What to say about my sister? Much, too much, but so much of it radiating from the central fact that she was one of the most intensely, ceaselessly, effortlessly creative people I have ever known.
She was always making things, from the time of my earliest memory.
To recall and describe all the different things she turned her hands to - always done with beauty and flair and originality, and always to completion, not for her the over-reached, unfinished fragments in cupboards and attics - in the vivid, associative detail in which it has been returning to since last week, would fill a year's worth of posts here: paints and pens and pencils ('sit down, I need to draw you...') , scraperboard and ink, Conte pencils and oil pastels, charcoal and cowgum and drymount; books of fonts - she was a graphic designer for much of her working life and had a good degree in typography with history of art - a film SLR with which she took lovely portraits, for people were another thing she was good at; stained glass - there is a school chapel somewhere in Leicestershire which has a set of windows she made; pictures and the forms of letters; things knitted and patched and woven and stitched; a sweater in finest four-ply covered with rows of tiny, exquisite three dimensional bunches of purple grapes and dark red cherry bobs; remnants of fabric from drawers and boxes turned into original clothes - in New Zealand she had the leading costume hire shop on the bustling main town of their area (Kiwis like to party and they like to dress up), some stock came with the business, some accessories she ordered, but much of it she made herself. As well as the shop she also provided costumes for the various plays and drama projects she and my brother-in-law, a drama teacher, were involved in producing all over the country; sometimes she put one on herself and became a mean Macbeth witch or an impressive Lady Capulet, since whe was no slouch at that either.
She liked to be out there, and she liked to be doing. Sometimes in her adolescence, my childhood, constraint goaded and frustrated her; she could be stormy and distant, though never unkind. She was not necessarily motherly or even always a confidant to me, but she was a fine, fine friend. She handed me down art materials,curiosities, clothes and records, she took me to places and showed me things. She taught me to draw, the rules of perspective ( I wasn't quite cognitively ready, I did the house smaller than the person, but put them both on the horizon...) and the conventions of the human face ('your people will have noses like pigs if you draw them like that, I know that's how you see them, but...'), and to sew - I remember pushing the painfully threaded needle in and out of the scraps of slightly glazed green and yellow 1960s print, and, 'look, the two pieces are joined together!' Such creativity as I have was, in its early stages and after, largely fostered by her.
She blazed with creative energy; time and again as we have been speaking of her this past couple of weeks the word 'bright' has come to us. And she was fearless, or so it seemed to me. No doubt she wasn't always - who is? - but fear never stopped her. Though we have always been different characters, in my later life, if I needed to become brisk, competent, extrovert, I found myself using her internalised voice and manner, which pleased and surprised me.
I have been thinking about making this video for a week or so. Since the day after the morning when I put down my tea and ran downstairs to catch the ringing 'phone, and clattered up them again a few minutes later, giddy with grief and disbelief. The song came into my head then and it has stayed there as a recurring theme throughout. When I was sixteen, after my 'O' levels, my sister and brother-in-law (who called me on last Monday morning), married just a year, took off to Italy for a while, to soak up art and history, and savour a period of freedom before taking on new home and career responsibilities. They left me a tiny stereo and their combined record collection. As well as the Beatles records I'd persistently tried to beg, steal or borrow for years were a number of Bob Dylan albums (bliss), and many more things many of which I have forgotten or perhaps didn't take a lot of notice of, and also some James Taylor. I gather he's a bit looked down on now as MoR, or whatever, I don't know, music is an area where I've often been happy to be led by others anyway. But, despite the naming of the 'you' in the first lines, and other references to his own personal circumstances, and a million cover versions later, 'Fire and Rain' remains for me the song of heartbreaking, unexpected, untimely loss of someone dear at a distance, and that remorseful, remorseless lament that cannot be put away: that I thought, assumed, mistakenly, that we had more time.
Yet to me it seems more than that. It carries also the sense that time, the creative flame, love, cannot be taken for granted, must not be wasted. That to be fixed on one's own failure and disappointments, the things that fell to earth or never got off the ground, is wrong, a squandering of potential, that dishonours the ones we have loved and who have loved and cared for us. And that in the dark times, when we feel all done-in and cry out in despair, grief can be the crack that lets the light in, that out of darkness and pain can come a renewed force of generative energy. Not a bland and anodyne happiness, not getting over it or getting back to normal, but a knowledge of blessing at what has been given.
The video is one small attempt at a memorial, but it won't be the only one. I shall always miss my sister. At so many turns of the memory she is there. Her loss is the first that has really hit me like this, with such a weight of shock and outrage, so close to home. It hurts terribly to think that her husband and children must go on without her warm, bright, steady physical presence in their lives. Of all the beautiful things she made, her three children were the most beautiful of all.
But she has left me with a heap of treasure, and I am beholden to use it. I shall write and speak, and make more things about her, but even when I don't do so directly, each time I step up and claim my own creativity, each time I see and act on the possibility of colour and form and texture, the vivid or the subtle image, each time I succeed in seeing the human clothed in something wondrous or funny or transforming, each time I face down my doubts and demons, fears and apathy, or I see someone else shining out brightly, or doing something with excellence, and aspire to emulate them rather than simply falling back discouraged and bitter, each time I stop agonising and just do, I'll be living her legacy. I'll think of her and I'll thank her. It'll be a work in progress, always, and it won't always be easy, but it will be my way of remembering. She deserves nothing less.
I downloaded the Windows Movie Maker to make this, for which tip I must thank Zephyr, I wanted to do a better job than the scratchy jumpy Picasa things I've done before. And I'm using Vimeo instead of Youtube because they are an altogether nicer outfit. As well as the older scans - in the early black and whites, the first baby and toddler are me, the curly chap is my youngest brother, between Alison and myself in age, the other youngsters are her children - I have used some pictures from our trip to New Zealand three years ago, and a couple that my niece - my brother Chris's girl - sent of a trip that their family and my other sister Helen took to meet up with Alison, her husband and son in Santiago in northern Spain last year. Sadly, I seem to have few photos of her and her husband together, except for the daft one of them dressed as a Christmas cracker and Santa's elf, which I include in the necessity of wholeness .
Thanks to everyone for the kind words and comments, thoughts, prayers, e-mails, marks of respect, expressions of fellow-feeling and concern, 'phone calls, walks on the beach etc. Not everyone chooses to air private grief in what is essentially a public place, I know, but I think we know each other well enough now, and I value the friendship that I find here.
We're going away for a couple of days now, to the Bay of Morlaix, whose wide blue tranquillity I have held in my mind's eye since we drove around it on the way back from Finistere a couple of years ago. It's a spur-of-the-moment trip; I felt the need of a hiatus before going back to work next week, and within a short time of searching an inexpensive dog-friendly B&B with a sea view and vacancies presented itself. I have a strong wish to be by the sea at the moment.
Bye for now, and thanks again.
5 minutes ago