Yesterday, 13 September 2018, marked the ninth anniversary of my sister’s death. It’s as stark as that. I’ve never felt the urge to post about it publicly before, but this blog is making me look more closely at the headstones in my pictures and wonder not just about the aesthetic or the location, but also about the people who have passed on and those left behind.
How can I pass comment on cemeteries and death without sharing a little bit about what it means to me?
In 2002, a mere bairn at 26, my sister was diagnosed with a brain tumour. An aggressive, kick-ass, bastard of a tumour that swept in and crushed us all.
Those first months were fraught with anxiety and fear: What would happen? Would she survive? We took each day as it came. And survive she did, through numerous operations to remove the damn thing, a bout of MRSA, removal of part of her skull, chemo and radiotherapy.
My sister was brave and strong and pushed on. Her worst year was while she was missing the skull plate and couldn’t travel – once she got her acrylic plate in (her “wings” she called it) – and could get on holiday again there was no stopping her.
I didn’t know it then, but she was shaping how we would choose to remember her
In those years after getting her “wings” back she partied, she danced, she enjoyed life. She loved a cheeky cocktail or a glass of pink (rose wine). She would bring foil confetti to every occasion. A lethal combination of pointy shapes or numbers: if it was your birthday you learned to watch out!
She loved Greece and the Greek people. We had memorable trips to Zakynthos and Rhodes. Her joy and sense of fun while there was infectious.
She loved music – Springsteen through to Savage Garden and lest we forget, The Cheeky Girls.
In 2009 the tumour came back with a vengence. In 10 short weeks she was gone.
A celebration of life
It feels a cliche when you say it but her funeral was a celebration of life. There was no sombre cemetery burial. We had foil confetti, we had colour, we had music.
So what then does that mean for remembering her in the traditional sense? There was no ‘place’ for her – no solid headstone. We had ashes, we had memories, we didn’t know what to do. At that moment, time stopped. Our joie de vivre was gone.
But we didn’t want to remember her in a sad way…
There was no conscious decision making around some of it, we just gradually involved her in every celebration we had and made room for new traditions to mark the things she loved. Her life with us had created our life without her. The ways we would remember and honour her are all part of what she created.
Her resting place is worldwide
Unlike traditional burials or even traditional scattering of ashes, she’s everywhere!
Her ashes are scattered in the UK at Mere Knolls Cemetery (she snuggles up with other relations there) – it is our local place to remember her. Her grave plot there is a mass of colour, glitter and cocktail sticks. Whenever we have a celebration: Christmas, New Year or birthday – there has to be glitter. We always reserve a bit of that glitter to take down to Mere Knolls so she’s part of it.
She’s also over in Lake District, another place she loved. She looking after a dog called Kiwi who she adored.
She’s also out in Greece in her beloved Pefkos on the island of Rhodes. She’s actually part of the Aegean Sea so could be anywhere now – but I reckon she sticks around! Because of this location we have to visit frequently and again take sparkles to mark her resting place. The people in Pefkos remember her and respect our memories of her. Her picture resides behind a bar there. In Pefkos she’s very much alive.
So, while I bloody love a cemetery, I also bloody love the fact that my sister transcends place and is still part of our life celebrations. Party on chickpea. Yammas. x