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August 2012 Volume 14 , Issue 8 submit to us!

by Michelle Ann King -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

I love my sister and I want to help her, but she doesn't make it easy.

Her mug of tea sits untouched on the table. I take it away and make a fresh one.

'Don't start,' she says, even though I haven't opened my mouth. 'Don't give me any of that positive thinking crap, okay? I can't take it right now. I want to be miserable. And mean. And angry.'

She takes a photo out of her purse. It's a shot of Roy on their last holiday to Majorca. He's tanned and smiling. Aileen tears it neatly into pieces. 'She's 19, did you know that? What a cliche. I thought a mid life crisis was just a tired storyline for rubbish sitcoms -- you know, you've seen it: balding fortysomething buys a sports car and has an affair with his secretary. His 19 year old secretary. Ha ha, very funny, cue laugh track.'

She wipes her nose and pushes away the second cup of tea. 'Jesus, Laurel, how do you drink this shit? It smells worse than that disgusting compost heap outside. Haven't you got any proper tea? Or a bottle of wine, like normal people?'

'It's important to look after your body, it--'

'Yeah, yeah, I know, the body's a temple, meditation, yoga, rah rah goody two shoes. Is that why he's never done anything like this? Martin? Because it's all incense and tantric sex round here?'

'Actually, tantra isn't what most people think, it--'

'Oh shut up, for Christ's sake. I didn't come here for a lecture. I don't want spiritual guidance, I just want some bloody sympathy from my bloody sister, who's supposed to be on my bloody side.'

I reach across the table and squeeze her hand, then take away the tea and tip it down the sink. Then I take a bottle of Jack Daniel's out of the cupboard. I don't usually encourage drinking, but part of the point of rules is knowing when you need to break them.

I splash a small measure into my mug and a larger one into Aileen's. She downs it in one swallow, coughs and hands it back. I refill it without comment.

'I envy you,' she says. 'You know that, right? Of course you do. Everyone knows that.'

'Envy is a very destructive emotion,' I start, before remembering the part about no lectures and shutting my mouth. After all, who am I to judge?

'Where did I go so wrong?' Aileen asks. 'My husband cheats on me, my son does drugs, my fifteen year old daughter is pregnant. I work fifty hours a week and still get passed over whenever there's a promotion. I'm at Mum's beck and call whenever she even thinks about snapping her figures, and still she treats me like I'm something she stepped in. That's me. That's my life.'

She takes another mouthful of her drink. 'And then there's you. Martin worships the ground you walk on, your kids don't so much as smoke and Mum acts like you're the greatest thing since sliced bread even though you don't do a quarter of the running around for that I do. You work in bloody Starbucks, for Christ's sake, which should be a joke, but you act like you're happy. How does that work, Laurel? is it really all this transcendental hippie bullshit you go in for, or were you just the lucky one born with the fairy fucking godmother? How come it's all so fucking easy for you?'

She pushes her mug towards me for another refill. I oblige.

I feel bad for her, I really do. But she's wrong. It isn't easy. You have to work at this stuff. You have to study positive psychology, buddhism and happiness theory, read personal development blogs, undertake regular self-reflection and maintain an attitude of mindful awareness. You have to meditate daily, get plenty of physical exercise, implement GTD systems and keep a gratitude journal. You have to cultivate optimism, equanimity, kindness and curiosity.

And the most important attribute of all, emotional resilience. That's what really pushes you up a rung on the spiritual development ladder. It means that when things go wrong, you cope. You face the reality of a situation with an attitude of loving acceptance, and don't waste time or mental energy on regret or wishful thinking. You deal with any problems with grace, learning what you can and moving on.

My sister wouldn't believe me if I told her I envy her, but it's true. She was right about everything she said earlier: I am very happily married, my kids are polite and well-adjusted, I enjoy my stress-free job and while I don't have a lot of money, I don't have any money worries, either. My life is pretty much perfect.

And that's where the problem lies. Perfection isn't a good thing -- it just means you've got nowhere else to go. How am I supposed to grow as a person, to develop resilience and move towards enlightenment, if nothing ever goes fucking wrong?

Aileen finishes her drink, curses me some more and disappears into the bathroom. While she's gone I refill her mug and dissolve a few tablespoons of soluble paracetamol and some of Mum's sleeping pills into the bourbon. It'll taste a little gritty, but I don't think she'll notice now. I crush a few more and slip them into the bottle for good measure.

I'll sit and listen patiently while my sister drinks and bitches for a while longer, then I'll pop round to old Mrs Hegarty's at number 17, make sure she's doing okay in the cold weather and see if she wants any shopping. I'll tell her all about how nice it's going to be to have my sister staying with me for a few days and how I hope I can help her patch things up with Roy.

And then, when I think I've left it long enough, I'll go home and call an ambulance.

Bereavement is one of the most difficult things a person can go through, and it's even harder for the relatives of suicides. It'll be tough for all of us, but especially for me. Not only will I have to deal with my own personal grief for the loss of a beloved sister, but I'll have to hold my family together, help Roy manage his sense of guilt and take on a couple of wayward, damaged teenagers.

It's going to be a long, difficult undertaking, but I'm sure I'll learn a lot from the experience.

Aileen comes back and sits down heavily. I put a box of tissues and the Jack Daniel's bottle in front of her and pat her hand. She gives me a wavering, grateful smile.

I can feel myself becoming a better person already.

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Features -- August 2012 -- Beginning Month Issue