November 6, 2015

The Bitter-sweetness of Celebration: A Note to my Sister on her Birthday.

Khara-Jade do not reuse

I have a beautiful sister who I love and miss.

We’re two hours and 6,000 miles apart.

She lives in South Africa and I in the UK.

She is the most thoughtful person I know, has a wicked sense of humour and she sees people, really sees them.

She is my flesh and blood, a part of my heart, a bearer of my story and I of hers. Sometimes I feel as though my bones themselves ache from being so far apart from her every day.

But my life is here and hers there. There is no way around it.

We fill the hole in each other’s lives as best we can with countless whatsapp messages, photos and videos of kids sent—clips from our lives, skype calls and emails and little packages sent across the miles, but that hole will never be filled. On the days when it’s hardest all the messages say are “I love you. I miss you.”

Tomorrow it’ll be “Happy Birthday.”  

Maybe now, “Cheerful Birthday,” in the Buddhist tradition as I’ve learnt to say and love to say because it encapsulates the spirit of a day like this so well—a day of significance and mixed emotions, a day to be grateful, to mark well, a kind of bitter-sweet celebration.

I’ve always felt celebrations to be a little happy-sad, their marking of the passage of time poignant. The way we take endless photographs of celebratory days is evidence of our desire to hold them and still them. We mark our family albums with them and share them with each other: evidence that we were here. Loved. Together.

When we were little, our birthday photos were of grinning children, sometimes in fancy dress. Of tables of snacks and treats just low enough for little hands to reach—all the things we wished we were allowed to eat every day. Of candle-blowing and present-opening—the pure delight those brought captured in a well-timed shot by Dad. Of games and cuddles—always together. Of the three of us.

But any photos taken on this birthday, like all the birthdays and Christmases and anniversaries and births since I moved away and since he died, will be evidence of our apartness.

We have a beautiful brother who we love and miss.

We had a conversation about how every time we think or speak about him we’re not sure whether we should say ‘had’ instead of ‘have’.

We have learned to live with it. We mourn and we celebrate and we live. Because what else is there to do? Life prevails and while there is much to mourn there is also much to celebrate. And strangely when we lose, we become more aware of what we have—what remains.

This year, like many others, we are not together.

I am here and you are there and he is…who knows where.

But I will celebrate your birthday with a meditation, and a prayer, and a tear and a smile. I’ll be glad that you have your husband and your little girl and Mom and Dad and your friends around you to love you and celebrate with you in person on your birthday.

Because each year of this wonderfully, terribly sweet and bitter life is worth honouring well.

I love you. I miss you.

Cheerful Birthday!

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Author: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: Author’s own

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