Mickey’s Lesson: How I lost a sister, lost control and gained something unexpected

Michelle was my sister, my best friend, my most tireless defender and most loyal supporter. No matter what I said or did, how I looked, how grumpy or judgemental I was (and sometimes I was) – she stood by me.  

We were very different. She was the world-travelling free spirit of the family. I was the one who stayed home and worked, worked, worked. The responsible one who wrote lists and organised the rest of the family.

We've lived on opposite sides of the world for the last 35 years, and we spoke on the phone every morning and every night.

Mickey passed away unexpectedly a few weeks ago. I was able to say goodbye to her – the last family member to speak to her that evening. Afterwards, I went straight into hyper-organisation mode: calling family members, speaking to the rabbi, arranging the celebration of life. Covid restrictions meant it would be impossible for her scattered Australian family to travel to the UK for the service, so I jigsawed us all into a pattern so that each family member could watch it with another. My brother and his husband would come down to Melbourne to be with my daughter and my second dad. Myself and my husband would fly up to Darwin to be with my other daughter. (My third daughter, currently stuck in the Ukraine, would join us on Zoom.)

And then, Covid intervened. In a year where we’ve all been reminded time and time again that the unexpected always happens, Melbourne’s fourth lockdown struck. All of a sudden, my intricate plans were undone. Flights to Melbourne were cancelled. My husband and I found ourselves locked down in Darwin hotel quarantine. Here we were, scattered around Australia, separated.

I could almost hear Mickey laughing her head off in heaven. How she would have enjoyed mocking me for this – all my planning, all my list-making had come to nothing.

The thing is – it was wonderful. We watched the Zoom service in different places but connected on our family WhatsApp group. The ceremony was a comedy of errors: already culturally askew (according to Jewish custom, burial is usually within 24 hours – this was four weeks after Mickey’s passing), the rabbi mixed names up and totally omitted my husband. But our family WhatsApp was a constant stream of jokes and wacky humour, bringing us together through laughter, tears and our bizarre shared experience of this special and terribly sad moment.

Mickey would have absolutely loved it.

And I loved this final lesson that she left me with. I tried to control this event and that control was taken from me. So I was forced to go with the flow and open up to the moment. We shared a deep, unforgettable moment of connection. And we gave Mickey a strange and darkly funny send-off that she would have appreciated more than the smoothly organised event I had attempted to force into place.

Later, Mickey’s London friends called, tipsily, from the wake, while I nursed a bottle of quarantine champagne, and we shared stories and memories. I was struck again by the importance of connection, however you achieve it. My sister and I were a world apart in distance for all those years, and our connection remained just as strong as if we lived on the same street.

True connection is what you make it, and you can create it from any set of circumstances. Even locked down in separate cities on the day of your beloved sister’s funeral.

I’m dedicating these thoughts to Mickey, and what she always taught me, even in death. Take your hands off the reins and make space for the unexpected – when you stop trying to control everything, the hidden blessings that you already have can reveal themselves.

And above all, be grateful for genuine connection, and never stop seeking it out.

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