Song for my sisters


This is a photo of my twin sisters, Abi and Elisabeth, and me in our grandparents’ garden in Halifax. I’m still quite startled by the kilt and clogs combination I wore that day.

It was spring 1977. The Queen was limbering up for her silver jubilee celebrations, social unrest was simmering, and punk was just about to explode.

Six months later, my family was hit by a tidal wave of shock and grief when 18-month-old Elisabeth went into hospital for heart surgery, and did not return. 

As I wrote in a previous post, the story of that time is not for telling now.

But maybe, like me, you are familiar with pain and loss.

For us, it was compounded by a letter that arrived from the hospital years later. Staff wrote to inform my parents that, after her death, a decision had been made to remove and retain some of their daughter’s organs, which remained in their possession.

It took some time to process this news. We carried it in our hearts as the family changed and grew with weddings and the birth of new people.

This October marked 40 years since Elisabeth’s death, and my parents made the courageous decision to hold a committal service. They wrote a short piece for the vicar to read, and the girl I see in it is one with whom I so dearly wish I had grown up. 

My memories are vivid but patchy; theirs have broadened and deepened the brush strokes, and the person who emerges is sensitive, funny, and demonstrative with her affections. One who loved dancing and ice cream and horses, and ran back to give Abi a kiss the day she left for hospital. 

The committal took place a few days ago. Because I am a follower of Christ I’ve sought him out in prayer – by myself, and with others. 

Faith can be such a divisive topic. It’s seen by many as something outgrown by progress, a crutch for the weak, a source of embarrassment.

I can only write from experience. 

I went to pray with a friend a few days before the service, aching with grief. But I found myself met by love, and I knew the comfort of containment by it.

There’s a verse in the book of Deuteronomy (chapter 33:27), which says: ‘The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’ 

The committal took place in a snow-covered crematorium. Sometimes life hurts and pain runs deep. But on that raw, cold day we felt held by a love somehow wider and deeper still. 

Christmas is now just days away, when those who have been watching for it celebrate the light that breaks out in the darkness. 

Sometimes it dazzles, and sometimes it’s just a glimmer, but it leaves us changed. 

Award-winning grime artist Stormzy and I might not appear to have much in common, but we’ve both seen it, and it’s made us both sing.

Happy Christmas. 




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