By Justine Lister
My sister’s name is Jasmin and 16 years, 1 month and 3 days ago she, along with her husband Ross and their 15-month-old, emigrated to Queensland, Australia.
Five years my junior, my sister had always been the feisty, fiery one in the family; the naughty one, the reckless one, the rule bender, the school bunker and the law breaker (well a policeman brought her home at nine years old, she had been playing with the other kids on the street – as you did back then – and she decided to tell an old person what they could do after being asked to keep the noise down).
In the first few years after she left, I would flit between the most complex tangle of emotions and thoughts: she abandoned me, I am so proud of her, she is so brave and strong and courageous, I miss her, I love her, I resent her, I can’t get to her if she needs me, why did she want to leave? These self-absorbed thoughts ended abruptly one day. I cannot remember why or how the conversation came about, but I was asked that if it were up to me would I have her move back to the UK?
The answer came as quick as a reflex, no rambling thoughts or pros and cons needing to be weighed up. ‘No.’ was the answer that I gave. ‘No. I wouldn’t have her move back here. Her life is in Australia with Ross and the boys (yes she left with one and had two more…all three of them cheeky, Aussie accented young men who are thriving and wonderful) and they are happier over there than they would be here.’
Prior to the move, we literally lived three streets away from each other and any upset on either side would have us together in 10 minutes drinking tea, or wine – depending on the time, hugging, talking it through and having a cheeky cigarette. I was on my own with my five-year-old and she and her husband had a one-year-old. We both worked part time and between us we would juggle the school runs, afternoon naps, play dates and tantrums like bosses. I swear to our children we were the same person. They were both equally happy with either of us.
So, to say it was like my right arm had been chopped off when she went was an understatement. It was like my right arm had been chopped off whilst being heartbroken. At the age of 28, I had been fortunate enough to have never had real grief touch me, or my life. The pain was so much that I could only imagine that this was what grief felt like. An emptiness and a loss so huge that it physically hurt my heart and took my breath away.
I cried every day for a year.
Webcams were a thing and Skype was also available too, but the truth was, it hurt so much more to see her face. I still know her first Australian landline phone number off by heart. I memorised it the first time she gave it to me. Facetiming has only been a relatively recent development as our main way of communicating in the last few years, or so.
Now we can never go back to just a normal phone call. As I am getting ready for work in the morning, she is on the settee with an evening beer with the kids flitting around behind her, piping in if she shares too much information about one or other of them. Or sometimes it will be the other way around. Me in my pyjamas, on the settee, as she sits on her deck with her first morning cup of tea and the sun shining down on her, even though it is only 6am.
When she is asked what she misses she always replies – the people, only the people, nothing else.
She and her boys have an amazing life and have made friends that have become their Australian family, who love them like their own. Their home is big and open plan, just like off Neighbours and she has that essential pool that everyone considering emigrating down under desires. Her boys have grown up with space, sunshine, surfing beaches, and outdoorsy back to nature living experiences that would never have been obtainable back here in the UK.
Ying and yang, chalk and cheese, as different as we are and as far apart as we are, we are still bound by our shared history, our love of pranking, mickey taking and laughing at the expense of other family members and the way our weird sister brains are wired to synchronise and make us telepathic – yes telepathic!
I could give you untold stories and examples of us saying things at the same time, having the same train of thought, dreaming about the same thing on the same night and laughing at things that no-one else would even remotely ‘get’ or find funny (Jasmin that turkey sign?!?), but I will not.
I will, however, tell you of the last time it happened. We had had our usual facetime in the morning. One of us was sad, or down – probably me – and we had chatted it through. The day continued as normal. I was walking through town with my music plugged in and a song came on that reminded me of her. It made me teary, and it made me miss her, but I was reminded of the strength of our relationship and how we could still cry with laughter, love, care for and reassure each other through so much, even at a distance. The song had finished and so I took my phone out to replay it; I wanted to stay with her in our memories.
I had a message from my sister.
I opened it.
She had sent me the lyrics to the very song that had made me think of her At. The. Exact. Same. Time. That. I Was. Listening. To. It! True story.
No one will ever convince me that that was anything but the universe showing us the undeniable power of our love and connection.
In the time that she has been gone, we have both changed and evolved and that has not gone unnoticed by either of us.
Emigrating at the tender age 23 with a young baby and no support network, other than her husband (who is truly wonderful by the way) has caused my sister to become extremely self-sufficient and the boss queen of multi-tasking. She will call me and fill me in on the latest and to me she looks tired, and sounds worn out and I say, ‘Are you really OK?’ and she will say ‘Yea, I’m fine,’ and change the subject.
That is hard – one of the hardest things-when I know she is not OK and I cannot get to her, look her in the eyes and give her that hug that I know she needs.
If she was to tell you about how I have changed, I think she would say that I have slowed down, and I would agree. She might also say that I am too soft, that I do not speak up when I should, and that I don’t plan enough for things.
Maybe what we are missing in each other personality wise, is each other in person. With me, in person, she would not get away with an ‘I’m fine,’, or being flippant, or unnecessarily ‘aggie’. I would tell her to slow down, talk and process things. Her fiery feistiness would be tempered by my ability to empathise and see the bigger picture.
On the other hand, if she were by my side, never again would anyone try to queue jump me at the bar, take advantage of my good nature, or put me down. Although I am the older sister by age, she has got enough sass, confidence, and attitude for the both of us. (Except that one-time naughty Steven from up the road tried to hit her with a stick and I pushed him hard off his roller skates!)
Would I want her to uproot her whole life and family to come back here for me? No way. They are so happy out there and I am so incredibly proud of her and Ross and all they have achieved. They were so young, and they have done so much.
Do I miss her? Yes, with my whole heart. Every day.
However, home is where the heart is, and we carry a piece of each other’s hearts in our own even when we are 9539 miles apart.