Image: Munya Andrews (left) and her beautiful sister
For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
The last month has been a harrowing time for us here at Evolve. We are currently going through Sorry Business. My beautiful older sister passed away recently in Perth of cervical cancer. I was fortunate to spend a significant amount of time with her on her death journey nursing her, trying to be of some comfort and support. It’s ironic because we have partnered with Cancer Council NSW since early last year, I now find our work with them more personal than I’d ever imagined.
‘Sorry Business’ is an important time for Indigenous people as it is for everyone else. Everyone deals with death and dying in their own way according to their personal and cultural beliefs. This was nowhere more evident than during my sister’s passing for her husband is not Indigenous. For Aboriginal people, death is as much a part of life as living – you cannot have one without the other. It is as natural as the rising sun, the turning tide or the changing seasons. That truth is so eloquently expressed in the Biblical passage above.
Unlike the seasons, however, Sorry Business occurs throughout the year and not just at a specified time. Our business at Evolve is to make organisations more sensitive to the needs of Indigenous people during this sad time. Certainly, government organisations are much more aware of these cultural sensitivities with generous leave provisions for our mob, including additional time to meet Sorry Business obligations. More importantly, their recognition of Indigenous kinship networks means that Sorry Business leave can apply to an extended family rather than just immediate kin.
On a personal note, my sister’s passing has brought home some personal truths I had never fully appreciated before. I hadn’t realised the extent of the breadth and depth of her love for me but now I do. At her funeral, a close school friend from boarding school who knew my sister commented on how much she had ‘adored’ me. She reminded me of the special way that she would call my name. And she did. She spoke it in such a way as if it were the most precious, sacred word on Earth. As if failing to use it zillion times in conversation might mean she failed to ‘see’ me. Not that she ever did. I was never invisible to Sister. She saw me in a way that others often don’t. Now that she has passed, in keeping with Aboriginal traditions, I cannot mention her name. What is curious about that is, as her time drew closer, I unconsciously stopped using her name and began simply calling her ‘Sister’ instead to her and everyone.
Sister taught me many things during our life together but especially she taught me the power of forgiveness and the immeasurable depth of love. As I journey toward my own demise, I am even more enriched for having gone through this experience. I have greater awareness and appreciation for the wonderful gifts of life and death.
© Munya Andrews, 2017