Last weekend we voyaged south to support my husband in the London Marathon- it was 25 degrees and I was slapping factor 50 on the kids like it was going out of fashion. Tonight, I found myself putting the woodburner on. This is April: famous for its unpredictability on the isotope front. And yet, don’t we all still yearn for the sunshine to stay just a little longer, even when it comes unexpectantly out of season?
Nevertheless, last weekend was a lovely distraction from fickle nature of spring. We were fortunate enough to be staying with my Sage Aunty (SA) in north London for this marathon-related visit. Not only does she happen to sage, but also zen. I aspire to be as zen as she. And it’s just as well she is that way when witnessing how best (or not!) to corral an energetic 2-year old in her lovely abode…!
During a hiatus from the busy-ness of marathon preparation and spectating, SA and me managed to have a few hours on our own to chat in the sun-trap of her back garden. Talk inevitably turned to family, and by family, I mean grief. The long-awaited inquest for my late sister, Monica, is just around the corner and we are all holding our breath in different ways for what it will dredge up. The wonderful thing about SA is that she is an experienced imbiber of thoughts, recollections and traumas, in a way that offers no solutions, but provides immeasurable reassurance. We talked for long enough for me to feel a little lighter, and when the sun had taken a respite behind the clouds, we went inside and had some cheese on toast.
This normalisation of grief is what I strive for, and only this week I was giving forth to another bereaved friend about why it is so important to make the dead part of our own continued existence. And yet, what I couldn’t get off my chest to SA were the feelings I had about just being in her neighbourhood at all. I have struggled to shake off the trauma attached to many places near to where I live, as they have become associated with my late sister’s life and death. It has become bitter sweet that we lived less than 10 miles apart. There are about a dozen places that give me a feeling that can only be summed up with the word doom. I suppose it is one of grief’s many ugly sides that makes the benign street, restaurant or vista a no-go in your mind. I realise it is something I probably need to work through, particularly after the reminders I experienced last weekend.
See, Mary (the first sister to exit stage right), lived and died just a stone’s throw from SA in London. And so, as the mind has a torturous wont to do so, I found myself craning my neck at every street sign as we neared my aunty’s home. Was it this street? Was it this one? Eventually I gave in. Thankfully, I don’t fully recall the name of her road; she hadn’t lived there long, and I only visited it on two occasions. Once, two days before she took her life; we ate cereal at 10pm, she cried a lot, and we fell asleep top-to-toe like when we were kids. Precisely one week later, I found myself carting boxes of her belongings out of there with (ironically some may say), my second sister who went too soon, Monica.
It is Mary’s anniversary in two days, and up to now, I have not felt that awful re-emergence of grief that you go through in those first few years (or cycles) after a bereavement for a long time. The date became just another day, and I was thankful that my life has been so righted, so transformed, that I didn’t recognise who I was back then. And now, since Monica went the same way, almost 11 months ago, I feel a sensation returning; a longing- a yearning- to see my 20-month older sister again. The one who will always be 25 in my head, no matter how old I become. To hold her close to me, and never let her go.
I wrote this poem the year after she died while I was taking night classes in Creative Writing. I had not written many poems before or have done since, but this is the one that sticks in my head the most. I can’t vouch for the quality, but this one’s for Mary Cecilia (5th February 1979 – 30th April 2004).
as you lay all alone on the floor?
Did they look in your eyes and pump your chest,
until they could do no more?
pull them up so they covered your face?
Did they lower your lids, and close your mouth-
Show respect in another sad case?
on the stretcher, down the stairs, to the street?
Did your head still loll side to side, down the steps?
Unsupported, unknown piece of meat.
On its way back from where it came?
Did the lights not flash, and the siren not sound,
as April saw out its last rain?