Meet my sister

Dear new friend,

Meet my sister. Her name is Klara. The last time I saw her was on the first of advent 2006 on a train platform as she got on a train back to where she was studying photo journalism at the time. I was living in London and home for the weekend, and she’d decided to ‘come home’ to see me.

She took her own life just over a week later.

I need to tell you about my sister not because I need you to carry me and tell me you’re sorry. I need to tell you about my sister because she is an integral part of me, and one I adore, and without knowing about her you can never fully know me. And as much as I like you, the opportunity to tell you about that sister I had, who killed herself years before we even met, might never come.

We might hear a Jens Lekman song and I’ll instinctively want to tell you about that summer when we were both living at home and having friends over for drinks, dancing the night away. Or you might tell me I’ve lost an earring and I’ll have to explain that there was only ever one, but I’ll hold onto it like you’d hold onto a family heirloom because she bought it, and she didn’t care much about pairing it up. I might see a photo of one of her best friends on her due date, and it might shake the ground I walk on for days to come. Or you might end up talking about your sister and how nothing else compares, and I’ll cry; and that’s OK, but I’ll want you to know that cherishing it is great but that once you start to take it for granted I’ll really struggle.

Meet my sister. Her name is Klara and she was so much to so many people: the funny one, and the quiet one; the strong one, and the broken one; the rock, yet completely lost; happiness epitomised, yet altogether sad. She wore the strangest combinations of clothes but managed to always look like she loved herself. I don’t know if I ever really realised that she didn’t.

She had the most amazing of friends: the kind of friendships you think only exist in American box-sets, except deeper; the kind of friends who laugh so hard they’re sore for days afterwards, who love each other so boundlessly that they’ll break each other’s hearts if they have to to keep each other safe.

She didn’t really love herself in the end, nor did she see the charm with those rock solid friendships. She didn’t give anyone a chance to save her, and I’m not sure who I am to say that there was much left to save. I will forever miss my sister, always long for the auntie my sons never had. And boy would she have made a brilliant auntie.

But the memory of her is very much alive, still, approaching ten years since the day she died. In fact, the memory of her is so much more alive than the real-life impression of so many people I meet on a day-to-day basis. And it is talking about her that keeps those memories alive. It is laughing at the funny things she did, talking about the things we used to do, and explaining to people who didn’t know her what made her who she was, that will make her just as alive in another ten years’ time.

I need to tell you about my sister, because the grief has been coming at me at full force lately and I’m running out of excuses for puffy eyes, absent-mindedness and unexpected mood swings. That’s the funny thing about emigrating: as you move away from those you love, escape the things that annoy you, and run away from all that which you can’t quite put your finger on but which gets under your skin, you also leave behind all the places and smells and memories that would otherwise remind you of your past. Along with the chance to reinvent yourself comes a life without all those people who know who you were at 15. At the same time, grief goes into hibernation and you never know when it might strike.

This is why I need you to meet my sister, new friend. I don’t need you to feel sorry for me, but I need you to share those memories with me to keep them – and her – alive.