My Little Sister - The True Rebel

I loved being a big brother.  Sure, I did some of the regular teasing that older brothers do, but for the most part, I always cared very deeply for my little sister.  I felt responsible for her, even as a 4 year old when she was just a baby, I would worry about her getting hurt and something happening to her.  Later, I cared about who she would become, what kind of choices she would make… I was certain that she was going to be someone GREAT!

Even with the best intentions though, we don’t always know how to model greatness. I remember when I was in OACs (Gr. 13 – they had one of those way back in the day) and Alana was in Grade 9.  After school one day I gave my buddy a lift home with Alana in the car.  We got to his basement apartment and Alana sat there and hung out while me and my buddy rolled a joint and got high.  Alana told me later that this became a formative moment for her.  The whole ritual of it, it seemed like the coolest thing in the world to her.

As months past, Alana’s friends would joke with me about getting high with my sister.  I shrugged it off like they were trying to get her in trouble.  Weird thing is that despite the fact that I did it, everyone seemed to instinctually know that I would be pissed if my sister was smoking pot… and she was.  Not only smoking pot but my sister also started to do ‘acid’ on occasion and she has some pretty frightening journal entries from those times.

I couldn’t believe it!  I was absolutely floored!  The bottom line was; I thought my sister was smarter than that.  I thought she was smarter than me.  My older sisters had never touched any illegal drugs and I figured my sister would just follow in their footsteps.  I certainly didn’t think she would follow in mine.  I was the screw up, the one who made bad choices… but somehow, my little sister looked up to me and respected me and I had influence that I didn’t want to have.

See, it is one thing to love someone and hope the best for them.  It’s one thing to have people who are older than you and making good decisions in their life, telling you that what you are doing is dumb.  But it is something completely different when the dumb choices you’re making begin to influence the ones you love and want the best for.  My little sister dropping ‘acid’ was far worse than any lecture my parents could ever give me.

A few years ago I used to meet up with West Credit Secondary students near their school at lunch time.  One girl, who I saw regularly, was complaining to me about her mom. When Laura (we’ll call her) came home drunk or high or whatever, her Mom would yell and scream and ground her. I asked Laura if they ever talked about it.  “Do you guys ever discuss what’s going on in your life?  Does your Mom explain to you why she doesn’t like it when you’re out getting high and drunk?”  Laura looked at me and said with some bemusement and some frustration in her voice, “What is my Mom going to say?  She does all that stuff herself; pot, shrooms, getting drunk, she does it all.”

I was swept back to being a teen and being upset that my little sister had chosen to follow the bad example that I had set. The example we live out is much more powerful than the example we preach with our words alone. A Mom who desperately wants her daughter to make good choices, who wants great things for her daughter, is confronted not just by a daughter who is making poor choices, but confronted by her own failures, her own poor influence.  This is a difficult place to be… it is filled with frustration and sorrow and a feeling of being absolutely paralyzed.  All this Mom could do to express these feelings was yell and scream and punish.  Being a parent can be terrifying, partially because it confronts us with our weaknesses daily.  Yet, as a side note, I am not as saddened by a parent who yells and screams as I am when I hear (all too commonly), “my parents don’t care.”  At least this Mom is experiencing the frustration of how to guide her daughter down a good path even while she walks the opposite way. I had my first taste of this as a teenaged older brother.

What was I going to do? “Alana, don’t do drugs!” That would have been both hypocritical and ineffective.  How many smokers want their kids to start smoking?  ZERO?!?! Yet, stats show that having a parent that smokes increases your chances of smoking dramatically.

As I exited my first year of University and experienced some dramatic changes in my life, my sister was experiencing a similar thing as she entered grade 11. We had both gone through a ‘spiritual awakening’ of sorts and were going to make the attempt together to make some healthier choices… not because of ‘religion’ or ‘rules’ but because we were trying to choose life.

I tried to, for the first time, be a positive role model in my actions rather than just in word.  However, it was my sister who inspired me. To this day at The Dam, it is common to have ‘former youth’ who are now in their early 20s begin to make new choices and go through some of the difficult change that they found too hard in their teens.  It was the same for me.  I was able to surround myself in a new surrounding, with new people to accompany my new choices.  It was not so for Alana.

Alana was in the same school with the same people, trying to love the same friends while trying to make new choices.  It wasn’t always easy; we both experienced some significant stumbles along the way. However she really came alive in the process. The influence of my parents began to shine through as she invited friends who were going through difficult circumstances to come and live at our house (I would come home on weekends and have no bedroom!).  She attempted to make what some consider impossible, possible; can you still be a deep and dear friend while not making the same choices as those friends?  As Alana matured the answer became a resounding YES!

Alana was diagnosed with Lupus in her senior year (despite was House says, sometimes it is Lupus). She was so weak at the end of many days, dealing with significant joint pain, struggling with regular loss of her voice (as someone who loved to sing) and the effects of this disease attacking her white blood cells as well. She struggled every day.  She had every excuse to give up, to just kill the pain. Alana taught me that ‘good life’ is not life without pain, but the one that has the courage to walk through it (a blog for another day).

At Christmas time in 1999, Alana shared that what she really wanted was one day where she didn’t cry because of the pain and exhaustion.  The next day she got it.  It was just Mom, Dad, Alana and myself at home and Alana and I spent the whole day together.  We talked, we laughed, and we enjoyed being brother and sister.  There was a picture from Christmas time three years earlier, Alana leaning on me, her hair dyed pink, me with my hood on… we look happy… two kids in pain who haven’t started to fight for their life yet… that’s what I see.  Three years later, with Alana very much needing to fight every day… I wish I had a picture from that day.  My last great day with my sister.

Less than 3 months later Alana died in a car accident along with her boyfriend James.  March 10, 2000; 11 years ago today. She was 18 years old. We really should have had a bigger space for the funeral… as is often the case with the funeral of a teenager, the place was packed.  Many friends were there, some who had drifted apart from Alana during the years in which she had been making new choices. 

Something happens when you decide to take your influence seriously, when you make truly REBELLIOUS CHOICES and don’t just go with the flow or follow the crowd.  Change is hard, but when you have the courage to walk that path, people will be watching.  A question was posed to the crowd at her funeral; who knew that there was something different about Alana and who wanted the courage and wisdom to walk that path?  Who wanted to choose life?  Old friends who had not talked to Alana in months raised their hand.  People into their 20s and 30s raised their hand.  Those close to her, those not so close, raised their hand.  Her life had inspired.  Her struggle had inspired.

Rebels make an impact. Alana’s choice to embrace change and live in a different way was her moment of true rebellion, not when she put that first joint to her lips or the acid on her tongue. Seeing the impact my sister had has inspired the whole of my life.  Because of her I got a glimpse of what is possible.  I lamented the fact that I had not taken the impact that I had in my teenage years seriously.  Each life has unlimited potential for positive impact!  My sister taught me that, not with words, but with her life. Because of her I can believe that youth have the capacity TODAY to change EVERYTHING!

Not a very good big brother.  Inevitably my sister inspired me more than I ever could have hoped to inspire her.  But I was right about one thing… she absolutely was someone GREAT!!

You were a great brother Ken,

You were a great brother Ken, all of us could see that! Siblings learn from one and other and it's not just in a top down fashion, that's the difference between parents and siblings. While you may dislike certain memories and the seemingly "bad" influence you had on Alana the times you shared walking the rocky path together strengthened your bond with her. I believe Alana had the strength to turn and walk in the other direction because of you and your influence. You helped shape her sense of self and she was able to go against the pressures of being a teenager because of that. Alana showed us that being great doesn't always come from making the right choices all the time but having the strength and confidence to make the right choices for yourself regardless of past blunders. You were a huge part of her strength and I believe your influence in her values was far greater than any "extra curricular activities" she witnessed you participtating in. You gave her the opportunity to lead by example and choose her own path without leaving everyone she cared about behind.

I miss Alana a lot and often, mostly because of how special she was. I thank you for being such a great older brother because you helped shape her sense of self which made her such a rare and special friend. She may be gone but her spirit and influence will never leave those of us who were lucky enough to call her a friend.

Wow!  Thanks Heather!!

Wow!  Thanks Heather!!

 
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