18 years ago today I was still living at my parents house. There had been a knock on the door. A policeman stood there wanting to ask us some questions. He asked about my sister who had gone missing the previous week. We told him about the newspaper articles in our local newspaper and in Bristol, where she was living, which asked the public for any information on her whereabouts. We confirmed what car she drove and gave a detailed description of her.
It was then that he told us that he had some bad news. They had found my sister in her car in Cornwall. She had commited suicide. It came three months afer losing my oldest sister from cancer. As a family we were all obviously devastated and shocked.
As my parents continued talking to the policeman, distraught, I had to go visit my other sisters who lived nearby and tell them the news in person. I felt numb and still couldn’t quite comprehend the reality of what we’d just been told. She had been the life and soul of all of our parties and yet I would never be able to hear the sound of her laughter again. These kind of thoughts came in and out of my head – and yet I still didn’t quite understand.
My sister had suffered from depression. As a family it was never talked about – nor even fully understood. She had dark days – simple as – I remember being told as a young boy. Now that I’m older, I feel guilty for not understanding more, for not questioning my parents and their lack of knowledge, for not being there myself. I felt guilty for being the youngest of the family – the young brother who caled her ‘mardy’ – but really only because I had heard others call her it. I didn’t fully understand what it meant – and I certainly didn’t understand it’s consequences and how much it must have hurt.
She was at university – studying biochemistry. She also worked at a hospital with children who had cancer. My sister’s death had hit her hard. She continued studying and took all of her exams the following two months. She passed them all. A post-graduate job that she had longed for had fallen through. The dark days were still there.
After she died they awarded her certificate posthumously. I went to Bristol and collected it on her behalf whilst my parents watched from the hall, surrounded by other parents who were there to witness their child graduate. I was very very sad but very very proud.
I went to university myself the following year. I wish she had been alive to advise me as she had been the first one from my family to have done so. She wasn’t a mother figure like my elder sister – but even so, she had – and still has – a huge influence on my music collection, my sense of humour – and on other parts of my life.
She was stylish, she was intelligent, she was independent, she could dance brilliantly – and she had a beautiful smile and an infectious laugh.
I never had the chance to tell her that I loved her. I came from a family who never said that kind of thing to each other. So I want to say it now – sister, I love you – and I’m still very proud of you – and I’m sorry for not being able to be there for you.
I work, on placement, at the moment with people with mental health problems. I wish someone had been there for her in the same way. I often wonder what she would be doing now.
I hope you don’t mind, but I wanted to share a little piece of her and her memory with you today. May her spirit live on forever…