What matters most



This was brought home to me very forcibly when a friend of my sister’s tracked me down through an author card I‘d given her months ago. She phoned, saying sister was terribly ill, and she really thought I should get some medical attention for her.

Apparently sister had been mysteriously unwell for about six weeks and hadn’t told me. We mostly email each other to keep in touch. Would she have told me if we were phoning instead? Probably not - she wouldn’t have wanted to worry me!

SO… Determined to get the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I dropped everything at home and drove four hours north, arriving unannounced, and giving poor sis a terrible shock. On the way there I managed to convince myself she was halfway dead. Would I have to track her to the hospital if she didn't open the door? Would I be responsible for clearing out the house? Selling the house? Writing a eulogy for the funeral? Goodness, unfounded worry is a terrible thing, and an author’s inventive brain makes it worse.

She did indeed answer the door – looking pale and thinner than usual and rather annoyed. In fact it was the loudly voiced annoyance that convinced me she wasn’t actually halfway dead! She was annoyed I’d bothered travelling all that way. Annoyed I hadn’t told her I was coming. And extremely annoyed with her friend for alarming me.

Turns out her friend hadn’t visited her… was just reporting a phone-call they’d had where poor sis had probably done a bit of a moan. Hey-ho. She said the merest whiff of a medical problem can be over-inflated by this well-meaning lady. Oh darn – I really should have phoned first.

Sis had already been to the doctor twice, had an MRI scan, blood tests etc. and was waiting for a hospital appointment with the gastro department. It seemed things were well in hand – even if the mystery condition had not yet been identified.

We had a surprisingly nice time together once I was forgiven. I watered the garden for her, bought in a few supplies she was running low on, changed her library books, and actually managed to get her to eat half a raspberry and white chocolate muffin. (Hey – if you can only face a little food it may as well be sinfully delicious!)

But what was brought home to me so strongly was the degree of attachment I had for my only sister. I would have done anything possible to make things more comfortable for her. And I was extremely grateful her friend had let me know about the need for some TLC.

Cherish the ones you love, people. You might not have them forever. Given that most of our family lives past ninety, I’m sure sis and I will have a lot more time to annoy each other.

The official family photo

And here we are - me aged about twelve because I remember making that awful tweed jacket at school sewing. Our parents had us photographed every few years - looking nothing like ourselves! The old curling tongs came out for the occasion, and our naturally straight hair was tizzied up. I'll never forget the smell of singeing hair - because the tongs were heated over the flame of the gas stove and there was no guarantee of temperature. I do recall the odd burned ear... But they loved us, and hung us on the wall, and it probably strengthens the story above to know I can't bear to part with this photo.