My sister’s keeper

December 9, 2014

My sis­ter died last night. She was 46 years old.

For the last of those years she lived in a care home near the sea front in Great Yar­mouth, patiently looked after. In good times she took her med­ic­a­tion, and spent her weekly state allow­ance on daily litres of coca-cola and pack­ets of cigar­ettes.

She had lost a fin­ger to domest­ic abuse. Lived with heroin addicts who had beaten her for her bene­fit cheque. They told her they were dia­bet­ics. She, who had struggled to be kept in school, believed them.

After one beat­ing, at her low­est ebb, she had ended up in a hos­pit­al ward where, out of kind­ness, someone assessed her and dia­gnosed the schizo­phrenia that had afflic­ted her for years. Finally she got help with hous­ing.

All this I know from my moth­er, second-hand. The last time I saw her was at my grandfather’s funer­al, over twenty years ago.

I stopped let­ting her know where I lived to avoid the long ram­bling let­ters with accus­a­tions of murder and worse. But also because of my own guilt at hav­ing been a lousy broth­er, at my inab­il­ity to help her, and her inab­il­ity to be helped — to be a good vic­tim.

She was dif­fi­cult to deal with: viol­ent, obstrep­er­ous, a fan­tas­ist. My moth­er says only: “a troubled soul”.

My father’s poor health made it impossible for her to live with my par­ents when her hus­band threw her out. My work took me all over the world. My moth­er made long drives to the coast to pay her vis­its and try to fix up some­where for her to live.

In the end ‘the sys­tem’ ended up help­ing her where we could not. The state, that big soul­less, joy­less col­lect­ive noun, so des­pised and ridiculed, came to her aid. It gave her com­fort and shel­ter, and employed long-suf­fer­ing people to help her. The path did not run smooth, but the state was my sister’s keep­er.

When my moth­er became ill this year, I real­ized that the day might soon come when I would have to make the vis­its, remem­ber her birth­day and Christ­mas. It nev­er came.

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