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In Memory of a Beloved Sister

To Christine, a courageous woman


Photo of a beautiful older woman with long blonde hair and memorable smile.
Christine - my older sister and a courageous woman.

Three days ago, I attended the funeral of my older sister, Christine. She was 71 years old.


So many wonderful things were said about her in the eulogies. Her beauty, her smile, her grace and sweetness, her culinary gifts and interior decorating talent, her femininity, secretarial skills, and hospitality. But from a sister’s point of view, what has struck me is the courage she displayed, right up to the last minute.


But first, a quote from American essayist and philosopher, Ralph Wado Emerson:


Whatever course you decide upon,

There is always someone to tell you

That you are wrong.

There are always difficulties arising

Which tempt you to believe

That your critics are right.

To map out a course of action and follow it

To an end requires courage.


Christine realized about three years ago that she had breast cancer. She chose to deal with it in her own way rather than undergo medical treatment. She was firm in this resolve and never wavered. Her desire was to stay at home throughout her alternative course of treatment and to be cared for by her husband. Although it was hard at times, her family supported her choice.


I spent the last twelve days with her. Early on she said:


If I die, I want you to know that I had a great life,

everyone has been wonderful,

and I love you all.


She died at home, lovingly cared for by her husband, and with support from dedicated Silver Chain nurses.


*


Funerals touch our hearts more than anything else can. Poetry runs a close second.


I’m a member of a Facebook group called The Mary Oliver Poetry Appreciation Group. Mary Oliver was an American poet, who won the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry. Being in the group means that every few days I get to read a poem of hers that someone has chosen to post.


Most of her poems make me feel like taking my wizened little heart out of my tight little chest and giving it an airing. I want to peg my heart onto a Hills Hoist out in the middle of the backyard and send it spinning around in a stiff cool breeze to rid it of the layers of dust and grit of everyday life, so my heart can breathe again, so I can put it back inside me, a cleansed and lighter heart, now better able to live a more loving life.


One of Oliver’s most loved poems is called ‘The Summer Day’. I won’t post the whole poem here because it would just generate a communal river of tears. I’ll just quote the last three lines:


Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Christine gave her wild and precious life everything she had. Her personality was a combination of sweetness and determination. She made bold, difficult decisions about how she would live her life, and stuck to them with courage. She stood up for what she thought was right and held onto those she loved with gentle, constant, strength.


This is the legacy she has left for her three daughters. And it is a beautiful example she has left for me.


If Christine were to speak to you today, she would probably ask you, with her big blue eyes wide with curiosity, and her long blonde hair framing her beautiful face:


Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Black and white photo of two older women who are sister, both smiling.


With love, Christine and Marlane


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