Almost all of us have one. Someone we grew up with, were friends with since forever. Someone who knows us better than anyone else because they were there during the hard years, the good times and the really awkward teenage years. Someone who’ll keep your secrets, the person you can call in the middle of the night when the shadows get to you, the one who’s the first you want to tell good news and bad. Someone who transcends friendship, is a sister-friend, a brother-friend. Part of the family. Part of you.

Claire, Niagara Falls, 2008, photo by ?

For my sister, Claire is that person. They met when they were 9 years old, in school when we’d been in Canada barely 2 months – Janne Banana and Claire Bear, stuck together since then.

The first time they traveled without adults was when they were 16 and together flew to England to visit Claire’s grandparents for two weeks. The first time they got drunk was with each other and the first time they tried to pretend they weren’t was very shortly after that (and they weren't very good at it). They shared birthdays - both in late March - shared a house for a time, saw each other through it all, marriage and divorce, deaths of loved ones, births of children, Claire’s three and Janne’s twins, being Aunty Janne and Auntie Claire to the kids, a solid maternal presence backing one another up practically and emotionally, being there for each other and for each other’s kids.

Nicki, Kirsten, Marilynn, Claire & Janne, April, 2005

Claire & Liam, 2006

Claire was an old soul, wise beyond her years even as a child. She grew into a beautiful woman, in all the ways that matter. She has always been the scary kind of smart - I don't know if she was ever tested, but I believe she was in the genius range, which made her adolescence "interesting" for her parents. And she was always that - interesting. She thought deeply, observed well, but quietly and when she did give her opinion, it was keen and on the mark. And she shone as a mother – Claire had her kids early and from the start, was the kind of mother we all want to be: relaxed, but fierce, willing to do anything to make her kids’ lives better, no matter the cost to herself.

Claire & kids, 2008, photo by ?

Janne and Claire gave their hearts to each other a long time ago and thanks to their friendship, both of our families intermingled and grew, Janne belonging in Claire's family, with her parents and siblings and Claire belonging in ours, becoming an extra sister to me, an extra daughter to our parents. For the past 27 years, Claire has been part of our family, part of everything important and all the little moments in between.

Janne, Morgan & Claire, June 2007

Sunday night, Claire collapsed at home and was taken to hospital where she later died. She was 36.

Claire & kids, November, 2009

Writing those words… it’s the most surreal words I’ve ever written. Claire is indomitable, one of the strongest women I know, fighting through a life that’s been filled with challenges and always coming out the other side. That she, my extra little sister, is no longer fighting is inconceivable. That she, who has been part of our lives, our family, for three decades is not here anymore just simply cannot be. She leaves us bereft, all of us, her children Marilynn, Nick and Kirsten and Marilynn’s daughter Aryka, born just two weeks ago. Her parents Stewart and Christine, siblings Sandy(Alex), Frazer, Vanessa, Ian and Helen. Her extended family and her many friends. We will forever carry a Claire-sized hole in our hearts.

Claire with Aryka, Jan.16, 2010

I know that our families will continue to be intermingled, that we will all be there for each other, but especially for her children who will need as much family as they can possibly get. Family who will tell them about their mother, remind them of that look of hers when you pointed a camera in her direction, the other look that told you that she knew very well when you were full of it, her funky sense of humour, the quirked smile that said so much and the quiet tenderness she showed for all she loved. We will share all the stories that we treasure, keeping her a part of our families and alive in our hearts.

Safe journey, Claire. We send you love.

Photo by Morgan, 2009