When my sister, Rachel, turned twenty-one, she was in her final year of university in Bangor and I was in my first year at Southampton. These universities were not chosen with travelling between them in mind. I’m pretty sure the journey to visit her took seven hours, and it definitely involved five trains. Like a fool, I’d bought her twenty-one presents (with who knows what money), so I had to lug those the whole way.
When she was thirty, we went to Bruges. Rach and Scott, me and Paul, Mum and Dad. She took us to a restaurant she’d visited several years before, with friends. It was a nice trip, although Rach got ill after eating mussels at one point (I’m pretty sure she’s in denial about being allergic to them). And yes, I bought her thirty presents. But I don’t think I carted them to Bruges.
In November, my sister will turn forty. None of us could have known this is where we’d be at this stage of her life. She’s confined to a wheelchair and has very little movement in her left side. She’s about to have an operation to replace the section of her skull they had to remove with a metal plate. She’s living in a care home. I’m not going to buy her forty presents. There’s so little that she needs, right now. So little she can do, or use. Obviously, I want to make this birthday as special as it can possibly be. But I’ve been pretty despairing about it.
This week, I asked a lot of different people for suggestions, and they came up with some great ideas, many of which I’m going to look into. Bringing a beauty therapist into the care home for some pampering treatments. Taking over the care home’s day room with a group of friends and family for a viewing of her favourite film, Dirty Dancing. Having a quilt made from pieces of fabric with messages on them.
But my favourite is the simplest of them all. A friend told me that she did it for her mum’s sixtieth. I’m gathering addresses from anyone who wants to send my sister a letter, or a drawing, or some photographs, or a memory, or a passage from a book, or a poem, or anything they like that will fit in the stamped addressed envelope I’ll send out to them. I’m then going to put all the unopened envelopes in a nice box, and give it to her. A big box full of love. Overflowing, I hope.
I wrote a Facebook post about it yesterday and the addresses are starting to trickle in. And so are the questions. I’ve only met Rach a couple of times, can I send her a letter? Yes. I’ve never met Rach, can I send her a letter? Yes. There’s a letter on its way from someone who’s never met either of us. I’m wondering whether this is going to become something bigger than I’d imagined, and I hope it will. I’m looking forward to future visits, during which I’ll pick a letter from the box and read it to her. It might be from a friend and it might be from a stranger. It might contain something that makes that day a little better.
If you’re reading this and you want to send Rachel something, please email me with your address and I’ll get a stamped addressed envelope out to you: email@example.com. If you know someone who won’t see this but who might want to be involved, please let them know. Thank you.