My sister Robin died ten years ago today. I am amazed on the one hand that so much time has gone by and on the other, it seems like it happened yesterday.
Robin was 39 years old when she died. She had had a 10 year reprieve from Melanoma, which had then been found in one lymph node (all the ones surrounding it had been removed which were fine so the doctors thought they had gotten it all) and then ultimately it settled in the Myelin sheath surrounding her brain. In there, the cancer cells replicated the good cells. One of the residents working on her case indelicately told her she had 3 months to live (his bed side manner and empathy were sorely lacking)....and indeed she died 3 months to the day.
That Robin died on April Fool's Day was not totally lost on me. Throughout the course of our lives together Robin was quite the prankster and always up for a great gag. When I went to the hospital (she had had a seizure early in the morning and never woke up - a nurse stayed with her and held her hand until she was gone) to say good-bye I kept thinking she would just open her eyes and say "Ha! April Fool's!," which of course didn't happen.
As a kid, Rob was a bundle of energy and rather mischevious. She was always getting into trouble for her high spirits. Being the first child, my parents had three billion slides and photos of her (the picture taking decreased dramatically and exponentially with each successive kid) and in every picture she would have this ear to ear 'photo' smile (the photo to the right is tame in comparison) which always cracked us up.
Robin was truly the pioneer in our little group of siblings. She had an adventurer's spirit and was so full of vitality and enthusiasm AND a lot of impulsivity (as kids I was told that I was 'just like Robin' except that I would think about things first - it drove me nuts as a kid because I hated being compared to her).
She was a social butterfly and always had tons of friends. When we were younger and lived in a brand new housing development, Robin developed the 'detective's club,' where we would spend all day on our bikes looking for 'clues.'
She was also the gang leader the day we decided to take our baby brother, Jamie, to Port Credit river for a 'swim." Our parents were away and the babysitter told us we had to get out of the house and take Jamie with us (he was about a year and a half old at the time) so she could knit! (I laugh at the irony of this now.....). So we took him to the river and used him as a human raft, floating him downstream, with teams to catch him and then take him back up the river. How he was not drown that day, and none of us got hurt, boggled my mind as an adult.
As adolescents we did not get along at all. She and her longtime boyfriend Gerry would time it to see how long it took me to cry. We had vicious, horrible fights (usually when my parents weren't there) and I relished it when she got into trouble from my dad, which was most of the time. We lived on the West Island in Montreal and Robin was a wild child.
Most nights she would go 'flickering.' This entailed her shimmying down the drainpipe at 1am in the morning, meeting up with her friends at the Lakeshore and rowing boats across the St. Lawrence river to this deserted island to party. One night my dad, dressed in his summer pajamas and riding my neon green banana bike, was stopped by the police when he was out searching for her.
When I gave the eulogy at her service I likened Rob's behaviour to Moses parting the Red Sea - she paved the way for us; all we had to do was admire the view (particularly when it came to the way she could get the vein in my dad's head to bulge when he was yelling at her - she was, perpetually grounded!). Looking back I know I was scared sh*tless by my sister's audacity and her joie de vivre.
As adults, we enjoyed a tremendous relationship. I don't remember the exact moment that it changed but I do believe that after her initial diagnosis with cancer (she was 29, I was 26) we became much closer. I realized that it was okay to be like her and that we had so much in common. We would talk on the phone every or every other day (she was in Winnipeg, Manitoba and I was in Toronto/Burlington/Oakville/Warkworth, Ontario) and we talked about everything; I felt such a sense of satisfaction that our relationship had really developed into this much deeper kind of friendship.
Robin was a phenomenal knitter, cross stitcher, quilter, weaver and she made most of her own clothes on the sewing machine. She was incredidly productive too - at Christmases and birthdays the things she would give weren't only beautifully crafted but the volume was incredible. She was the consummate multi-tasker. There was no technique daunting to her; if she wanted to do it, she would. I cannot adequately describe the things she made although she has left quite a legacy for us to cherish, and I absolutely admire her abilities.
I have Rob's floor loom which I still haven't set up (no space) although I know I will one day - I had taken several courses in Weaving when I was at SAIT in Calgary although Rob was the one to buy a loom after she had taken courses at the University of Manitoba several years later. I also inherited about 7 large boxes (the biggest moving size) of yarn which I donated to a local guild who sold it for me and gave the proceeds to a local women's shelter in Robin's memory.
Death is tragic. It is so hard for those left behind. I feel so much worse for my parents than for myself. I remember the devastation on my parents faces on the day she died (my father was in Montreal for a meeting and had to fly back) and that vulnerability changed for me how I would view them forever.
My mother has never really recovered from the loss of her first born. She gave up her knitting. There are so many times when I think that that is the hardest thing of all - parents should never lose their children, no matter their age.
When they found out that Rob was terminal my dad remarked on how lucky he had been to have a redhead, a brunette and a blonde (for those of you who need to know I am the blonde in the photo - I am so not blonde now).
I took comfort in knowing that my sister didn't suffer as much as she could have (with the various indignities that go with the deterioration of the brain) and that who I knew her to be left long before her body ever did.
I vividly remember the last thing Rob ever said to me (and I still laugh at her comment; she kind of said whatever came into her head) and the moments we shared. After she died, Ed and I planted two Maple trees in her honour on the farm - it was her favourite and it symbolized her to me, particularly when the leaves turn that gorgeous red in the fall.
I have so many memories of her, it is hard to encapsulate it all in one post. Rob was a Renaissance woman. She could sew, knit, thread a worm, fish, dress up or down, quaff a beer or sip champagne. She loved Canadian football with a fervour. Robin was as loyal a Canadian as you could ever meet. She was just loyal period.
I feel her beside me sometimes and what I still miss most about her is our conversations; the sound of her voice and her laughter. I don't focus on the loss; I really celebrate who she was, what she accomplished and how much she has left behind. I know that today there are hundreds of people remembering her too. I love you Robin bobbin, thanks for the ride!