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A Celebration of Things Lost

Author: Susan Wardlaw

Growing up with lots of siblings means that I have vivid memories of Christmas mornings where you could not see the floor of the living room for all the presents that were assembled in distinct piles. We were my mum’s "Magnificent Seven", and although there were always arguments and fallouts, there was always also someone to talk to. I was guaranteed to get lots of birthday cards and presents from them, and I never got overwhelmed at weddings or other big family gatherings because I had my big brothers and sisters around me. As the sixth of the seven, where there were seventeen years between the eldest and youngest, I also benefited from being exposed to a plethora of diverse music and movies, which shaped the eclectic tastes I have today.

My big sister Lynsey and I shared a room into our teens. It made our relationship more fraught, gave us more reasons to annoy and snipe at each other. By the time we were adults however, a genuine friendship had grown between us and we actually enjoyed each other's company! We still had our moments, I was still the annoying little sister sometimes, but there was a closeness that I cherished. We talked to each other, went to the movies, and accepted each other for who we were.

When Lynsey got ill, my family rallied. For two months there was a timetable of who was visiting each day, who could make the afternoon visiting and who could take the evening slot. We were in constant communication with each other, and any lingering disagreements were forgotten as we all focused on the goal of being there for our sister.

The night that she passed away, aged just 31, was the hardest night of my life. The only consolation was that in her final moments, she had her mum and all six of her siblings in the room with her, holding her hands and telling her we loved her.

Lynsey left us in the early hours of the 2nd of January, and I knew that family celebrations, particularly around the festive period, would never be the same. It was almost an unspoken agreement that we would all be together on that date from then on. The first few years were incredibly difficult. Her absence was glaring. I’d find myself needing to take breaks to be on my own during the day because even amongst the hubbub of my family, of the innocent fun of my nephews and niece, it felt wrong to be together when one of us was missing.

We quickly established traditions for that day. We would meet at the crematorium remembrance garden and lay flowers at Lynsey’s tree. Then we would congregate at my mum’s house and make awkward small talk and eat together and play games. At some point in the evening we would make a toast, with Lynsey’s non-alcoholic drink of choice: Irn Bru. Then we each received a helium-filled balloon to write a message on and send off into the winter sky. We tried to change things up and use Chinese lanterns one year but, after almost setting the roof on fire, we reverted back to the balloons.

For years it was a day I dreaded. I’d struggle to sleep the night before and wake up feeling so sad that it was a struggle to get up. Eventually though, it became easier, and for the past couple of years I have actually looked forward to it. Not because I don’t still hate what the day represents, and not because I don’t still miss my sister every day, but because I realised that rather than an absence, she was the biggest presence in the room. Lynsey loved when we were all together, and was usually the first to suggest getting the boardgames out and having fun. Rather than a day when we miss her more than ever and dwell on what we lost, it has become a day when we celebrate who Lynsey was and what she meant to us. On the 2nd of January it feels as though there are seven of us again, and we can appreciate how lucky we were to have had Lynsey in our lives for as long as we did.

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