Wednesday, May 22, 2019


My sister Flora died four years ago today. I still feel the loss, the sadness is still with me. She was a year and a half older than myself. I am now three years older than she ever would be. The tricks time plays on the mind are strange.

We grew up together, shared the same bedroom--the nursery--in the Rectory when we were very little, during the war years. The big, walk-in dolls' house my father made for her was at the foot of my bed. We squabbled, as I suppose all siblings do. I pulled her pigtails. She scratched and bit. Sundays, we sat together, one on each side of my mother in the Rector's pew in church.

We grew apart, each in our separate boarding school on the south coast of England. Her uniform was cornflower blue. Mine was grey.

After school, when I went to university she went to secretarial school. That's how it was. Things have changed since then, and some things for the better. For a time she joined the merchant marine as a "purserette," crossing the Atlantic back and forth on the Queen Mary and other Cunard liners. Then she had a job at an advertising agency. She was photographed, for some reason, with Cary Grant. She had at least one unhappy love affair with "the wrong man."

We married at around the same time--she in England, I in Germany--and we both had two children, she two girls and I two boys. To the great distress of our parents--and needless to say ourselves and those we loved, we both went through separations and divorces. These were the unhappiest moments of our lives.

We still did not know each other very well for many years. She had her judgments of me, and I had mine, of her: I had always been the blue-eyed boy, she thought, the lucky one, who always landed on his feet. Who had no agony in his life. And she, I thought, was the "difficult" one, the complicated one, always agonizing, hyper-critical. After her marriage fell apart, she became for a time a therapist of sorts--I'm not sure what sort--and started off on a path of self-discovery for which I was not ready; and became deeply involved in the life of the spirit, for which I also was not ready.

I'm grateful that we found each other again in later life. I suppose it was in part because life came along to teach me more about pain and suffering myself; because I saw the need to change my own life, that real humanity required connection with the feelings I had long neglected; and, for want of a better word, with spirit. I began to catch up along the path she had long been following.

Curious, then, that distance made us fonder. During those years that we became closer I was living in Los Angeles, and she in the town of Cirencester in the Cotswolds. My visits there were rare, because of the distance, but important ones. And we spoke more frequently on the phone.

Her death was a shock to all of us. She had been suffering for some months with stomach pains. They went undiagnosed until she was finally brought in for exploratory surgery and the doctors discovered an inoperable tumor. I was fortunate to have been in England at the time, and to have been able to visit her in hospital, where she told me she was "ready to go." And I believed her. She had done the work to prepare herself to leave, convinced that death was no more than the doorway to the next great adventure.

She died soon after. The day before she died, thinking of her and of our childhood days, I wrote a poem, "Bluebells," and posted it on the Buddha Diaries, here. Not intended to be such, it turned out to be an elegy, and I read it--through tears, I have to say--at her funeral.

So yes, I still feel the loss. The sadness lingers on...


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