The sky is full of man-made mysteries and secrets. I saw a steady glow moving through the Great Bear this morning, craning my neck so much it hurt, looking away so that I could see it better. The unseasonably warm air made it feel as if I was up very very early on a spring morning. We have 2 months of winter left. The scudding clouds obscured it, and I couldn’t find it again. I checked the position of the International Space Station when I was back inside. This wasn’t it. Another satellite? A shooting star dying a long lingering death? Detritus from the outer edges of the universe that had lost its way to within a few cosmic inches of Earth? An alien spaceship? A piece of military hardware spying on those getting up early? Unlimited possibilities. Unlimited stories. The wind barrels against the door and the fence outside my office, and I’m awake.
I’m up so early because I’m travelling up to Doncaster for a memorial lunch for my oldest sister who died of an aggressive brain tumour in December 2020, just over six months after she was diagnosed. She started treatment but it made her more ill, so it stopped. And then there were three. It s strange, even over a year later, to talk of us siblings as only three of us. It’s no secret that she and I weren’t very close, that we spent 10 years of our lives not talking with each other. That doesn’t invalidate the value of her life, of her views, of the way she chose to lead her life. Even during those years, she knew that if she needed anything, if she ever got into any sort of trouble, I was there for her, and I think the same of myself; that if I’d needed her help, she’d have been there for me.
This is one of the biggest man-made illusions in life; that siblings owe each other eternal allegiance, that they should never argue, that not believing in the same things, that having different, opposing views on day-to-day things is being dysfunctional, that siblings must love each other. It’s a falsehood, just like the falsehood that’s spread about Christmas, that we should all be happy together, that being in the company of others is essential, that emotions are switched on and off like the lights at that time of life, that we all owe each other love. We don’t. Respect maybe, but even that has to be earned. She was only 65, and that’s no age to die, in these days.
In December 2020, covid was once again laying waste to the world. I decided not to go to see her when she was still alive but already dying. I even talked to my therapist about it, how I felt about not going to see her. I knew we had made up, that we had put our differences to one side (even if we hadn’t extinguished them). It was more important for her to spend her remaining time with her husband and her daughters than for her reprobate and unpredictable (and mostly boring) younger and only brother to risk bringing a disease with him and robbing her of precious hours with her family. The minute any of us start relationships, our sibling family and our parents become unimportant, a family at one remove. Our new relationships become our blood family. That’s the way it should be. I watched her funeral on a small screen in my office, and read the speeches afterwards, and cried. Love torn asunder is a tragedy, whoever’s love it is.
The sky is full of mysteries unknown to humankind. The lights could be souls or demons. The glowing light disappeared into another night, like we all will at some time or other. As long as we remember those that flicker and darken, as long as we are remembered when we have crashed and burned, all will be well.