Kisses from heaven

Snowflakes keep the memory of my sister alive

Published by: Laura Hinton
Published on: 8 December 2011

Running through the snow, scarf flying, I suddenly felt something hit me in the back of my neck, cold crystals sliding down my top.
‘Argh!' I cried, dancing around to shake the snow out of my jacket. ‘Jayne!' But my big sister was already preparing another snowball. ‘This is war!' I laughed.
Yes, I was 25 then, but it didn't stop me acting like a big kid that Boxing Day. We were trying to make it to our regular bingo night but, with roads closed, we'd been forced to walk. And having a mammoth snowball fight meant we looked like yetis by the time we arrived, only to find the bingo hall was closed!
There was just a year between us and, even though we had an older sister Julie, it was us two that were inseparable. We even lived just 10 minutes from each other!
Jayne had had a baby first, Leanne, but I'd followed with Daniel, a year later and we'd often met for play dates. Two years ago though, just after Jayne had had Amy, disaster had struck - Leanne had been in a serious car accident. She'd been left brain-damaged and wheelchair-bound.
But we'd pulled together as a family. I was always there for Jayne. And she did the same for me, always there to help me out when I needed it as a single mum to Daniel and Josh. As well as constantly dropping round each other's, Jayne called me every afternoon for a chat.
So it was more than strange when I didn't hear from her for a couple of days after she'd gone in for a hysterectomy
‘Why don't you just call her?' sighed Daniel, now 22, as I looked at the silent phone.
‘Because she's recovering from her op,' I sighed. But it was a straightforward procedure and she'd promised me she'd call the next day...
Suddenly, the phone rang. ‘Jayne?' I asked hopefully.
‘No, it's Steve,' came the reply from Jayne's partner. ‘Can you meet me at hospital?'
When I arrived, Steve was looking grave. ‘What is it?'
‘They found something when they did Jayne's operation,' he croaked. ‘She's got skin cancer.'
Eh?! Jayne wasn't a sun worshipper! And she was so healthy. All right, she'd had a bad back recently, but she was always lifting and carrying Leanne.
‘When does her chemo start?' I asked him, stunned.
‘She won't be having chemo.'
‘Oh, it's not serious then?' I smiled. What a relief!
He took my hand. ‘Mandy, it's terminal,' he croaked. ‘Her body is riddled with tumours.'
No... not my big sis... ‘Can I see her?' I gulped. Steve led me to Jayne's bedside. Teary-eyed, she pulled me into a hug.
‘I'm sorry,' she said. ‘I couldn't face telling you... I don't want to leave you...'
‘I understand,' I cried. ‘I'm here for you.' We spent those next hours crying together.
A few days later, she was allowed home where her and Steve broke the news to Leanne and Amy. It wasn't long before she popped round.
‘I've been in touch with a care home,' she sighed. ‘Leanne can live there and come home weekends.' My heart broke. She was making plans for a future that she wouldn't be part of.
We tried to keep things as normal as possible, even managing to make it to bingo.
But Jayne deteriorated fast and, by October, just four months after her diagnosis, she was too weak to leave the house. One afternoon, I tucked her under a blanket.
‘I don't think I'll make it to Christmas,' she said suddenly.
Jayne was the backbone of our festivities, the family Santa, delivering all the presents and then putting on a big tea.
‘Mandy, I need to know everything is organised. I've already wrapped Steve and the kids' gifts, they're under the stairs...'
Breaking down, we fell into a hug. I remembered us throwing snowballs that Christmas when we were in our 20s.
‘We've had a laugh, haven't we?' I smiled, and Jayne nodded.
‘I'll always be with you, Mandy,' she whispered.
Over the next weeks, Jayne's lost her strength. When she started having trouble breathing, she went to hospital and was put on oxygen.
I visited every day. But she drifted in and out of consciousness. A week later, I knew she was losing her fight. I kissed her forehead, somehow knowing it was the last time I'd see her. ‘Jayne, you're amazing.' Blinking back tears, I walked to the door, and took one last look at my sister. ‘Love you,'
I whispered.
Next day, the phone rang. ‘Jayne's gone,' Julie whispered.
Frozen, I looked through the frosty window. ‘It's snowing...' I whispered. I could almost hear the echoes of laughter from 20-odd years ago, and I felt a warm, comforting feeling inside. Jayne was telling me she was at peace.
At her cremation a week later, the church was packed. Leanne managed a few words from her wheelchair.
‘I love you so much, Mum. You've always been there.'
A few weeks after the funeral, Christmas arrived. When I opened the curtains, I thought I glimpsed a scattering of snowflakes. Jayne was there, too.
Later that day, I went over to her house. Julie was already there, cooking Christmas dinner. It was a sad, but wonderful family occasion. Sadly, Steve died 10 months later from a heart attack. It was another tragedy, but I know the girls take some comfort that he and their mum are together again.
As for me, I miss Jayne so much. But whenever I see snowflakes falling, I know it's my sister blowing us kisses from heaven.
Mandy Davies, 42, Maypole, Birmingham