Saturday, July 22, 2006


Da Nator very sweetly gave me a belated hug when I mentioned my late sister in the comments of my last post. I started to reply in the comments, but decided to post a bit of an article here. It's actually the anniversary of my sister's death very soon (this coming Friday), so it seems like a good time to write this.

Ironically, because of the way things worked out, that date is also the anniversary of the night that I met my Lovely Husband™, although naturally for that first night he was simply Gorgeous Trade™. (He quickly went on to become Sexy Boyfriend™, and after little less than a year, Fabulous FiancĂ©™. The sharper reader may notice a progression in these adjectives indicative of good, healthy relationship growth.)

This year, that date will mark five years that we have been together, and three years since my older sister died. Given that she was two years older, I am now, in some respects, the "oldest" sibling.

She was a long term diabetic, having been diagnosed at the age of six. What I didn't find out until I had made up my mind to move to New Zealand was that that diagnosis was the one thing that put the kibosh on our family moving to that country way back when I was a four year old. My mum and dad had made arrangements, sorted out work, accommodation, visas, the whole thing, and were on the verge of leaving. When my sister became ill, they decided that, not knowing what the health service was like in NZ, they weren't willing to take a risk with the health of one of their children, so we didn't go. My dad was quite shocked when I announced plans to move to NZ, because I was the same age that he had been when he had planned to move, yet I was completely unaware that there had ever been such a plan.

Over the years, my sister had some problems because of her diabetes, but most of the time she managed it quite well. She didn't do too well at school, but a couple of years after leaving, she put herself through college, and then university, and became a podiatrist. She had amazing drive and determination, and would let nothing hold her back. Six failed attempts to pass her driving test didn't put her off trying and passing on the seventh. She married, and she and her husband bought a lovely sandstone house in our home town.

The marriage stopped working after a few years, unfortunately, and for a while she lived with my mum, who at that time was in a tiny little house with my youngest brother and sister, during a period of separation between my parents. My sister briefly dated my mum's next door neighbour, although she was also having an on-again/off-again thing with an internet acquaintance.

We're not exactly sure what happened the night she had her accident, but she had a seizure related in some way to her diabetes (not in itself an unusual occurrence), choked on her own vomit (aspirated, in the medical parlance), and wasn't found for several hours, by which time she had been massively oxygen deprived, and suffered from some serious brain damage.

She was hospitalised for almost a year, during which times she seemed to wax an wane, sometimes almost on the verge of responding to her environment, sometimes really ill. For a while, she was able to walk, although being unaware of her surroundings, and probably blind, she couldn't do so unassisted.

About seven months after her accident, my cousin very kindly sent an invitation to myself and my Lovely Husband™ to come to his wedding. I hadn't planned to visit the UK, but that was the straw that broke the camel's back. I asked my Lovely Husband™ if we could go. He agreed that it was a good idea. The timing was such that we would be there for the wedding, we would get to see my sister - something I had wanted to do ever since the accident, but the timing never seemed right - and we would also be around for my ickle bruvver's 19th birthday, and my ickle sister's 18th. My mother's birthday is also around that time, and I would get to introduce my Lovely Husband™ to the family, and be with them when we celebrated being together for three years. Also, SARS was happening in Asia, so flights via Hong Kong were about half price, without which we would have struggled to afford the trip.

The way things worked out, we spent a couple of days with dear friends in London (A+B), and then went up to Scotland. The evening we arrived was awful. We went straight to the hospital, and within half an hour of arriving, we were around my sister's bed whilst a priest read the last rites (or Extreme Unction as it is also known, which my very Catholic grannie pronounces in an entertainingly idiosyncratic way). My mum was so distraught that she wouldn't even let me introduce her to my Lovely Husband™. That had to wait until the next day.

Within a few hours, my sister's condition seemed to settle. And the next day was my cousin's wedding, which was a really beautiful event. The reception was held in the Duck Bay Marina on the banks of Loch Lomond, and it was in the middle of a heat wave. The gods could not have smiled more on us all. There was also an excellent magician working the tables after dinner. Naturally, I approved enormously, and enjoyed his show a great deal. I had been doing some stuff earlier, but put it away so as not to drawn thunder from the guy being paid to do it.

The next day, I was at my uncle/godfather's trying to fix a problem he had with his PC. We got a call to go back to the hospital. After several painful hours, and some serious conversations with various specialists, it became apparent that my sister was dying. She did so in the early hours of the following morning, with the whole family around her - cousins, aunts, uncles, too, not just parents and siblings.

The timing - the wedding, our visit - meant that for the first time in years, everyone could be around her. So we all were. She made one last effort for us. The mind that was still trapped in that sadly wasted body threw itself against the bars of its prison with all its might, for it seemed that with each of the slow exhalations by which she slipped from us, unless our ears deceived, she sighed the name of each person in the room. Satisfied with this final stocktake, she pulled down the shutters on a life lived with much verve, derailed unexpectedly by capricious fate.

We miss your laughter, your joy, your passion, your determination, your refusal to let experience or other people dictate your limits, your optimism, your energy, your sense of fun. We miss you.

Rest in peace, Colette.


First Nations said...

That was so beautifully done by you and your whole family, to mingle their happiness with her pain and not let her go onward alone. i wish i had similar memories, sad as this one is.

Hanuman1960 said...

That was a beautiful, moving, tribute.

What wonderful luck, (or was it just luck?) that everything came together so that you all could have that last good-bye...

Qenny said...

It does seem like something more than luck was at play to allow such a co-mingling of a life ending, and a new life going on. I feel a much fuller person for having had that experience, sad though it was, and much as I would rather not have had the experience, and still have my sister instead.

When I left for New Zealand, my parents and Colette came to see me in London before I left for the airport. She gave me a quaich, often given to those about to depart on a long journey. Of all my siblings, I think if she had been alive, she would have come to New Zealand for our wedding last year (notwithstanding my lovely second cousin, who did excellent service as my best man - but I had only known him from the time he arrived with his lovely girlfriend - who herself did a star turn as part groomsmaid, part MC). As it was, I suggested we use the quaich to hold the rings before the moment in the ceremony when we put them on each other. In the same way that the gift itself was a token of a journey to be undertaken, including it at that point when we were about to embark on a new journey seemed right. It also brought my sister, or my memory of her, right into the service, in a good, wholesome, healthy way that I like, even if it makes me a bit tearful to think of it.

CyberPete said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. It must be nice to have memories of her. Being able to remember the good times. I cried oh I cried reading it. It was good that you were there by the end.
I lost a brother when I was 5 and I don't remember him at all. There are no memories, just photos in the photo albums.

Inexplicable DeVice said...

A quite delightful and moving post. I'm sure she's still with you all.

runemeister said...

Beautiful testament to a beautiful lady. Thank you for sharing.

frobisher said...

Lovely post Qenny, God bless Colette.

Jay said...

That was very touching. It was good that all of you were there at the end.


Da Nator said...

As horrible as the experience was, I'm glad you all were able to say goodbye to her, and she to you. Although, perhaps, it wasn't really a forever sort of goodbye...

BIG HUG this time. A wonderful tribute. She would be/is proud, I'm sure.

Qenny said...

cyberpete: I'm sorry for your double loss, both of your brother, and of your memories of him. Was he the same age as you, older, younger? A lot of my memories of my sister are from childhood, because we played together a lot. She was always in charge, bossy besom.

Everyone else, thank you. It was good to write that. I'm glad I did. And it's given me an idea for something else to witter on about ...

CyberPete said...

I try not to ask a lot about my brother because it's a sore spot. My mum was a basket case and in therapy for years. My dad buried himself in his work and god knows what my other brother did.

Anyway from what I gather he was 7 years older than me, so maybe 12 years old when he died. I looked through a box of old clothes the other day and found a red shirt with a gold glittering tiger on it. I have seen a photo of him wearing it. I'm quite sure I have never worn it so I wonder how it got in there. Maybe I stole it years ago as revenge for something.