Supporting someone with an incurable cancer is an incredibly scary thing, especially when they’re a young person. Most of the time, the statistics don’t apply to them, and while that can provide some hope, it can also make planning ahead extremely difficult.
For Sarah, we never knew what to expect from her cancer. In the four years since her diagnosis, she was in biweekly chemo treatment, had two surgeries, was declared “no evidence of disease” (NED), had her cancer come back, tried clinical trials, and so much more. This took a huge toll on our lives, in quality but also in planning. How could we set goals if we never knew what would be next? How do you plan for something that is always changing? In my experience, just by doing your best.
One of the things that allows me to feel close to Sarah after her passing is knowing the incredible legacy she left behind. Since she left us, I have had so many incredible people reach out and tell me the impact that she left on their life, and I could not be more proud. But I have also tried my best to further that impact she had by extending the legacy she created for herself, and by continuing to create one on her behalf.
My first suggestion for anyone who wants to start building a legacy, for their loved one, themselves, or even for their relationship with that person is you can never have too many pictures.
When Sarah was getting really sick, I made a point to take as many pictures of her as I could, whether it was at our favourite places, with friends, with our dogs — anywhere and everywhere. One of the cool things about social media platforms is it can be like having a photo album that you share with tons of other people. Whenever I’m missing my sister, I’ll add a picture of us to my instagram story, and so many people will send me well wishes, or share memories of their time with her, and it really helps me to get that bit of extra support I need without having to reach out and ask for it.
Another way that Sarah’s legacy lives on with me is in the collection of memories we shared together. Sarah and I did our best to travel whenever it was possible, and we would collect fridge magnets from our trips. This turned into a lovely reminder of all of the things we did together, the places we went, and each magnet exists as an anchor point for a memory we shared. These tokens of our travels remind me that while her life was cut far too short, she lived it fully and without regret, which is all I could have ever wanted for her.
The idea of items as anchor points for memories is something that I have explored a lot in my artistic practice, although I didn’t realize it at the time. After her passing, I became aware of just how much I was processing the eventual loss of my sister through my process of making art.
By using colours, shapes and textures that remind me of locations, moments, and elements of spaces we visited together, I have been able to recreate the way we felt in those moments together through artwork. This allows me to share my relationship with Sarah with the world, but also allows me to make new memories with her while honouring the time we spent together before our relationship shifted.
Although we lost her physical presence, these ways of sharing Sarah’s legacy allows me to continue to have a relationship with her after she died. I can spend time with her whenever I look at a photo of us at a concert or traveling through Ireland. I can sit in the memories we shared as I draw and paint, capturing the essence of her, and our relationship in a new way.
While I still feel an indescribable absence in my life, I can continue to share moments with my best friend through these processes.
Read more about Emily in her supporter profile!