What my sister and my mother taught me

My mum died four years ago. It was all pretty horrible. But before she died, she said to me something I’ve never forgotten. ‘This isn’t the worst thing that could happen to you, Bec. It’s terrible, but it’s not the worst thing that could ever happen to you.’ The reason she knew this is because twenty five years ago the worst thing that could ever happen had happened to her – she lost a child. My sister died one October day aged twelve, with no warning, no time to prepare herself or ourselves, and no time to say goodbye. It seemed then, and still seems now, a monumental waste; she had lived so little, a tiny fraction of what should have been her life. I think sometimes of what I hope that life would have held: joy, happiness, love, laughter, wonder.
Who knows what she would have been, or what she would have become? Now I’ve had many more years without her than I had with her, and yet I can still see her face turned towards me in the dark of another night in which she begged me to stay awake until she slept, full of nameless fears, trusting me, always the stronger sister, to protect her. 
Thinking of my sister or my mum no longer devastates me in the way it used to. This isn’t because I’ve listened to those trite, well meant words from so many in the early days – ‘you need to think of what your mum would have wanted.’ This generally translates to ‘you mustn’t get upset.’ My mum would have wanted whatever was best for me, whatever I wanted to do, however best I felt I should deal with it. She would have said that what she, or anyone else, wanted wasn’t important. No, it’s not because somehow I’ve come to terms with it all, or listened to advice, or that enough time has passed. It’s because I’ve taken note of what she told me and what she taught me: my children are everything, and as long as I have them, I have everything.  

She taught me this in a million different ways. I never, for a single moment, doubted her love for me. She told me once that there was nothing I could do, ever, that would even dent how she felt about me. She put me at the centre of everything. She got out of bed every single day after my sister died, when her world was so dark I can’t even begin to comprehend it, and listened to my spellings, and checked my maths homework, and cooked my tea, and let me talk about anything I needed. Her world must have been reduced to ashes in those years, and yet she still had it somewhere in her to put me first. And she put me first for all of the life I had when she was alive – 33 years – even when for her own sake she would have been better to think of herself. 

It’s New Year’s Eve. I’m not making resolutions; I always break them by about January 5th. But as we go into another year, another year further from them both, when it will be twenty six and five years since I’ve seen them and known them and heard their voices, I do know this: the minor things in my life that are sometimes so consuming and stressful and difficult, the workload, the squabbling children, the marking, the small petty stresses of the life of a full time working mother – they are reduced to nothing beside what I do have. I have health, a wonderful family and husband, and two amazing children. I have all the happiness, joy, love, laughter and wonder I would have wanted for my sister, and which she did not have. I am fortunate indeed. 

Happy new year to all my lovely readers. Thank you, as always, for reading. With love to you all. X


2 thoughts on “What my sister and my mother taught me

  1. Rebecca – that was so lovely – made me cry. Your perspective is totally right and sometimes we all need reminding of the treasures we do have and which we need to nurture and delight in leaving all the negative issues aside. I wish and your lovely family the best of all New Years.
    Love, Rvh


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