As his own children near the danger age a brother (me, actually) revisits the death of his sister from prescription drugs 38 years ago. What pulled Sian under?
I found my sister Sian slumped against the chest freezer in the kitchen. The early rays of a hot Melbourne morning were streaming through the French doors and lighting up the mustard fuzz of the carpet tiles. Leunig’s poem My Shoe, cut out from The Age, was turning brown on a cloth-covered pin board on the wall, and a Philips portable radio sat on a sideboard, switched off, but tuned to 3LO.
Sian was wearing her black astrakhan coat and Cuban-heeled ankle boots. I was puzzled that she would have fallen asleep there, like that. I put my hand on her shoulder to wake her up but when I touched her it was cold. I still remember my sudden intake of breath; I’d never felt that coldness on a human being.
“There’s something wrong with Sian,” was all I could say to Mum when I ran down to her room. When she’d seen my sister for herself, I asked her if Sian, just 18 years old and my only sibling, was dead. Mum’s answer came out hesitant, uncertain, as if her mind were prefiguring an enormous bleakness that was still out of conscious reach. “I think so,” she said. The shock couldn’t quite erase Mum’s Welsh lilt, but the sing-song of the valleys got knocked out of her then, pretty much for good.
It has been 38 years and I don’t really want to go back there, but I’m going to because I’ve got kids, full of life and energy, and I don’t want whatever it was that pulled Sian down to creep up on them. Because creep it did. Mum died in 1997 but Dad is still alive, and he says the thing that really sticks is that none of us knew what was going on. I don’t want that to be me. And so, after all this time, I’ve been trying to shine light on a side of my sister that has always been hidden.
You can read my story on Sian in the Good Weekend here