So my wonderful, beautiful sister passed away last week aged just 46. She leaves behind a brilliant husband and two great - and I think resilient - boys, 10 and 11 years old. Her death wasn't unexpected, but she struggled on so very bravely at the end. Three weeks in intensive care, with the NHS throwing everything at her and trying every possible solution to help her pull through. Close, so very close, but tragically no cigar.
Ironically, I was for a while in the same hospital, at the same time. Just not in intensive care.I was having my own tough little stay, but paling into total insignificance, as I knew very well I was coming out. Twice I was wheeled one floor downstairs to say what I thought might be 'adieu'. I put on a brave face the one moment she was vaguely conscious, and the last visit I was sobbing and breathless with despair as I knew this was the last time I would see her alive.
I loved her from the moment she was born, and she loved me back. Perhaps mum would correct me, but I don't recall a single cross word between us. Ever. Even when I came back one day and found my Action Man dating her Cindy Doll. Even when the majority of my early girlfriends got the cold shoulder and the death stare because they - apparently - didn't reach the exacting standards required for her brother.
This picture dates from 1988. I drove through Europe with a German friend and my sis joined us when we reached our final destination, Greece. We had run low on funds and were surviving on a diet of olive oil, salt and tomatoes, together with stale bread for dunking, bought cheap or begged at the end of the day from bakeries. Her arrival and shameless fluttering of eyelids and cheeky smile won us endless free helpings of calamari and ouzo from beach barmen desperate to win her affections. None of them did.
I miss her desperately. I'm still sending her texts and when I feel brave, calling her mobile just to hear her voice... I'm crying at the most random of things. Today among other moments it was looking at the blue sky and wondering where she was up there. And Eva Cassidy played on the radio floored me.
Mrs W and I have always talked about two moments that shaped our life together irrevocably. A fire in 1999 that destroyed everything we owned. We were left with some window-boxes, their geraniums and the clothes we were wearing. And my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis in 2007. From the fire, after the initial shock, we learned that material 'stuff' matters so much less than we think. And that only photographs are precious. From my diagnosis we learned to live life to the full, to fill our days with happy memories and to love those special people around us all the more. I usually remember those lessons, though MS frequently manages to get in my way.
Fire? Multiple Sclerosis? Right now they feel nothing compared to the passing of a loved one.
What have I learned from my sister's death? I don't know. It's all too raw at the moment but for now I'm hugging my children more. And through the fog of grief, I'm feeling lucky to be alive, I'm determined to appreciate the little things, and to hang on to all the amazing, happy memories of life with a cheeky little sister.