My Sister Kelly [GUEST POST]


My sister Kelly died alone in the summer time. She lay in a cooler at the hospital’s morgue for well over a week before anyone claimed her body, and was hours away from being incinerated and buried in an unmarked grave. I worked only a few blocks away and at times, would have been a couple hundred feet from her not knowing she had died.

I had returned home to work in my hometown a few years before, but had never reached out. Despite my guilt for not doing so, I was terrified of her knowing I was back and showing up at my workplace in a small town full of stigma, her one remaining arm having tucked her other empty sleeve into her blue jeans, bleach blond spiky hair, yellowed chipped teeth, cracked lips, and a desire for her next hit.

Her world was possessed by demons that inhabited her mind, taunting her into believing she would never be okay, that the world was against her and that she was not loved, even though she was.

I am haunted by glimpses and snapshots into her life – moments where I saw the humanity of her, pained that we could not be close.

Years before, on a visit up to our lake house, I had taken her in on the condition that she could have no alcohol or drugs with her or on her. In my ignorance, I sent her into detox, and she remained in a bedroom the entire week-end never exiting except to request litre after litre of diet coke. She didn’t resurface until it was time to go.

Images I had of us laughing and talking over tea like other sisters would were dashed, and I was left disappointed and confused. What had happened to the sister I once had known?

The truth was we never had such times – I had just imagined we had. Her world was so vastly different from my own, even though we were the closest of my siblings in age.

As a child, I brought trays of food down to her when she lay in bed in her basement bedroom, as I pretended to be her servant and her nurse. She could sneak out of the window down there more easily, so had pleaded with our father to build her a lower level bedroom at the end of our long recreation room, which he had done.

Classmates of mine had told me she was a prostitute even though she was only in grade eight at the time. I didn’t know what that meant even when they described it to me so I shrugged it off and didn’t think any more about it.

As a young teen, she became a runner, although not in the athletic sense – going anywhere and everywhere she could to seek something she could never find: solace and a feeling of being okay. She could not run far enough to escape the insanity that was always there: looming on the surface of her troubled mind and threatening to consume her. She once shared with me that her biggest fear was that someone would call in and have her committed to an “insane asylum.”

I awoke one night to find a tall man at my parent’s kitchen table asking for her hand in marriage. She wasn’t old enough, but my parents heard his pleas to care for her and submitted.

Kelly wore wire rim glasses on her wedding day. I can still see her there, glass lenses tinted dark, a floppy brimmed white sun hat on her head. She seemed happy then; it was a time of new beginnings – on that lawn of her mother-in-law’s in Bruce Mines, a nearby farming community.

My sister was one of the hardest working and talented people I had ever known. For years, she worked as a cook at a fly-in resort, making more loaves of delicious fresh bread, pies and desserts by daybreak than most had made in a lifetime. She inherited my mother’s penchant for creating works of art with yarn and knitting or crochet needles, making countless sweaters, blankets, hats and mittens to help the world be a warmer place for those she loved.

Those needles were exchanged for horrific versions of them years later when Kelly met a drug dealer in the aftermath of her failed marriage and became addicted to heroin and other intravenous drugs. In her desperation to escape her heinous possessors, she laid out my late father’s photos and ID, took out his long-arm gun, and shot her own arm off. Rumours circulated that she did it to prove to her abusive boyfriend who was taunting her about her extreme dependency on drugs (one that he had, ironically, introduced her to and fostered) that she didn’t need to shoot up her other arm because she wouldn’t have one – but others said it had been the result of the firearm having slipped from under her chin when she tried to press down the trigger with her toe.

Even having had her arm removed didn’t stop her from using; the space between her toes her new injection site. I wondered why she insisted on black nylons on the day of our mother’s funeral because she was going to wear sandals. Years later, I realized it was because she was trying to hide the needle marks near her toes.

I wanted to celebrate my sister for who and what she was. When my daughter, Lauren, was three years old, she loved busses. On a visit home, I asked if we could join Kelly on a bus ride around the city. She was honoured to do so. In this public place, I acknowledged knowing my sister.

A visit to Kelly’s apartment on the eve of one of her many moves revealed photos of my daughter lovingly pinned and taped to the wall above her mattress – all ages of her young niece’s life alongside the hand-made drawings we had sent home to her, near her when she slept, carefully affixed above her sleeping head. Discovering this, I stood and quietly wept. Amidst all of my sister’s troubled thoughts and tormented experiences, there had been moments of light, and a love and hope for my young daughter had been the source of some of them.

My sister died of untreated pneumonia that had gone septic. The low life she had been dating and who was listed as her contact did not mention my family to the hospital when they notified him of her death – he only asked if she had cashed her check yet. He wanted to pick up the rest of the money she had on her, but would leave her clothing and other belongings behind.

There was no service for Kelly. She was laid to rest with my parents. Because I could not be there for her in life, I was there for her in death, buying her a grave marker that had her name and dates of birth and passing, along with the words, “Finally Free.”

I hope she is.


Susan Hunter is an author and speaker who now lives in Dawson Creek, B.C. Reach her at


Slip Sliding Away

Slip Sliding AwayI cannot recall exactly how old I was when it happened. I wouldn’t be surprised if I somehow might have suffered a brain injury from the impact. All I know is that I hit the wall hard….and I never looked at life the same way again.

The second born of a family of four girls, I used to consider myself a bit of a tomboy. In retrospect, the only thing I had in common with a tomboy was that I rarely wore dresses and my hair was cropped short like a boy. Oh yeah…..I also had a filthy mouth like a sailor. Despite of having many of the tomboy trappings, I was scared of bugs, bears, dirt, loud things, fast things, dead things…..

I played tough….but would rely on my very fast short legs to get me out of a bind.

Anyhow…..I grew up on a farm, but not a real farm as one might imagine when thinking of a farm.

It was a grain farm.

We grew grain.

I never had to go gather fresh eggs in the morning or feed the cattle. I never had to milk a cow (although there was a brief time that we were encouraged to milk our lone goat which, in hindsight, I am certain that my father intended to be our ‘gateway’ goat and lead to a genuine interest in animal husbandry…..never happened).

The entire experience was gross and the goat didn’t want to stand still and the milk tasted funny. Blech!

It was a failed experiment and one day the goat was gone. Poof! (Don’t get melodramatic……I am certain that the goat was given to a neighbour).

Like I said….we grew up on a farm…..but we are only entitled to label our experience “Farm-lite”.

So, I think you have the picture.

The day IT happened was very, very cold. A frigid winter day where my sisters and I were house-bound with only channel 13 (CTV) to keep us company. That channel was so fuzzy that we could barely make out the grey shapes of the Skipper and Gilligan and no amount of tinfoil on the rabbit ears was going to improve things.

Frustrated, we turned it off and we disbursed to our individual spaces to read or play.

I didn’t want to read.

I wanted to take my brand new Krazy Karpet and fly down a hillside like they advertised on television:

“Krazy Karpet was the new space-aged slider! Safe…lightweight…easy to handle….wild! Pilot YOUR Krazy Karpet over any surface! “

Each of us girls had received a Krazy Karpet for Christmas and I could not wait to try it out.

But it was too cold.

Too cold to go slip sliding on my Krazy Karpet!

And plus…..there were no hills close by, nothing within walking distance.

But! We did have a basement and we did have stairs and the commercial DID say that I could pilot my Krazy Karpet over any surface.

The daylight basement was accessible by a flight of stairs that extended from the back entry landing to the entrance of my Grandma Stanley’s suite downstairs. My memory is a bit foggy, but I imagine there were probably 20 painted steps.

Seemed like enough steps for a ride.

I peeled the protective sticky label off of my new Krazy Karpet and unrolled it carefully.

My short arms tried to flatten out the plastic, but my child-size wing -pan was insufficient. Finally I sat down on the end of the Karpet, flattening it sufficiently so that the front part curled up into my lap, begging me to slip my fingers through the small oval “handle”.

I looked like the kids on the commercial!

Oooooooh I wanted to try it soooooo badly!

I called my older sister to join me at the top of the stairs. “I am going to ride my Krazy Karpet down the stairs” I said excitedly.

Jessie’s face lit up and to this day I wonder if she knew what was going to happen and simply chose to play along.

There was nothing else required. I had my older sister’s implied consent…..this launch was a “go”.

I was going to pilot my Karrrrpettttt!

I shuffled the Karpet forward inch by inch and finally I was perched on the top step, the front end of the plastic curled out and back towards me, my two small hands with fingernails bitten to the quick tucked into the sharp oval cutout.

I leaned forward.

It began slowly at first, my body making contact with the top step, then the next, then the next and now I am FLYING through the air, stair after stair after stair!

The wall came so quickly, I had no time to bail. You know that stupid joke where they ask: “What went through the bug’s head before he hit the windshield?”

Answer: “Its brain”

BAM! That was me.

My little body launched headfirst from the final step straight into the drywall at the bottom of the stairs and I crumpled into a pile.

For a moment I was stunned.

I had not considered the wall placement, nor the physics and trajectory involved with the slide down the stairs.

Groaning, I began to extricate myself from the sheet of hard plastic, the shiny surface now branded with scuffmarks and paint rubs from the basement stairs.

Jessie was looking at me worriedly, probably wondering how much trouble she would be in if I didn’t survive.

She was the oldest…..she was in charge.

Standing up, I checked myself over carefully.

No blood.

No broken bones.

“Are you okay?” said Jessie, her face(s) only inches away from mine. I didn’t dare tell her that at this very moment, there were two of her looking me in the eyes.

I nodded carefully, not wanting to let on that my bell had been rung hard…..very hard.

I think she knew that I was having some difficulty focusing because she helped roll up that Krazy Karpet and we went back upstairs.

Childhood for a farm kid was like that…..even for those of us who practiced Farm-lite. It was survival of the fittest or luckiest or whatever.

For some of us it was riding a Krazy Karpet down the stairs, for others it was knife throwing competitions in the back yard.

We survived.