Saying Goodbye to Anna

March 7, 2015. Today is the 7th anniversary of my sister, Anna’s memorial service. One of the worst days in my life. She left this world far too soon and we are all poorer for that.

I was honoured to speak at her memorial:

So, we are here today to celebrate the life of my sister.  Wow, never thought those words would be coming out of my mouth.

To try and sum up her life in just a few words is impossible, but, I am going to try.

Anna was an intensely private individual.  She rarely showed what was truly going on in her life.  But, when she let you in, you were in her life forever or at least until you pissed her off….

My earliest memories of Anna were when (and I am regaled with this tale by my mother on many an occasion) I was very young.  Apparently, I was angry with everyone at home and decided I was going to run away.  So, Mom packed up a lunch for me, gave me my favourite blanky and my teapot (I have no idea why a teapot, but, what the heck… shades of my future self perhaps?), a fistful of pennies, a sandwich and some koolaid.  And off I went.  I didn’t wander far, just around the block, as I knew I wasn’t allowed to cross the street.  I eventually came home, but, I am told just for refills….

Anna had to follow me from a discreet distance and make sure that nothing ever happened to me.

That is who my sister was:  She was my protector.

Anna was funny.  When I was 10 or 12 years old, the family went on one of the BHUTAN DEATH MARCH vacations.  You know the type of trip I am talking about?  The trip where the family patriarch gathers kith and kin into the car at the crack of dawn and begins the never-ending journey to wherever it was that we were going, at break-neck speed just to see if he could beat the traffic.  You needed a bathroom break?  Hah! We just had a rest when we filled up for gas 5 hours ago.  And you need to go AGAIN?  Hungry?  Eat some beef jerky that we scored at the last gas station.  Carsick?  Meh, just roll down the rear window of the station wagon and let ‘er rip on the car following too close behind (that did actually happen to me).

But, I digress.  We were eventually in Disneyland:  The Magic Kingdom.  The land of eternal joy for kid and adults alike. Unknown to us, it was also the land of pervs dressed in costumes.

Anna, being young and pretty, caught the eye of one lecherous looking Goofy.  He proceeded to chase her around the parking wanting a “Hug”.  Anna wanted none of it.  She started darting around people, screaming “Mother” at the top of her lungs all the while Goofy was lurching after her, arms open.  Eventually, she lost him in the crowd and I sat there and laughed, as this was the funniest thing I had ever seen.  She got her revenge on me, though by dragging me on to the Matterhorn.  And thus began my life long fear of amusement park rides.  Thanks, Sis.

Anna was my cohort at family functions.  Case in point:  when my aunt would come to a Zylstra family function, she would often zero in on a family member who had somehow given her a self-perceived slight at some point in time between these visits.  That person would be cornered at some point in the evening and my aunt’s ginsu-sharp tongue would leave her victim in a pile of blubbering mess on the floor.

One year, it was my turn.  

As I walked in the door from my flight from Vancouver, Anna grabbed me, a bottle of Black Tower wine (Yes, black Tower…) and we hid in the basement until my aunt left.  We sat there in the semi-darkness, giggling and passing the wine back and forth daring each other to go and find my aunt.  My aunt would eventually give up and went home.  A major tongue lashing avoided.

Anna was my confidante.  When I was struggling to accept who I was, she was the first family member I talked to.  She merely hugged me and told that it was okay.  She still loved me and nothing would change that.  With that simple statement, I felt like I could breathe.  If Anna could accept me, then everything else in the whole world could suck and I would still be okay.

Anna was the first family member I introduced Alex, my husband to.  Back in June of 2003, we made the treacherous journey from Vancouver to Edmonton to meet the family (insert dramatic music here)… The first person we saw was Anna.  We met for coffee when Anna was still working at West Edmonton Mall.

After a very friendly coffee, I excused myself to go to the bathroom and she looked over at Alex and said with nary a thought, “You’re a couple, aren’t you?”  Alex answered quickly, “Yes” and with that, she hugged him, welcomed him warmly into the Zylstra fold and told him she was “glad that Al had someone in his life, finally.”

When Alex and I decided to get married, Anna was the first family member we told.  She was thrilled for us.  Almost as much as we were.

Anna was smart, funny, brave, considerate and stubborn.  And she could fight the best of us.  When the Zylstra men got into our usual Christmas Eve family gatherings, or as I liked to call them, “the WWE Main Event”, the discussions were frank, loud (really loud) and passionate.  We argued over politics, religion, politics, news, politics, human rights, politics…. Did I mention “Politics”?

When the arguments became too much for Anna, she would call on us to stop being so “REDUNDANT”.  I am not sure if she knew what “redundant” meant.  But, the over-riding thought was for us to stop being juvenile, argumentative and just get along.

Redundant.  A good word and one she used a lot.  The real meaning of the word redundant is:

  1. Characterized by verbosity or unnecessary repetition in expressing ideas.
  2. Being in excess; exceeding what is usual or natural
  3. Having excess or duplicate parts that can continue to perform in the event of malfunction of some of the parts.
  4. Being characterized by redundancy; being predictable.


So, I am going to tell you today in Anna’s words: Don’t be REDUNDANT.

Don’t go through the rest of your life being unnecessarily repetitive.  Say it once and MEAN IT.

Don’t be a duplicate, a copy of everyone else.  Be unique.  Be yourself.

Matter to someone….anyone!

Don’t be predictable.  Shake up your life and make it matter.

I miss her more than ever….

Published by Al Zylstra

a somewhat erudite wannabe writer with aspirations of not putting people to sleep with my prose....

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