My sister, Denise, passed away this time last year after a long battle with illness. The following post is a transcript of the words I spoke at her funeral, which I choose to share today by way of tribute.
I have so many memories of D that it is hard to know where to begin. I guess it makes sense to start when we were kids, growing up together in Poole. Fighting over the best seat for watching Saturday morning telly or who got to use the arm-rest in the back of one of the many cars we had growing up.
Denise was always very active. She would play games like ‘block’ and cricket outside on the green in front of our house, not to mention inventing a dance routine with a couple of the neighbours. She did like to dance, as I remember. Something which I am sure she did plenty of during the various holidays to sunny places that she loved to go on with friends. She attended a dance school for a while, too.
Denise was also very fond of animals, having a great deal of affection for the pets that passed through our lives. I remember her once defending our dog, Lucky, from a classmate of mine who was teasing her. Denise couldn’t stand to see people being unkind to defenceless creatures, and there were times when I fell into that category too. Her geeky younger sister occasionally needed protection from bullies. Don’t get me wrong, we would scrap as sisters do, but she was very loyal if anyone else tried picking on me.
I certainly must have been the typical frustrating younger sister, but there is no doubt that her more ‘savvy’ presence in my life helped me to better navigate the pitfalls of growing up, especially as a teenager. I can’t say I appreciated the make-overs she would give me – especially the way she would use my nose as a lever to move my head around – but at least I know how to apply make-up as a result.
D was very good at that kind of thing, being a beautiful person with an innate sense of style. She even persuaded me that I could actually wear skirts and dresses, rather than always living in my jeans. She would be the first to tell me when my hair needed a cut, though. She would be right, too!
Den’s creativity and style also came out in other ways. There are any number of artistic items in my parents’ house courtesy of her. The ones that spring immediately to mind are the immense cross-stitch of a tiger in their living room, which must have taken her a great deal of time and patience to create, as well as a beautiful screen-print she produced at school. She could turn out some tasty cakes and excellent meals too.
D would also ensure that the gifts she gave people were exquisitely wrapped, and the gifts themselves would be very carefully chosen, as would cards for birthdays and other special occasions. She had a lovely way of remembering the events which were important to people; even texting me ‘good luck’ on the day I started my new job recently, despite being so very unwell in hospital. I really appreciated that about her.
By far and away my best memory of D is when Mum and Dad were unable to attend my wedding to Jeff due to illness. She stepped in at the very last minute to give me away. Now, as many of you know, D was never at her most comfortable in front of crowds, so this took her a great deal of courage. She did it, though, and she did it very well – for which I will always be grateful and always remember.
I have been looking in the mirror recently, and lamenting the fact that I am now middle-aged. I’m not going to do this any more. From now on, I intend to live my life to the full, enjoying the privilege of getting older – a privilege Den has been tragically denied. I will take everything I ever learned from having her as a loyal, loving and feisty sister and put it to good use. In this way, she will live on in me, as she will live on in the hearts and minds of everyone who loved her. This is, I think, a fitting tribute to a short yet vibrant life – and one I believe would bring a big smile to D’s beautiful face.