It was my sister Sarah’s birthday today, though the idea of her being fifty-four years old seems odd. I bought her a notebook and pencil case and pens for her birthday. Always immensely practical, they are things I know she will put to good use.
Although four years younger than me, Sarah was never really a “little sister”, a stronger and more resolute character, she would become the one who would come unruffled through situations that would have defeated me, she was the one who was always positive and always upbeat. The four year gap in my ages, and my ill health meaning I was dispatched to Dartmoor for much of my secondary education, meant that the only time we were at school together was in primary school days, a place which I dreaded and in which she delighted, perhaps because she had always the capacity to see the best in things while my ability was always to see the worst.
In 1980, when I dropped out of university with deep depression and found the days difficult, my fifteen year old little sister became a source of strength and encouragement, always smiling, always positive.
By 1983, when Sarah was still eighteen, I was living on the other side of the Irish Sea and our encounters became sporadic, usually no more than twice a year, sometimes, given the difficulty of travel with small children, only once. But as the years passed, there was never one in which Sarah did not seem to triumph over every adversity, to make the best of every situation, to smile when I would have been in tears. Life seemed to deal her successive bad hands and each time she won the trick.
In 2004, as new happiness in the form of Martin, her great husband, appeared, there seemed a moment of injustice as Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer, but even cancer could do nothing to quench her spirits. Even going along to the treatment sessions was an opportunity for her to encourage people: we can beat this or let it beat us. In 2014, when she was signed off from further cancer check ups, she spoke with delight of having won.
Sarah has been an invaluable friend to me through difficult times, always an encourager, always possessing the capacity to find the silver lining, the gleam of light, the ray of sunshine. There is never a moment when she does not seem upbeat. A little sister who is much bigger than me.
And she is so used to the nickname from the days of her childhood that she signs herself “Harry.”