This week is the anniversary of my sister’s death. She died on January 16th 2003 of ovarian cancer at the age of 58. Some days it seems impossible that 2003 was 17 years ago but on other days, it seems like last week.
I feel guilty now abut being grumpy on the last afternoon of her life. Our family and friends had been taking turns to sit with her at the hospice. I had arrived after lunch and a friend was due to come at 4 p.m. But the time passed and she didn’t arrive. I was still annoyed at her no-show when my sister’s partner turned up at 6 p.m. I can’t remember what important things I had to do. Probably they were quite unimportant and involved cooking supper. Two hours later we received a call to rush to the hospice. I am not sure if she was still aware when I ran into the bedroom. Maybe my sister heard me say that I loved her.
She had arranged a swift cremation in a simple coffin and a celebration of her life at a lakeside restaurant. Everything had been planned from the food and wine to the music, guest list and speakers. Her ashes were to be divided with half staying in Canada and rest going back to New Zealand. As I was due there in February, I took the ashes with me.
She would have enjoyed the tale of those ashes New Zealand has very high bio-security standards. On one trip, my sister had been on a farm before she arrived in Auckland. She told us she was given a label and sent to another desk. She walked there with PIG stuck on her chest. When I went to New Zealand, I travelled with the ashes in my carry on luggage. While completing the arrivals form. I noticed a section about bringing bones into the country. Since I thought ashes might contained tiny fragments of bone, I checked yes.
I was told to report to another officer and noticed she was a middle-aged Maori woman. I knew that some older Maoris do not believe in cremation but I was still startled by her extreme reaction. She asked what I as carrying and when I explained and bent down to remove the box from my bag, she looked very alarmed. ‘Go!’ she yelled, said pointing to the exit. So I went.
That was the first part of the story. My sister wanted her ashes thrown into the sea at a certain spot not far from our previous beach cottage. A friend drove Mum and me there and I took out the little green bag. Inside was a green box. I looked carefully at it but could see no obvious way of opening it. Both my mother and my friend also examined the box and we even considered banging it against a rock or using a tire iron. None of our ideas seemed appropriate. I don’t know how I finally succeeded but suddenly the box opened and i stared at my sister’s grey ashes
The location was a place where reefs ran out into the sea and Mum and I found a little channel. The sea was gently running in and out with each little wave and we took turns dropping ashes into the water. Just as we finished, a large wave whooshed in and drenched us both. When we recovered, I said, ‘She is definitely having the last word.’ I believe to this day that my sister added that final comment.
So this week, I grieve for my sister who died far too young. She was my only sibling and I still miss her.