I have always loved the sister relationship Jane Austen wrote in Pride and Prejudice between Jane and Elizabeth, and that Andrew Davies emphasized it in the 1995 BBC mini-series. it reminds me of the relationship I had with Leslyn, my sister, seven years my senior. In the early years of their marriage, I felt as though Chuck was jealous of the relationship I had with my sister, and have often wondered if Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley felt the same?
On this, my sister’s 74rd birthday, I am at a loss. It’s hard to believe she’s been gone for eight years, other times it seems like only yesterday we were exchanging stories about our grandchildren over a rich, dark pot of tea, savoring scones and clotted cream. With a pain in my heart that has lessened, albeit only a little over the years, I offer this small tribute. I spent the evening going through a scrapbook Leslyn made to commemorate a trip we took to England. Photos of us standing near the block where Ann Boleyn lost her head, sharing tea at a shop in Windsor after a trip to the castle. Leslyn loved doll houses and we went there particularly to see Queen Anne’s house. We had a wonderful time, the memories of which help to heal the broken heart.
“I watched the little mournful procession the length of the street and when it turned from my sight and I had lost her forever.” Cassandra Austen – 24 July 1817
Cassandra Austen was with her beloved sister to the end. Jane died cradled in her sister’s embrace. “I was able to close her eyes myself and it was a great gratification to me to render her these last services.”
It isn’t possible for me to read Cassandra’s words written to Fanny Austen-Knight after the death of Jane Austen, and not think of the loss of my own sister. Unlike Cass I was not with Leslyn at the end. While I used pressing work and distance as my excuses, the truth was that I did not want to watch the life drain from her body. I had hoped to see her one last time but waited too long. As I was off-loading my luggage at the airport the phone call came. Leslyn was gone. I had rendered no services.
We knew it was coming. Like Jane she wanted nothing but death. Unlike Jane it was Leslyn’s choice. At her insistence the machines were stopped and the intravenous tubes removed. It only took a matter of hours for her to breath her last.
We will never again giggle over a batch of grainy fudge, question why a cake fell. We won’t sew together. Leslyn liked to do the basics, seams and such and I liked to do the finishing like hem, facings…the details. We won’t spend hours on the phone speaking of little nothings. No more doll shopping (she was a collector) or antiquing (I’m a collector). My sister is gone. Thankfully her children thrive.
I can only imagine Cassandra’s grief. Of Jane she wrote, “She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow. I had not a thought concealed from her and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”
As always, Cassandra was stoic in the face of such a tragedy. She was comforted, she said, that God had granted Jane peace by ending her suffering some ten hours before she ceased to breath. Although I suspect that Mr.Lyford’s (Jane’s physician) ministrations that evening may have had something to do with Jane being able to drift off quietly.
At Winchester Cathedral she was laid to rest; an architectural master piece in which Jane took particular delight.
Of the funeral party (her brothers) Cass wrote, “Never was a human being more sincerely mourned by those who attended her remains than was this dear creature.”
As Cassandra said of Jane and I shall say of Leslyn, “Such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. I have lost a treasure.”
And so have we all…
For those of you who follow my blog, this may seem familiar. It is the post I ran last year on Leslyn’s birthday, with the small addition of the video.