Cancer - Your Story : Selective Memory

Editors note:  This is the story of "Deerbaby" - the second in a series that I have called "Cancer - Your Story".  If you are interested in sharing your story please click on the link and contact me.

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Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt - Pink Sherbert Photography

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There is no headstone. She is buried under a silver birch tree.  

My sister, elder by three years, died from leukaemia. I was nine. My own son is now just slightly older I was when she died. He seems so small. Nothing bad has ever happened to him. What will he be able to remember of his life today as I can of that time? Sometimes it seems like yesterday my mother sat me down and told me. Sometimes it feels so long ago, as if it happened to someone else, or in a story.

I remember the wheelchair. I remember the ghastly brown wig whose tight curls shone and gave off a crimplene-like static. She detested it. Not a single attempt made by the manufacturer to create something that would make her look like herself. Like a 12 year old child. We both wore our hair in bunches – mine blonde, hers brown. I remember a hospital bedside portrait session where they had to rouge her cheeks as they were as white as bone.

We went to see her in the children’s hospital every day, after school. How did we get there? My mum didn’t drive. Did we go on the bus, with my baby sister who was not yet three? Did we wait for my dad to get home at twenty past five on the dot and take us?

But then an aunt came to look after us and we didn’t have to go to the hospital as usual. 
My parents came home. 

‘How is she? I asked. 

A look passed between them and my mother beckoned me over to sit on her knee. 

She’s gone to rockin’ Jesus.’ 

‘You don’t have to go to school tomorrow if you don’t want to.’

I know I cried. But what did I do then? Did I go off and play? Did I eat my tea?

At school the next day, the teacher asked me to go the library to pick up a book. She had never done that before. I wasn’t book monitor. So I stood outside and listened at the door. 

Now listen class. We’ve all got to be especially nice to A. Her sister died yesterday.

When I came back in the room, Robin gave me his prized spy pen which had invisible ink at one end that you wrote with and then rubbed the other end and the words would magically appear and Jenny gave me the best of her collection of scented rubbers.

I was sent away to stay with another aunt, uncle and three cousins who owned a farm. It was bliss. We spent all day riding horses - real and imaginary. 

One day I noticed my aunt and uncle getting into their car, both wearing black and my aunt in an Ascot-sized black hat, instead of her usual plaid shirts and slacks. I suddenly put two and two together - they were off to my sister’s funeral. And I wasn’t going. Also, if they were going, who was looking after me?

When I came back from the farm I was furious.  Furious with my parents.  Furious that I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral.  Or even asked if I wanted to.  But it was different then.  Children didn’t go to funerals.  They were trying to protect you from your grief. How could they have coped with you there?
Furious that I never got to say goodbye. Because the last time I visited I had no idea it was to be the last time. I might have trilled it, out of earshot, skipping out to freedom. It was just another day at the hospital. 
Furious that I didn’t spot any of the clues. I would wait every Thursday for my comic to come through the letterbox. One morning it came and I pounced on it. My Dad asked if he could take it to the hospital for K to read. ‘It’s mine. She can read it any time. She can read it after me.’ My Dad ran upstairs, making a strange choking noise.
Furious with God. From innocently singing All Things Bright and Beautiful and Dear Lord and Father of  Mankind, the words now stuck in my throat.
Furious with myself. Why didn’t I give her that stupid comic? I have never forgiven myself. 

Years later I found the card that I wrote to go on the funeral wreath amongst my mother’s things. Words in my childlike handwriting with my best fountain pen. It was smudged from the rain. I have no recollection of writing it.

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