Today marks thirty years since my parents laid to rest their second born daughter, Jo-Anne. She was just shy of 18 months old when she passed away and I still grieve for her fiercely, despite the fact that I don't remember her, having only being a couple of months old when she died. Many a therapist have tried to find out why I have such a strong connection to her, and they have all, after a while, shook their heads and placed me in the too hard basket.
How can you grieve for someone you didn't know? How can it hurt so much and feel like something is missing when you never really knew what it was like to have it in the first place?
I spoke to my dad about her today. Though as a family we never not spoke of her, my Dad and I have spoken more about her in the last two years than all the other times put together and I've learned more about her and who she was as a child as opposed to my previous, childhood thoughts of her just being "the dead sister".
"I've been thinking about Jo-Anne a lot lately, would you mind if I wrote about her?"
"Of course you can, baby, she was your sister. I've been thinking about her a lot lately too... you know it's been thirty years?" he says as his eyes go glossy and he swallows hard.
As my dad has marveled over each of Tricky's milestones, when we're alone there is always an underlying melancholy of "Jo-Anne never did that" (I can only assume that the experience wasn't the same when I was a baby because he was too consumed by his grief to be noticing what I was doing). He tells me, like he has before, that she never learned to walk, never really talked, and only weighed a little bit more than newborn-me when she passed away... but that she had the most beautiful, infectious giggle.
I break down and sob on his shoulder. He hugs me tight. I'm sure though, that he likes when I ask about her, even though it always ends this way. That he finds comfort in the fact that I still think of her.
My grief has changed over the years from a selfish young girl's want to have another sister to play with, to a mother's empathy and compassion. My grief now is just as much for the loss of my sister as it is an overwhelming heartache for the loss of my parents' daughter and the loss of any chance of a normal life for them.
There are some things that I think you can't fully understand and appreciate about parenting until you become one yourself... and then there are some things, awful things like this, that become so much harder to grasp when you finally have that insider knowledge.
I cannot fathom how hard it must have been for my parents when Jo-Anne went in to heart failure when I was three days old. How difficult it would have been to leave their newborn to focus on their fragile second born and take her overseas for life saving surgery. How earth shattering it was for them to watch her die on the plane ride there and bring her home in a goddamn box in the cargo hold instead of safe in their arms.
My mind cannot cope with the thought of that much pain and suffering.
So tonight, I hug Tricky a little closer and a little longer than usual. I look past the screaming, tantrum filled evening of a child exerting his independence and testing boundaries, and take solace in this amazing gift that is a healthy, happy child, knowing full well that there are some people who would give anything, truly anything, to experience this frustration.
|A very rare photo of Jo-Anne, me and Aunty Penny on my|
Christening day, a week before Jo-Jo passed away
(cropped to remove people who don't wish to be blogged about)