It is 21 years ago today since my sister Merrilyn died. She was 27, a bright, creative woman, an artist who loved animals and birds of all sorts. She died 5 weeks after her husband, Den, who died on their first, and only, wedding anniversary.
I was eight and a half when she was born, the surprise extra child, making four of us, two boys, two girls. She was not yet ten when I got married, and , consequently, left home. I was just getting to know her as an adult when she, and Den, became ill, in the late eighties. A lot of people had become ill in the late eighties. It was the time of the Grim Reaper ads on TV.
At the time, HIV/AIDS was thought of as a disease of gay men (probably from San Francisco) and intravenous drug users. It was not a disease of fairly ordinary heterosexuals from country Victoria. Or so we imagined.
Den wanted to go public with their story, to make people aware of the possibility of heterosexual transmission of the AIDS virus, but he was too unwell, and died before it could happen.
The image above is of the quilt I made some years ago as a kind of memorial. There are three poems written on the back of it.
I remember the pink and white bundle behind the glass,
I remember my sister at my mother’s breast;
I remember the last time I saw her, too.
Her head, bald from chemo, tied with a scarf;
Her dangly earrings, her grey goose eyes
That were almost empty,
But she squeezed my hand
As I drank her face for the last time here.
I remember the first time I saw her, and the last;
And in all the years since she left
I have learned to miss her less.
But I have only dreamed of her once,
When we climbed a hill together
And planned to cook a meal.
I don’t see you any more
But in my thoughts
You are not so far away;
In many ways
you are nearer than before;
But I still miss you.
I’m glad that you were born,
I’m sorry that you’re gone;
Your life enriched
So many other lives,
And people don’t forget
That you have been here.
You might have done
So many other things,
Enriched more lives,
Enlightened other minds,
If you had stayed here.
But God reclaimed you
Although you were so young:
I’m sorry that you’re gone,
But I’m glad that I
The quilt was completed on the 12th of May 2000. I have dreamed of her again, though not often.
She never heard that Kurt Cobain quote -he must have said it after she died – but she would have wholeheartedly endorsed it if she had.
So it’s on her quilt, along with a lot of colour, and some beautiful fabric she’d bought to make a skirt and didn’t get the chance to finish.
“Death is not extinguishing the light:”
wrote Rabindranath Tagore,
“it is only putting out the lamp
because the dawn has come.”
I just read this essay by a boy from Belarus – maybe you’ll like it too-