In praise of big sisters and younger friends

Sisters in matching bathing suits in the 1970s

Sisters in matching bathing suits in the 1970s
My sister and I in 1975.

This week my big sister turned 50.

Jean is six years older than me:  enough of a spread that, growing up, we didn’t fight over toys or clothes, but not so much that we couldn’t relate.  

As a child in the 70s, I soaked up the music of Led Zeppelin and Peter Frampton as they drifted through her closed bedroom door.

For my 13th birthday, she took me to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (In retrospect, it was probably wholly inappropriate for my age, but it remains one of the coolest nights of my adolescent life.)

Shortly after that, Jean moved to a different part of the country and we lost touch until my early 20s when she returned to our hometown.

Over the next five years, we bonded over cigarettes and pitchers of beer on patios and a mutual love of dancing in our bare feet at summer music festivals.

After I moved to Toronto, my sister and I drifted apart as distance and life took over. Yet, whenever I had a problem I felt was bigger than me, I always knew I could turn to her.

And I did. I’ve called my big sister countless times in tears because I was lonely or afraid or simply unsure what to do.

Without fail, Jean listens patiently and gives good advice. Often, she’s been through something similar and learned it the hard way.

As I slowly healed over the next month, my sister and her husband checked in on me twice daily – making my meals, cleaning my apartment and doing my laundry.Last year, when I had a hysterectomy, she came to Toronto with her husband to look after me. In the hospital, she held my hand, cracking jokes to distract me from my terror of the operation.

Jean is the keeper of my secrets and I of hers. I’d trust her, and have trusted her, with my life.

Although I don’t have any younger siblings of my own, over the past few years I’ve developed close friendships with several younger women whom I love fiercely (Sabrina, Liz and Amy, I’m looking at you).   Through these women, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a little bit of what it must be like for my sister. 

There is a genuine joy in helping others navigate rapids you’ve already crossed and even more joy in seeing someone you love happy.

I want to listen to and support and protect these women and I want to see them grow.  

And this is, perhaps, one of the greatest things about having a big sister.    From my big sister, I didn’t just learn about cult movies and classic rock – I learned how to be a friend.  

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