My sister died in August 2011 after a brief struggle with cancer. She had a fleeting 103 days from diagnosis till her final demise. After her funeral I felt as though I had lost part of myself yet I felt I barely knew my sister. She was a girl I grew up with and went to school with, but barely shared my life with, as our lives went in different directions. We stayed in touch and were 'there for each other' but, on reflection, I barely knew her adult life. There are many things I may never know about this person who meant a lot to me but chose to keep her life separate from mine. In coming to terms with her passing I have decided to reproduce my contribution to her eulogy as this part of her funeral was private (by her request) and this was the only time my memories of her early story was told.
Annabelle came into the world on 27th June 1950. Within days she joined our family as a little sister for me. She was named for her Aunty Anne and her Grandmother Belle. We both always knew we were adopted as babies.
As a child Annabelle sometimes felt the weight of being my younger sister. She believed teachers expected her to be like me. She also entertained the misbelief that her older sister knew more about the world than she did. This sometimes got her into trouble with teachers, as she’d ask me questions, long before I knew I didn’t know everything. I’d confidently give her an answer, which she would then report as fact: sometimes to her detriment.
|Myself with 'Curly' and Annabelle.|
In about 1955 our family went for a holiday on a relative’s farm. On this holiday Annabelle and I and our four cousins spent time swimming in the farm dam. Soon after, all the children developed ringworm through their scalps, except myself, as I hadn’t wet my hair. Having all her hair shaved off and her head painted purple (with Gentian Violet) and having to wear a variety of hats and caps for 18 months had a deep effect on Annabelle. Our country cousins had the weight of numbers on their side as they attended a one-room school where this was not an uncommon event and where they made up the majority of the students. Annabelle, on the other hand, had to endure 18 months of teasing and hat pulling from other children and it affected her at the time, and me to a lesser extent. For quite a while, both of us became anxious if the chance of a ringworm infection was suggested, even though treatment seems much less radical nowadays.
|A farm holiday that changed her life.|
|Wearing one of her many hats to a family wedding.|
As children we shared a bedroom, but it soon became apparent that we were both territorial and by our teens we had our own rooms. We started to go our separate ways.
Being 20 months older than Annabelle we did not share the same circle of school friends. My memory of her during her school years was that she always seemed to be sitting at the piano doing her practice. She was a good pianist and cellist and once won a gold medal in the Hartwell Piano Eisteddfod.
|With her cello|
After leaving high school, Annabelle went to Teachers’ College. She went into primary teaching, didn’t seem to like it, and after a short period set sail for Europe. I remember how glad I was that she was leaving her then boyfriend standing on the docks. It was a surprise to me that she actually did go, as the friend she was originally going to travel with backed out at the last minute and she set off alone into the ‘big world’. Annabelle almost had to go away for me to get to know her. We wrote regularly while she was overseas. The writing and reading of those letters made me feel closer to her. On her return I missed our regular correspondence.
|The Annabelle I knew.|
Annabelle and I have lived our lives in parallel. I have sometimes had to explain her to others as a ‘very private person’. We took an interest in each other’s lives without taking inter-related roles. Her relationship and marriage to Lachlan and their lovely time together has meant that she and I have lived independently. My children hardly knew their aunt. She was not a ‘hands-on’ auntie - something she chose.
From time to time my phone has rung and Annabelle has brightly started a conversation without the need for introductions. She’s let me know that she and Lachlan where heading off on a trip or had recently returned from somewhere or to wish me Happy Birthday. In recent years I have taken to dropping in to their home to chat and catch up over a cuppa. I am still amazed that Annabelle’s memories of shared experiences are sometimes completely different to mine. I miss her memories tempering mine. Now my memories will hold sway, which isn’t actually fair. But by now we all know that life is not fair.
It was a huge surprise when I received Lachlan’s phone call in late April outlining Annabelle’s health problems. From the beginning Annabelle appeared to graciously accept the terminal nature of her condition. I am grateful that she had her last months with Lachlan, to make her wishes known and to share her thoughts and fears with him. They had a strong and loving partnership.
Annabelle lived and died with dignity, style and quiet grace. Her large brown eyes watched and interpreted her world with insight and humour. I will miss her.