I can't write about my sister. Nearly three years on, I still can't write about the day she died, or the events preceding it. However I think about her constantly, and her loss informs everything I do, and feel.
On Saturday I wandered into a shop in Bondi Junction. It was the day before my birthday and I was looking for a gift for myself. As I ran my hands along a rack of grey tops, a woman entered the store with her two small sons. She was short, blonde and plump, with an open, friendly face and a no-nonsense manner.
"Okay kids, sit yourselves down, we have to do this quickly," she said. The boys sat obediently and she began sorting through racks.
"This will be good," she said. She grabbed a dress and threw it on the counter. "And I think she'd like this... and maybe this..." Clearly the woman was not buying for herself, and I was impressed with her quick decision making and evident generosity. I'm not at all sure why I struck up a conversation, but something compelled me to approach her.
"Are you buying a gift?" I asked. She turned and nodded.
"They're for my friend," she told me. She glanced around at her boys and mouthed the words. "She is D-Y-I-N-G of cancer. I can't take it away, but I thought I could at least buy her something to make her feel nice."
I hadn't expected that response at all. I was quite overcome. "That's so lovely of you," I said.
The woman shrugged. "She isn't well enough to shop, and even if she was she doesn't have any money. And I do have money so at least it's something I can do for her."
We began to talk, and the story unfolded. The woman's friend, I'll call her Lisa, is the mother of three children. Perfectly healthy up until a few months ago, she had an x-ray after physio treatment failed to relieve a bad back. The x-ray revealed extensive cancer in Lisa's spine, which itself was secondaries from a primary in her breast. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation all failed, and Lisa has only months left to live.
"She's my best friend," the woman told me (I never did find out her name). "I'm taking care of her kids every afternoon. I want to tell Lisa all about what they do everyday and the things they say, but I can't, because it will make her sad that she can't be seeing it herself."
The shop was warm but I had goosebumps.
"I try to stay positive and upbeat," she continued, "but sometimes I just want to cry with her."
I knew the feeling. "You can cry," I told her, and I felt like crying myself. "She knows you're sad. It's okay to be sad together. It's a terrible situation."
She nodded. "I never had much money growing up, and then I inherited a lot. I've got more than I need. But money's become obsolete to me now."
I could absolutely relate, and I told her so. When money can't buy health, wealth becomes useless.
"I just deposited $90,000 in Lisa's account," she said. "I told her I don't want thanks and I don't. I can't make her better. I can just help her financially. She was on a hospital waiting list and I made sure she could be seen as a private patient. It's all I can do."
We talked for a few more minutes as the woman chose clothes for her friend. I told I thought she was doing a beautiful thing, and that, sadly, it was all she could do. We said our goodbyes and I left the store.
Then I thought, as I do so often, about the fragility of life. I thought of how much money can buy, but how ultimately it cannot buy the most important thing of all. I thought about friendship, and love, and how incredibly precious these gifts are. I thought about how lucky I am for being alive and healthy. And I thought of my sister. But then again, I think of my sister constantly.
I can't write about my own loss. But I can tell you this story, and, though the details are very different, the themes are much the same.
And my heart aches for Lisa, and for her friend.