Susan is the oldest of my five sisters, eighteen years older than me. Although all six of us resemble one another, she is the sister I am closest to in appearance. I don’t have to wonder what I will look like eighteen years from now. I just need to look at her. Although, I’m fairly certain I already have more laugh lines and wrinkles than Susan does. If I were to say that to her, I know she would respond by telling me I’m not applying my eye cream correctly with the third or forth finger of my hand. Susan has helpful hints for just about everything.
Susan has always supported me with cards and letters of encouragement. When I was an exchange student she sent me a card telling me that whenever she missed me, she just had to look up at the moon and remember I would be able to see the same moon too. After hearing me talk about a difficult clinical practicum in college, she sent me a letter reminding me of the importance of both good and challenging experiences that help shape us into the professionals we become. As soon as I announced I was trying to make it back to Australia, Susan sent me monthly cards and letters with gifts to help me prepare for my trip. She may not remember all those letters, but I have drawn strength from them.
When I came home from the hospital in February, Susan told me she planned to come for a visit. I was overwhelmed with everything life had thrown at me – a new way of doing all of my daily activities, new Personal Assistants, the loss of independence, and the reality that I would need to move out of the apartment where I had lived for twenty years.
Don’t stress about me coming. I’ll just show up, cook, and help you organize!
Sure enough, Susan arrived one Saturday morning with enough groceries to feed a small family and a smile. Within an hour, we had both eaten breakfast, a pot of tomato sauce was simmering on my stove, and she was ready to help me tackle the overwhelming pile of clutter covering my dining room table.
We spent the day organizing my mail and receipts, talking about everything and nothing, laughing over cups of coffee. Susan made me two pans of lasagna, one to have for dinner and one to freeze for later. She listened without judgement as I shared my fears about all the changes in my life, and handed me tissues when I cried over our afternoon tea.
My day with Susan was a perfect cure for what was ailing me at the time. She was a calm presence when I was feeling chaos and out of control. She was the voice of reason when I was spouting off about worse case scenarios. Susan was, as she always is, strength when I was weak.
After Susan left, I realized that our day together was the first time the two of us had spent an extended amount of time together alone. We see each other at family gatherings, but other than our day together this year, I have never spent any time with Susan without other family members present. Part of this is due to the age difference – Susan got married and moved out of our parents’ home when I was nine months old. Some of it is due to geography – Susan has lived in another state since I was ten years old. My disability also limits our time together because Susan’s house (though lovely) is not accessible, and I cannot travel as easily as I once did.
Yet, Susan is one of the women I rely on and admire most. She is there whenever I call to listen when I just need to vent, or to help me problem solve when I am ready for action. I don’t know as I have ever told her that, so I am glad to be telling her now.
Susan – thank you for making time for me, not just this year but every time I need a big sister and a friend. You have always believed in me, and have never been shy about telling me to dream big. You are a woman of kindness and generosity. Your passion for social justice and your devotion to education and literacy for all serve as examples to those us who look up to you.
All of my life, whenever Dad was annoyed by my stubbornness, he would look at me with exasperation and say, “OK, Susan.” As a child, I was put off by this, constantly correcting him that I wasn’t Susan, I was Denise. Teenage Denise probably rolled her eyes at Dad while sighing in a huff. Adult Denise sees it differently.
Susan, you are determined, dependable and not afraid to speak your mind or take a stand for the values you believe in. If Dad sees those qualities in me when he calls me by your name, I think I’m doing the right thing.