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Darling Clementine, these are the songs I remember you by

Darling Clementine, these are the songs I remember you by

Love lives on in the songs shared with a beloved sister.

We shared a room, and even on our most fighty-days, hearing the song would calm the waters. We would bond over imaginary lovers and imaginary break-ups.

At 11.45 pm on September 5 last year, my beloved sister Clementine Alice Solomons’ lungs collapsed, and she stopped breathing. Forever. She had been fighting COVID-19 and diabetes complications for months.

This sister was the one who came into my life like a wrecking ball when I was five. Mom, the spaghetti mop, and I were a banging band, singing her favourite song, Upside Down by Diana Ross, while she was cleaning.

I was envious of her always having the mop as her dance partner while my hands were empty. I wanted a real-life person I could dance with the way she danced with the mop!

Imagine my excitement when mommy told me there was a baby on the way. I was finally going to have my own dancing partner, and it would not be a mop.

On September 10, 1981, mommy came home with this mewling little thing dressed in pink and wrapped in white blankets with pink ribbons everywhere.

My sister was one of the sternest-looking babies I had ever seen. She made you work hard to crack a smile.

She was the second big thing I witnessed that year. The first was Lady Diana marrying her prince. We watched the wedding on TV at school.

I used to sing Engelbert Humperdinck’s Quando Quando Quando to her, as my Ouma used to sing it to me.

I used to giggle at the odd words, and I thought I could make her giggle as well. She never did, until she was much older, but 5-year-old me consoled myself with the “fact” that babies know nothing anyway.

I felt grown-up and happy to sing her to sleep and assert my place as big sister.

Years later, we were living in Joburg when Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers first sang Christmas Without You.

My mom would sing it loudly for the first few verses, but she was never able to sing the song completely without ugly crying.

She missed her family so much. Sissy and I used to cry with her, not knowing why. But if mommy was sad, we were sad too.

During our volatile teen years, my sister and I were obsessed with Little Sister’s Dear Abbie.

We shared a room, and even on our most fighty-days, hearing the song on the radio or our Walkmans would calm the waters. We would bond over imaginary lovers and imaginary break-ups.

It has been months since I woke up to my broken father’s message that my sister is no more. There are days when my physical strength is gone.

I feel as if I’ve had an arm or leg amputated. The phantom pains are unbearable.

I keep reaching for the limb, hoping it is still there, and that it was all just a nasty dream.

It feels like I lost my guts and my self-confidence when I lost my sister. I play on the safe side now. I’m so vanilla, as the kids would say, but in other ways I feel like I am channelling my sissy’s fearlessness.

When I’m faced with something that scares me so much that I risk losing control of my bladder, I ask, “What would Clementine do?” And I somehow find the strength to fight another day.

Sissy and I used to call each other at least once a day. In the pandemic, we would video-call up to three times a day.

There were the check-in calls, and the lekker goss-session calls. There were the calls where we’d be watching some series together and pausing so many times to discuss a scene. There were the calls where we’d just be shooting the breeze.

There are so many triggers daily when I see or hear something I want to share with her and I remember, oh, she is unalive.

Her favourite “I am tipsy, and I do not care” song was Need You Now by Lady A.

Just like she used to scream-sing “It’s a quarter after one I’m all alone and I need you now”, in my lounge on our nights together, I often find myself needing to hear her voice so badly that I listen to her old voice notes.

All that is left to say is Clem, my heart hurts so much.  Almost nothing seems to matter since you died. I am carrying on because we promised each other we would take care of the other’s child if one of us dies before the other.

But my darling sissy, I would give absolutely anything and everything to just go to your home for one more sleepover, for one more silly session on your couch laughing until things come out our noses, and our kids look at us as if we’ve finally lost our marbles.

You always liked Vin Diesel, “my lekker chiskop” as you used to call him, so I will end this tribute to you with your favourite Fast & Furious song:

“It’s been a long day without you, my friend

And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.

We’ve come a long way from where we began.

Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again…”

Rochelle Barrish

Change expert, Rochelle Barrish, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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