You’re Only 21 Once

Yesterday was my little sister’s 21st birthday. I still find it weird that we’re in our twenties – shouldn’t she still be trying to avoid me as we cross paths on the corridors at school? Shouldn’t we still be standing at the bus stop in the freezing winters in shoes not designed to protect your feet from the cold? How are we actually adults?

Hannah has been so incredible in the past six weeks. Growing up she was a laid-back troublemaker – the complete opposite to me. I was a largely introvert workaholic, a typical teacher’s pet. Seeing Hannah step up to the realities of what we now face has been amazing, because I know that she can cope with what’s happening and that my mum is well cared for, while I’m down here, in London.

We are all still adjusting to this new chapter, and it is sometimes hard for Hannah to remember she needs some ‘me time’. It’s understandable. She gets up and goes to work, comes home, visits Mum, walks the dog, goes home, eats some food and goes to sleep. Monday rolls into Tuesday and Wednesday, and before you know it, the week is out and it’s time to begin again. This is her routine.

Last week, she described to me the guilt she felt after not seeing Mum one day for the first time in seven weeks. She doesn’t want to waste a moment with Mum, and she wants to make sure that Mum gets everything she needs.

When you’re caring for a loved one with MND, though, it is so important to take time for yourself. It’s exhausting and heart breaking, and I hope my sister uses her birthday celebrations to let her hair down and enjoy being young. Because, unlike most people, I can’t imagine she’ll wish she was 21 again. And that isn’t fair.

We have tried to make this birthday as special as possible. I bought her 21 presents, which each had an accompanying clue, and last weekend we made a game of opening them. Mum laughed so much; Hannah was like a six year old on Christmas day. Mum bought Hannah an engraved wine glass and embossed photo frame to remember the occasion. She also gave her a gold and silver ring, complete with an emerald – Hannah’s birthstone. For as long as I can remember, Mum has loved her rings. She would take them out and show them to us. They were never expensive, but she loved them all the same. I’m wearing one of them now, which she gave to me a few years ago. Hannah is very similar in that respect. I know she will cherish that ring for the rest of her life.

Hannah, you’re my pain-in-the-ass little sister, who couldn’t be more different to me, but also whom I couldn’t be closer to. Going through this together makes it a little bit easier.

So, here we go then. Twenty one things I have learnt by being your sister:


  1. How to celebrate in style
  2. There’s a time to stick together, and a time to not
  3. There are delicious moments to cherish
  4. How to deal with the next family crisis
  5. It’s best to leave the ironing to Mum
  6. Grease is the word
  7. If you’re cooking… it’s better to get a takeaway
  8. No amount of distance can keep us apart
  9. I am the light of your life
  10. How not to smell
  11. You’re the princess of the family
  12. To get exactly what you ask for
  13. To take my shoes off at the bottom of the stairs
  14. You’re the cheeky one
  15. It’s better than having a brother
  16. The difference between fine wine and your wine
  17. The best exercise is a walk by a canal
  18. To be proud of where we come from
  19. Nothing surprises me anymore
  20. It’ll take a lot before you’re as sweet as me
  21. We’ll always be close, no matter what

Happy 21st birthday, sibling.

Please don’t hate me for that photo.


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