This week, Rachel had an appointment for a CT scan at a hospital in Nottingham, and I went with her. When I arrived at the home, she was fast asleep, so I read a couple of letters and cards from the big box full of love, and cried a bit, like I always do when I read them. Then she was woken up and transferred to her wheelchair and we waited for the ambulance to arrive to transport us. The CT scan took about five minutes but we were out for around three hours, and when we got her back, she was ready to go to bed. I asked her if I could take the box of love home with me to sort it out. She didn’t speak, but she nodded.
It’s been hard to know how she feels about it all, really. She isn’t always able to express emotion too well. When I gave it to her on her birthday, she didn’t say anything, and every time I visit, there are more cards or photos pinned to the board in her room, but she doesn’t mention them. However, whenever I’ve opened a letter and read it to her, she’s cried. I don’t think they are sad tears. I think she’s touched by the thought and care people put into this gift.
This afternoon, I went through the box from top to bottom, reuniting photos with cards and identifying things that haven’t yet been opened. I read everything that was open. And throughout, I sobbed. It struck me that when I was asking everyone I knew to write to Rachel, a big part of me was asking it for myself. So that I could fill in the gaps; learn about what she means to everyone else, this sister who means so much to me.
Reading those letters has been enlightening, and tragic, and nostalgic. There are people whose names are unfamiliar, who obviously care about Rachel a great deal. There are photos from our shared childhood that I’ve never seen before. There are anecdotes from every corner of her past. In-jokes that I might never understand, and that I don’t need to. It’s enough that she has them. It’s enough to know how loved she is.
A close friend’s seven-year-old daughter wrote her own letter, in which she described Rach as one of her best friends. A friend of mine (who has met Rachel once) wrote ‘Putting a face to the name Laura spoke so lovingly of was important. I understood.’ Another friend wrote ‘I miss you popping over with your smiley face and generous heart.’
The tragic part, of course, is reliving all those memories, of Rach being a child, and a teenager, and a young adult, and not knowing that this was coming. I wonder, often, what we would have done differently, if we’d known. Whether she would have crammed more into her pre-stroke life – more travel, more fun, more adventures. Probably more cheese, more red wine.
What I come back to, over and over, is that at some point, unknowingly, she walked hand in hand with Scott for the last time. She drove her car and sang along with the stereo for the last time. She walked to the park with Louie for the last time. I remind myself that we still have her, that we’re lucky in that sense. But we don’t have all of her.
There are only a handful of unopened letters left, now. I will keep reading them, keep reading them aloud to Rachel, keep asking her to tell me about this or that story. Keep reminding her that, when I asked for contributions to this, the outpouring of love was strong and fast. When I turn forty, there’s nothing I’d like more than a big box full of love of my own. For now, I’ll make do with hers.
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