Celebrating Nicola Benn
Grief. What I have learned about grief is that it softens over time, but it is always there. To me it’s a reminder that those who we have loved are always with us. Sometimes grief hits me in unexpected waves, but those have lessened over the years. And during those waves of grief, I brave the storm, I may weep uncontrollably, or I may laugh to myself thinking of a distant memory, but I welcome it.
I lost my twin sister, Nicola, to stomach cancer, she was only 24 years old. Part of me died too that day, March 27, 1993. It seems like a lifetime ago, as I have doubled in age, while she remains forever young. But another part of me became very aware of my own mortality, and I wanted to carry on with her legacy of being true to self, as she had lived during her young life.
Nicola was one-of-a-kind, she was witty and unique, she danced to her own beat, she loved the outdoors, and was loved by many. After diagnosis, Nicola only lived two more months, and while the option towards the end was to go into hospice, she didn’t want to give up hope. Her will to live was strong and unbroken, only wavering on her last day of life, while I held her hand and told her that it was okay. The bond between twins is unlike no other. Nicola didn’t want to die because of me, she didn’t think I would be able to survive without her. That was the heartbreaking part for both of us because I didn’t know if I could either.
Nicola’s passing altered the course of my own life. I knew that I could either wallow in grief and despair, or I could become stronger and more compassionate because of her. I wanted to carry out her legacy and ensure that she continued to live through me in the choices I made. I volunteered for a few years after on the oncology ward at VGH so I could better understand that I was not alone. I eventually changed careers which led me to working at Victoria Hospice in the Fund Development Office. I listened to donors’ stories about the loss of their loved ones and I shared my own story. It allowed me to understand grief in a different way, not to shy away from it, but to embrace it and let it honour the memory of my beloved twin.
From Nicola’s sister, Natasha Benn