Tomorrow is my sister's birthday. She would have been 41, except of course she will be forever frozen at 37. Tanya was only 20 months younger than me, so she always enjoyed the time between June and October, as it was the only four months of the year she could claim we were just a year apart in age.
It's a cliche, and I'm sure you've heard it before, but you never get over losing someone you love. It's not like a wound that heals over. It's more like losing a limb. You learn to live without the limb, but it never grows back, and you never, ever forget that it's gone.
What's more, grief is not at all as you'd expect it to be. My sister had been sick for many years and her death, though shocking, wasn't entirely unexpected. I had actually visualised myself at her funeral many times before. I assumed that I would wail; I'm a very emotional person and it seemed like the logical response. But I didn't wail. I didn't cry. I didn't even shed a tear for weeks.
And in the months and years afterwards, though I would break down on occasion in the privacy of my own home, I found that a wall built up around me in relation to my sister. I could talk about her with friends or my parents and stay completely devoid of emotion. Worse. I became guarded, defensive, almost hostile. I didn't want to visit her grave and I didn't want to meet with her friends to remember her. I'm sure the psychological explanation is that I was protecting myself from overwhelming emotion, but I still felt guilty for not opening up more. It seemed disloyal to Tanya not to demonstrate to the world how profoundly I missed her.
Strangely, though, the nature of my grief has changed over time. It's been three and a half years now, and the bodily tension I feel whenever I think or speak about my sister is starting to dissipate. And she's popping up in my sleep. Over the past several nights I've had recurring dreams about trying to contact Tanya - I have her phone, or I've lost mine, or I can't dial the number - and I wake up feeling like I've lost her all over again.
This morning my husband asked me if I'd like to visit Tanya's grave tomorrow, on her birthday. We could take the kids - they are young and unburdened by adult hang-ups, and always love to visit their auntie. I automatically said no, as I always do. I don't want to visit her grave. I don't want to see a headstone reminding me that my sister has died.
But then, suddenly, I started to cry. And I realised that I do want to go. I want to connect with my sister. I want to leave purple flowers, and Werther's Original Caramels, and Cote D'Or Bouchee chocolates. I want to acknowledge her life, and how much she is still with me. I want to demonstrate, in some small way, how much I still adore her.
Which is also the reason I am writing this post.
Happy Birthday Tun.