One might think after twenty-seven years, it did not matter nor ache as much. The odd thing was I was very acutely aware of the fact that it was the anniversary of the death of our youngest sister, Mabel, today, and a range of feelings emerged as the day was approaching.
What happened on this horrific day was still vivid in my mind. My mother knocked on my bedroom door, pale and frantic, asking if I knew where you were. I had fallen asleep from studying for exams and had not seen you all day. Drowsy from my nap, I answered that I did not know. Then the world around us began to spin and spin; the ground collapsed underneath us endlessly and darkly.
A troop of churlish police officers marched into our flat to investigate. I got hold of my father and brother, telling them Mabel was ‘missing’ and please hurry home. More phone calls… More chaos… When father arrived at home shortly, his face was ashen. The police rushed him to identify the body…
That night, my sister-in-law and I slumbered in the living-room, sharing family anecdotes and crying intermittently. Then a heartless reporter rang our door buzzer to inquire whether Mabel had left a note. For the first time in my young sixteen years, I felt a swelling rage towards the outside world. The next few days and weeks, we were thrust into an unfamiliar abyss: shock; youth suicide; gross invasion of privacy by the media; and rivers of tears that could not even begin to soothe our sorrows.
There was no foreshadowing of any kind to prepare or warn us. The medical examination revealed that her entire body was shattered from the fall from her bedroom window, as were our lives from that day on. Two months prior, an uncle, only in his early forties, died suddenly from a heart attack. He was visiting from overseas to see his youngest brother whose life was rapidly slipping away because of terminal nasopharynx cancer. The latter took his last breath on the morning of Mabel’s funeral.
Our family was in turmoil, as if we were living in a Greek tragedy, only that it was brutally real, perplexing and terrifying.
I had been apprehensive about today, uncertain of how to remember Mabel and how to go about the day normally at the same time. I habitually take the day to be by myself, partly because it makes me feel better; partly because suicide is such a difficult subject for most others to comprehend. I have never been able to articulate that my fourteen-year-old sister took her own life because, to this day, we do not know why ourselves.
Our family does not have any prescribed rituals to honour the anniversary, and we live far apart anyway. With Mabel buried in another city and therefore me not being able to visit her grave, I conjured up some small gestures this year.
Dancing lady orchids with their intriguing colours and shapes used to fascinate Mabel. I searched for photos on-line and posted the most vibrant one on Facebook as the cover photo. ‘In Memory of Mabel’ was the description.
Pink was her favourite colour, in which we dressed her for her funeral, so I tried to unearth anything pink in my closet to wear today. A blouse in the colour of coral was much too bright and hardly what I had in mind, but it would have to do. In the morning during grocery shopping, a bouquet of gerberas in a similar coral hue called out to me, and I did not hesitate to take and pay for them. They were smiling in a vase on the dining table now. Mabel would bloom at the sight of them, too.
Much has happened and evolved since these last twenty-seven years. (I suppose one may say that even when life is kind.) Our family is now scattered in different cities and seldom meet. When father passed many years ago, we buried him with Mabel upon his wish. There are new family members of course, including a multi-talented niece and a good-hearted nephew, who are growing into their own person. They never met Mabel. My niece once mentioned that her parents, my brother and his wife, talked about her occasionally and wept. They knew that she was in their hearts.
In my heart, it never escapes me that the one whom my family mourns every day could have been me. I was diagnosed with dysthymia, a mild and prolonged form of depression, when nearly thirty years old. My then psychiatrist advised that my onset was possibly as early as at the age of ten when suicidal thoughts first eroded my brain. Whilst it is another lengthy story for another day, I have come face to face against death by my own hands numerous times. Although I do not feel Mabel’s death poses as some sort of ‘deterrent’ for me, I have read that it is not uncommon that some families lose more than one loved one to suicide. Yet, there is enormous silence in society about these preventable deaths.
Today I remembered our beloved sister Mabel. You would have been forty-one years old, beautiful with knowing eyes and a sweet round face. You would have been an accomplished pianist or a music teacher; a loving wife and a devoted mother. Above all, you will always be the innocent baby sister who sat by my bed and asked me things that you were curious about.