dark time -and every week, when I posted my weekly offering my Sis would usually be the first like on Dragonfly’s Instagram account. I do miss that.

Four months before Sis changed her address, I left her house one day wondering if she realised just how loved she was. I knew her well enough to know that she would brush off anyone telling her this, and if I tried to, she would accuse me of have an endgame conversation.

I went home and decided to write her a private blog page in my blog voice which you now know can be suitably irreverent. I emailed her and explained what I had done and said the blog was there if she ever wanted to read it. Naturally, being the efficient person she was – she immediately asked to see it, read it and messaged straight back making me promise to read it at her Thanksgiving. ‘It will be just like taking assembly,’ she said.

I hoped Sis would never cash in this agreement, but a deal is a deal. All I know is that Sis was happy to have the following shared at her Thanksgiving and she seemed to believe I would be able to carry it off (guest yesterday may now believe otherwise).  Yesterday I could procrastinate no longer and delivered the following. With this context, I hope that you will understand the present tense in which the blog is written and forgive the irreverent tone.

So here it is, The blog wot I wrote, the blog that I read at Sis’s Thanksgiving yesterday and the blog with my Sis as the intended audience.

Present Tense

I think my sister and I have an agreement – I hope we do anyway. We will never say goodbye to each other; it is a sort of unspoken pact. I am not sure that she totally agrees with it – I am her younger sister (although she will tell you otherwise) and after all these years of me tailing her, it would be quite understandable if she wanted to shake me off and renegade on our hidden handshake.

The reason I refuse to say goodbye to her is because my world wouldn’t be much of a world without her in it. Sis has always been at the centre of my world – indeed she has shaped it. Literally. I have never known a world without Sis in it.

She tells a tale that when I was born, she only visited mum in hospital because there was a huge jar of sweets by the bed, and that she asked mum when someone would come and take me away so that mum could go back home and get on with her day job of looking after Sis and our older siblings. Personally, I think this story is a family myth – I need to check this out with my older brother and sister. My sister could not have wanted a bedroom to herself for all our childhood years, surely? Her life would have been sadly empty without my shambolic untidiness.

Don’t think I am saying goodbye by writing this. I am no deal breaker. I am just writing to give my sister a dose of her own medicine. Her modus operandi is always to encourage and praise other people (sometimes total strangers for she has an uncanny knack of starting conversations in totally barren land), walking us through troubled times. She always tells us not to meet a problem half way but I do find myself worrying – worrying that she will carry on being so busy looking after us all that she herself may not actually know how unconditionally we love her. We still pray for the miracle we need to keep her with us, but in the meantime, I do have words. Lots of them, so buckle up, Sis, you are my captive audience for this ride.

Sis I don’t have your looks, your wisdom or your grace but I do have words and I am not afraid to use them in my desire to make sure you know that you are the dragonfly in my dragonfly jar.

When I was a teenager I absolutely idolised my sister. (Still do, but I try not to to raid her wardrobe or stalk her in public to the same extent these days). I was this chubby tom boy with a rank haircut and she was the most beautiful, intelligent and witty person I knew (still is, selfish cow). She wore a ‘Purdy haircut’ even better than Joanna Lumley herself and when Farrah Fawcett came on the scene, Sis’s artistry with a curling tong meant people thought Charlie had gained a fourth angel. To me she always will be the epitome of glamour – back then I think this may have resulted from her Saturday job at Debenhams; none of my friends could boast of a sister who worked on the Estee Lauder counter and had access to such a wide and expensive range of lip gloss.

My goodness was she tolerant – not only did she put up with me parroting out all her witty phrases to my friends and pretending they were my own, but she even let me borrow her clothes although we were totally different sizes. She must have hated me for returning her treasured Levi flares with frayed and ruined hems (I was much shorter than she) with exhausted zips (I was also much fatter); I think she just instinctively realised that I needed all the help I could get if I was to ever make it through the door to attend my first school disco.

Sis just does things properly. She’s never half hearted. When she married my lovely brother in law (thankfully seeing past his bright red chinos and yellow tank top and realising that anyone who could endear himself to our mother by showing he could perform a yoga headstand, was definitely a keeper), I remember her saying that she was going to try and make him laugh every day. Early in their marriage, he must have moaned one day that she often wore her best clothes to do the most inappropriate and messy domestic tasks. He looked out of the window later that morning to see her ready to wash their car in her wedding dress.

When my nephew and niece came along, she took the same whole hearted approach to parenting. Again, ‘things’ were just done properly and the children came first. Still do and quite rightly so. To my sister, every day is an occasion and still offers an opportunity for an adventure. I see in her children that curiosity and zest for life that

she has nurtured – quite an achievement for our childhood battle ground was Devon and Eastbourne (lovely places mum, but not for a Gap Year).

It is a measure of Sis’s love for her family that the only time she and I have ever really allowed our eyes to get a little leaky is when she broke her golden rule and decided to meet a problem half way – the problem of leaving the three people she loves the most and who adore her. Thank goodness I was there with her, because I was able to share a quote I had recently read, I told her, ‘mothers don’t fear dying, they just fear that there will never be anyone who can love their children as much as they do’. I could tell this thought cheered her up no end – my bottomless reserves of empathy had saved the day once again. I could tell she was really grateful for my sharing this. I swear she was actually laughing to the point of tears as I sat there and held her hand, soppy old thing.

Strange because Sis is not known for crying. It is her laugh that we love best. To see my sister start to giggle, to see her eyes start crinkling and her bright, generous smile building, is a sign that the party is just about to start. It is not expensive making her laugh, in fact, she is quite a cheap date. The promise of a pack of cards, a silly game, or an opportunity to dress up and she’s your’s. I can see her now, a baked potato hanging between her legs from a string tied around her waist, racing across her kitchen against a fellow competitor to ‘swing the spud’ to the finish line. ‘Pass the Brussel Sprout’ has also gone down in family history as the go-to Christmas game (invented because Sis doesn’t eat these little green cabbages and wanted to make sure there were none left at the end of a Christmas lunch).

My kids adore going to visit Sis because they know they are in for red letter day and proper food, whereas their own mother believes M&S Simply Food is her pantry and that there is no call for home cooking. When they picture my sister’s kitchen they see her china cake stand with the covered top – they believe this stand is always magically filled to suit the season and I’m sure they still feel a frisson of excitement to see the teatime ‘big reveal’ – Simnel cake at Easter, ‘Stolen’ Stollen, Yule logs and ‘Dirty Rascals’ at Christmas.

It is the same with gifts. Sis never gives a thoughtless or last minute gift and whatever the gift, it will be wrapped in beautiful tissue paper and tied with ‘proper’ ribbons. She has an uncanny knack of knowing when a little gifting will provide a glitter moment and just remind you that you are very loved. She floored me recently when she produced the most beautiful dragonfly china cup to go with the most beautiful dragonfly jug she bought me the last time I needed dragonflies most.

Anyway, Sis is probably laughing reading this. She will tell me off for exaggerating but anyone who knows her well will also know that for once I am not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. People who know and love her will know what a blessing she is in our lives. She might try and shake us off, but we need her, so I’m holding on to that hand shake. I hope Sis will accept this piece of writing as a little gift – even if I have no tissue paper or ribbons – for it is from the heart. I’m sorry if it is clunky or ham-fisted but I’m typing with one hand, after all, for my other hand is firmly holding on to her.

Love you sis, I wish we could hold you in the present tense for ever. Please accept this little gift.

A PS  (as if this blog isn’t long enough…)
Before she changed address, my Sis was cared for by the most incredible Sue Ryder team at Leckhampton.  I signed up to run the Cheltenham Half Marathon (today) for which they are one of the beneficiaries. I wasn’t brave enough to raise sponsorship beforehand because I wasn’t sure how I would feel the day after Sis’ Thanksgiving and I didn’t want to let anyone down.  Turns out that a little rain and a nostalgic jog through a host of memories linked to Sis’s time in Cheltenham was very therapeutic.  I now wish I had raised some funds for Sue Ryder.

I ran in the t shirt that we had printed in 2015 when Sis wanted to run her first half marathon, full of chemo, but also full of indomitable gusto and demanding company. Cardiff got more than it expected that year.  It is hard to resist Sis when she has set her mind on something.  I feel she has now set our minds on supporting Sue Ryder so if you want to support the superb work they do, I know they would love your donation:
http://www.sueryder.org/donate#donate

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