“I’m tired. I’d like to die.” were the poignant words of my dear sister Ann nearly two years ago. I told her I understood, but really I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. At that time it felt imperative just to listen to her.
In total she had spent six years battling cancer. Her biggest battle was being able to tell people how she really felt.
Ann was a year and a half younger than I. We were inseparable in elementary and junior high school. We were a double threat athletically and seemed to draw kids around us because of our leadership skills. Ann possessed a strength that wooed the boys and almost forced the girls to admire her – a dangerous combination for any kid to possess in school, let alone a teenaged girl.
Growing up neither of us ever talked about the violence going on at home, the sexual abuse I endured or the wackiness of our family. We never spoke about the craziness of our home life.
Ann held a wonder for life. She adored moving from one adventure to the next and she did it with such confidence. I remember the strength she possessed when I told her a friend of mine was mean to me. She chose to beat him up. I learned that day how protective she was of me.
Her skipping rope skills were sublime. She dazzled the recess enclave, of kids, with how fast she moved in and out of the double Dutch whirl of plastic skipping ropes. Everything she did, she seemed to master. I adored her!
One of my best friends and someone Ann had a crush on, Dean, died in a car accident in 1972. I was in grade ten and Ann was still in junior high school in grade nine. We were no longer in the same school.
The day before Dean’s funeral I stopped by the school to see Ann, she was deeply distraught. She had just pulled out the hurdles for a track practice and turned to me, in tears, to say, “Dean just set these up for me a few days ago and now he’s not here to help me anymore.” It was the first time I experienced my sister in pain.
Our roads divided that summer. Ann discovered boys. I added more protection to my life ensuring people never found out I liked those same boys too. Again, we didn’t talk about what was really going on in our lives with each other.
Ann began to smoke and she began to drink. The innocent things we shared; laughing, walking, running, simply stopped happening. Although I had no words to express how I felt, my little sister was now gone from my life.
I still was her biggest fan. It seemed I took on the role of cheerleader that she previously had when I was the jock in school
My heart broke watching her stumble on the track and lose her record setting red ribbon sprinting prowess. I marveled at how graciously she inspired her grade nine graduating class as valedictorian. I yearned to reignite our supremacy by having her in grade 10 and me in Grade 11 at St. Francis. That never happened.
I journeyed to a protestant school so that my chances of actually graduating were better than the previous Dolan’s who had attended St. Francis. I missed my sister, yet was engulfed in a whole new world.
Our worlds never reunited. I lived away for some time and didn’t know the growth Ann was experiencing. Yet I could feel her independence and confidence grow. It seemed as if overnight my little sister had grown up. The same had happened to me.
We remained close and shared some powerful moments. I held her hand as she chose to be married as a teenager. I was in the operating room when she gave birth to a son. I arranged for a family friend, who was a police officer, to talk to a boyfriend of hers who was threatening her life. I bought her a tape recorder so she could create intimate moments with her baby boy, so he could listen to his Mom’s wisdom and love long after he had grown up.
I partnered with her in some magical ways to breathe colour into her life. It was a profound privilege.
She was there for me when I came out. She loved the men I loved. She returned to the role of my cheerleader. She wrote poems about my life. She’d gently remind me how important it was for me to live my life my way.
My six-year journey with her and her cancer opened my heart to her courage, her tenacity, her stubbornness and her clarity about the single most important thing in her life; love. The love she had for her husband and her son.
Although she told me many times she wanted to die, she was not going to leave these two beautiful men alone. She fought until there was no fight to be had.
Her last whispered words to me were, “Help. Please.” Her request was not intended to keep her alive, it was to support her in leaving. She asked me for help.
I realized her greatest gift to me was an opportunity to witness her last breath and tell her she was loved and it was ok for her to go. My soul partnered with hers so that she could leave peacefully.