Today is the day we should be raucously celebrating all that you are at 40 years old. There should be champagne, surprises, keepsake gifts, cocktails and dancing. We should be marvelling at what you have achieved and looking forward to all there is to come.
Instead, mum and dad are at home and will be visiting the grave that I still have trouble associating with you in any way. And I will be at home with my family on the other side of the world, feeling the void that you left behind more than ever.
Thing is, as you have probably seen over the years, while it is totally true that time heals, what it actually heals is the shuddering physical pain of loss. It takes away the sickening realisation that nothing will be the same again every day when you wake up. It normalises the loss and of course for most people it means we just get on with every day.
It doesn’t take away the fact that you aren’t here. A milestone such as your 40th in a year of milestones for me and my family just makes me wish you were here more than ever. Sure I have had periods where I barely even notice you are gone (hello party fuelled uni years….) but in more recent times, when life is just so, so sweet, there’s this shadow over my happiness, dear sister. And it’s you.
I went to sleep thinking about this letter and when I woke at 5am today I couldn’t get back to sleep for writing it in my head, so here I am, downstairs in a silent house, writing to you now.
I miss you.
Or maybe it’s more that I miss an idea of you. You are 16 in perpetuity, not the wise older sister I still believe you are in my mind. I am 37 and I have seen, done and experienced far more than you ever have. But still, I look up to you, and wonder what influence you would have on my life, on all of our lives.
You shaped so much of my upbringing – partly through hero worship and partly because you lit the way for mum and dad. You fucked up, we both suffered (I’ll never forgive you for the weekday curfew after you bombed your mock GCSEs). As you always identified, even at 14 I was a bit of a loose cannon, so suddenly me steering the ship for the rents and I took us through some choppy waters. I did always have the gift of the blag that you never had, I have flown by the seat of my pants through this life, just simply believing that it will all be OK, and luckily it has been.
Of course, that in itself was influenced by you. I know you have seen (because I still feel you, not all the time, but when it matters, so thank you for that) that a 14 year old me just said two things to herself:
Live for both of us, because life is too short and make my parents proud – also for both of us.
Honestly I still remember having those actual thoughts in the days that followed your death. As you can see, in theory those things are not complementary bed fellows, basically blow the back out of life while making a life for myself that my parents can be proud of but I did it. I am sure you helped, so I thank you for that too.
I do giggle to myself about the very obvious truth that there is no fucking way I’d have done a business degree if you were still here. My mind still boggles that I did that, you’d have had NONE of it if you were here, in fact I’m not sure I would have even considered it. But if you’d done drama and flunked it I’d have been doing English at a red roof and doing a PR degree at Bournemouth allowed for WAY more partying while still getting my degree so….
The thing with milestones is they open old wounds. And there are SO FRICKING MANY. Yours, or mine, or mum and dads. We’ve done every celebration since whilst dealing with the fact there is literally a spectre at the feast. Sorry if that’s insensitive Sadie, I’m sure it’s as frustrating for you, but it’s true.
The past four years have been littered with milestones for me personally, with meeting Janis, to getting married, to having Frankie and now expecting my son. You weren’t my bridesmaid, and my closest friends who were have never met you, nor has my husband, and I hate that.
You showed up on the day in a way none of us will forget. A casual Red Admiral butterfly appearing on the windowsill as I had my make-up done. In the UK, in January, in the middle of a week of flooding. We all looked surprised at this miraculous moment from nature and then Jo piped up ‘you know who that is don’t you…’. Cue my eye make up needing to be redone.
And now this, your 40th birthday.
I’ve celebrated special friends’ 40th birthdays and loved all that they represent, but I don’t get to do that with you. I find 40th birthdays painful to see on Facebook (yeah, if you haven’t seen it, it’s quite a weird thing to describe. I feel like you wouldn’t be massively into it to be honest) and being in Australia I’m not even going to spend it with anyone who knew you or understands what I’m missing.
I think that’s part of why this letter has been poking at me for a week or so. I want the world to understand what this feels like, dignified silence is all very well but sometimes you just want to shout THIS SUCKS AND I AM SAD ABOUT IT AND THIS IS SOMETHING ABOUT ME YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T KNOW.
I’m still friends with all of your wonderful mates and again, although we’ve actually been friends longer than you, apart from one or two very close bonds, I still see them as your mates, and me as the clingon little sister that gets to hang out with them as a treat. They are having a party for you that I can’t go to but I am so glad that they are and mum and dad have been blown away by it. Make sure you show up.
One of the things I struggle with the most now you are gone, is that since Frankie was born, I feel robbed that she doesn’t get to have that special bond with her Auntie Sadie. We talked about you from a picture the other day for the first time – you are on my mind anyway and then my fierce little girl looked up at your picture and said ‘mummy!’. No baby, that is your Auntie Sadie. Can you say Auntie Sadie? And she did, over and over again with the glee of a toddler who has learnt a new thing – no idea of what the magnitude of that moment was. I felt simultaneously happy that we had started to introduce you, and sad that that picture is all you will ever be.**
Frankie has many wonderful female influences in her life, I have been blessed with such magical amazing friends who will be her aunties, but of course it is not the same. She will never have cousins, and she will never have that unshakable unbreakable auntie/niece bond that is so important for girls (I think). I am sure that you saw AJ whatsapping me through the first 20 or so hours of madness after my waters broke with Frankie. You can’t buy that shit. I want that for her and I feel bereft that I can’t change that.
Another strange outcome from all of this is my determination to have three children. You need to have a spare, you see. People’s reaction when we talk openly about planning for three kids is the usual ‘are you mad?’ dialogue, especially as we are now expecting a boy, there’s an automatic assumption you should stop there (which is weird anyway, society, stop that at once).
Being a sibling and then not being a sibling has been one of the hardest things about losing you. I am far more only child than sibling now in many ways. I miss that special bond and that understanding that only comes with sibling relationships and I never want any of my children to feel like that. So, a spare it is. Honestly I’d have four or five if I could but we do need to be practical and my ovaries might tell me to get fucked if I tried it.
I wonder about you and kids. I always picture you without them but that’s because your 16 year old self didn’t want them, and what 16 year old really knows whether they want kids or not? I went through periods when thought I wouldn’t have them and now here I am, pumping them out at warp speed, trying to fit three in before I turn 40 myself (wish me luck and also if you have any influence at all, make it all ok. Many thanks).
Finally, I wonder about what would make you tick today. Would you be as incensed about Bake Off moving to Channel 4 and losing Mel and Sue as many of my other Brit mates? Would you be into CrossFit or pilates? A mad cook in the kitchen or one of those ‘oh I always burn EVERYTHING I cook’ types? Would you still love RAWK music and would you have been SO disappointed at my descent into mainstream dance music and pop obsession? A green juice loving dog owning mystic? WHO BLOODY KNOWS. I know that whatever you would like or be, you would be my sister and I would be loving you and taking you for granted as everyone else in life gets to do with theirs.
I could write to you forever. This has been a long time coming. Maybe it will be the first of many letters, or maybe it will be the first and last. All that remains to say is I hope, wherever you are, you are celebrating all that you are in the way that we all are here on the earth plane. Because we do celebrate you, Sadie. You were beautiful inside and out and we were blessed to have you for 16 years and to learn all you have taught us since.
** OK very weird. Frankie and Janis just walked into the study. Frankie was saying Auntie Sadie over and over having pointed at the picture with Janis again before they came down. “Auntie Sadie. Mummy. Gone.”. Janis and I looked at each other. He says he didn’t tell her, just agreed it was Auntie Sadie when she pointed out your picture. I asked her if you were telling her what to say. She said yes. WEIRD.