Thursday, January 20, 2011

About my sister

Just when all of the new things were due to begin, I got the sad news that my sister, Heather, passed away. She was just 43 years old.

My sisters and I are all spread out: I am here in Colorado, my youngest sister Becky is in Saskatchewan, my middle sister Sandy is in Quebec, and Heather was in our hometown in Ontario. Life circumstances and geography kept us from spending a lot of time together as adults, but we were the four musketeers when we were little.

I was fortunate to be able to travel to her service, and more fortunate that my thoughtful husband was able to come with me. Becky and her husband were able to come too, and we descended on Sandy and her family- though she took it all in stride like she has a houseful every day.

It was the first time I have been back in Canada since I moved here. I still didn't feel ready to go, I didn't want to have to think about the past life that I left behind. And I wish more than anything that I had been making the trip to see Heather while she was still with us.

Heather was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, and through her whole life dealt with a myriad of impediments and health issues as a result. She had excellent doctors at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, and other than a few operations in her childhood, was able to live a pretty normal life until her mid-twenties. Adulthood brought out a host of new physical challenges and seemingly random illnesses.

She married as a young adult and had a wonderful little boy, Dan, who was her pride and joy. That marriage didn't work out as she had hoped and she later married another man who loved her dearly and was a good helpmate to her. They were still married at the time of her death.

Her son Dan, is now a strapping 20 year old man, and a proud member of the Royal Canadian Dragoons. It was such a relief to us, his aunts, to know that he is not only in charge of his life, but is happy.

We were just in Ottawa for two days (the other two days were traveling back and forth), and it was busy so I, like many of us when trying to manage our way through a difficult situation, focused on the things that had to be done and the people we had to see, etc. I didn't let myself think too much about what we had lost.

But now I am back at home and normal life resumes. Only it resumes with a little piece missing and that hurts.

I decided to go through my measly pile of old photos (I used to have a lot more, long story) and scan what I have to share with my sisters. I wish I had done it sooner so I could be making Heather a copy too. Years ago I did make her a little scrapbook with photos of the four of us sisters, and her husband told me at her funeral that it was one of her most prized possessions. I don't even remember what photos I used in it- and who knows, if I was making her one of these now, she might be laughing her head off at me for getting old and forgetting that I had already given her those photos... lol

Heather loved to laugh and always had a smile for those she cared about, no matter what she was struggling with at the time. She loved to visit with family, and she loved to sing.

She and I were less than a year apart in age and so only a grade apart. We both sang in the school choir (she was a soprano and I was an alto) and we would come home and teach the younger two sisters the songs and we would sing in harmony. We must have been pretty good, at least for our ages, because my father used to have us sing for visiting family members. Heather is the only one who kept singing in her adult life, she was an enthusiastic member of her church choir.

When she was able to, Heather volunteered her time knitting and crocheting for the homeless, and baked anytime someone in her church lost a loved one. Maybe that is how she managed to stay cheerful despite her disabilities, staying focused on others when she could.

It makes me really sad to see her smiling face in a high school photo and to know I won't see her smile in person again. But I will remember her smiling, and I will be thankful that we had her for the time we did. I will be grateful that she is no longer in pain or struggling with physical constraints.

I will remember her joy in some of my work and be comforted knowing she is now looking over us all.