A Sister Lost – Remembering Keryn

Twenty years ago today my eldest sister and her newborn daughter died in a car accident. In the space of a little over a week we went from celebrating the joy of new life to the horror of sudden death. We were a family not so much ‘touched by the road toll’ as slapped, kicked and punched by it.

As we each struggled to recalibrate our lives in this new reality, the family fractured. In time, most of those fractures have healed, some forming a bond stronger than before, but some have never mended and remain a constant reminder of the scar of family tragedy.

Nine years older than me, Keryn was my Big Sister. The most alike of all our siblings, in looks and interests, we had a unique bond. It began as that of small child and substitute mother. She was always the one to care for us when our parents were out or away, particularly when we lived overseas in my earliest years and there was no other family to help. When my mother was hospitalised for several weeks when I was three, it was Keryn who dropped me off at childcare on her way to school as my father had to be at work very early.

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I have a scar on my forehead. As a recalcitrant five year old, refusing to get in the bath, I was dragged to the bathroom where my head accidentally connected with the door frame. I needed three stitches. For many years I blamed this incident on a sibling with whom I had a fractious relationship. It was not until after Keryn died I discovered that it had in fact been my beloved eldest sister who had inflicted the damage. It’s interesting how our childish brain can rearrange an historical event to fit the more obvious narrative. I wish I had learned of it before she died. I would have apologised for my behaviour.

It was Keryn who introduced me to theatre, specifically musical theatre. She had been a member of the local Gilbert and Sullivan company for a number of years and when I was sixteen, she took me along to join the chorus. We spent nine years sharing the stage. After she died, I couldn’t bring myself to perform with the company without her. I didn’t join another theatre company for 15 years but when I did, I joined one that had known and loved my sister and that still honoured her memory.

In my late teens, it became my turn to play babysitter as I took the role of occasional carer of her children. After I married, our lives met on more equal terms and our relationship grew to that of friends. Then, just as it seemed our lives had synced, she was gone.

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When my husband and I decided to start a family, we always planned to give a daughter my sister’s name as a middle name. We had three boys. But in the way of the universe sometimes, for our third and last child, we had chosen the name Kieran if the baby was a boy. We chose it just because we liked it. It wasn’t until he arrived and I had to accept I would never have a girl that I realised how similar the name we had chosen was to my sister’s name. It became a way to remember her in the only way we could.

When Kieran was five years old, he was at a well-known fast food restaurant for a birthday party. The young man running the party was asking each child their name and what they wanted to order. When I asked to see his list to check what my son had ordered, the young man had spelt my son’s name ‘Keryn’.

She is never far away.

Keryn and Me

Grief takes an unusual and sometimes confusing path. As one would expect, for the first few years birthdays and anniversaries were highly emotional days to be confronted and endured. As time passed, these seemed to become easier. Sometimes the day would pass barely noticed. Then, a few years ago, so many years after the event, these days became difficult again. Perhaps it was the realisation that she really wasn’t ever coming back. Perhaps it was my own arrival at significant life moments that triggered memories of what I had lost. Perhaps it was the signs that life had moved on and I secretly yearned for it all to return to ‘normal’.

So now I sit simultaneously in a state of acceptance and denial. I accept that she is gone and our lives have adjusted accordingly and yet I still find myself wanting things to be as they were even whilst knowing they cannot.

All I can do, in light of the unimaginable, is remember the time that we did have together, hold on to the memories that last and continue to miss her every single day.

(I felt a very strong need to write a song to remember my sister this year. It wasn’t easy but this is my song for Keryn.)



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24 thoughts on “A Sister Lost – Remembering Keryn

  1. I think there is something strong, here, H.
    I lost my beloved second-eldest sister, who had been my surrogate mother, and my life is empty without her. She was the person Chic loved most from my ‘other’ life – in fact, the only one. When he was dying, she was here for us: she would fly up from Melbourne whenever she could get away. When he died, she was here for me.
    And three years later, she was taken by motor neurone disease.
    She features very largely in my book, because that’s the place she had in my life.


    • I’m so sorry to hear that, M-R. They leave such a hole and I have found, as I get older, that hole only seems to get bigger.
      I am still waiting on your book to arrive but I am so looking forward to reading it. Even more so now.


  2. Dear H, I realised after reading today’s post that I had missed this one. It is wonderful that you could write this song, I hope it helped. My mother’s sister, one year younger than her, was killed when she was 21. She was thrown from a horse. I know how that affected their family, she was never forgotten. She had just completed pharmacy, with her life ahead of her. Seeing young people go before their time is so much harder, than some one who has had a full life. My loving thoughts are with you H. and may it become easier for you as time goes by. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m writing you with such a heavy heart. Of course you will never “recover” from this, how could you? She will be with you forever and ever – her song will echo in you, as you sing. Life deals us such shattering blows one wonders sometimes how we get through it all. But we do, and there are all the sublime moments to cling to.

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  4. As you so beautifully sing in your song your souls are one and though the pain is hard to bear at times, you have the comfort of knowing that she is with you forever. A difficult post to write; I wish you well.


  5. This was a beautiful post. In my beliefs, your sister knows you wrote it, and think about her often.

    I’m sorry you have to live with the pain of missing her, and, at the same time, as your song says, happy you had her as a sister to love and remember.


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  7. I was near to shutting my computer for the night, but your story stopped me. That is a very beautiful song, and I loved the… relaxation? the gentleness? of your voice. I shall remember the song and dream of your sister tonight, memories being only kind of afterlife that has meaning to me.

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  9. Found while reading your January 2018 post about turning 50 and sort of 2017 year-in-review. I believe that people who have lost someone critical to their life, to their identity, have a voice that no one who hasn’t experienced the same kind of pain can ever begin to express. Some people have the facility to capture loss better than others. Some it can take years to find words that begin to scratch the surface of that pain. But when I run across one of those authentic voices I say, “Yes. That’s it. That’s the pain I feel and live.”

    So hearing your song, reading your words, I will say, “Yes. That’s it. You’ve touched that pain in my heart and know what it feels like.” It’s not a thank-you, because to me, that would mean I’m grateful that you hurt too. But, I bow to your pain. I acknowledge it, the way a warrior might recognize a combatant who survived the same kind of war, the same wounds from different injuries. The same soul song sings in all who have lost. But it is good that you put the song out there for those too lost in pain to find when they are ready to hear it echoed so beautifully.

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      • Sisters in arms. We shelter in the sorrow of others and recover who we are in remembered grief.

        A practicing yogi once said to me that what I felt was the perfect pain of loss. To recognize it. To acknowledge it. There was no mention of ever letting it go. Perhaps he knew that wasn’t likely when my experience was so raw. But, recognizing something for what it was at least respects the pain we feel. Perhaps that is the first step to healing really.

        Liked by 1 person

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