In praise of... Big Sis

We grew up just a few doors and three and a bit years apart. Both only children, we defined our friendship by the only relationship we would never truly know - Big Sis and Little Sis. And in many ways we were like sisters, in and out of each others' houses, and sharing more of our lives than we did with our school friends. And as siblings do, when Big Sis outgrew her clothes they came my way: as I was tall for my age I could start wearing them almost immediately, which pleased me, as, being that bit older, her clothes were invariably more "grown up" than mine. Years later, and away from my parents' likely disapproval, Big Sis also showed me how to apply makeup, helped me jump the queue for Mud autographs and gave me tantalising glimpses into the glories of being a proper teenager.

There were differences, of course. Big Sis and her mum were as English and South London as we were Italian; as and when Anglicans to our devout Catholics - which also meant we went to different schools. She went to Norfolk in the summer while we went to our family in Italy. But somehow none of this ever mattered. Big Sis joined us for mushroom picking trips, made valiant attempts to pick up Italian and enjoyed some very non-English food at our table, while I devoured her comics and annuals - and then her teen mags - and assumed she'd play games for which she was probably already too old.

In our teens Big Sis moved house, but still close enough for regular contact - even more after I introduced her to the Young Christian Workers, which meant we began to meet in a different context, and now shared friends. Several years later she gained sisters-in-law, whilst I entered religious life and became part of a global sisterhood, bound to each other through vows and a shared spirituality and mission. But - in a friendship as long as my life - Big Sis is still Big Sis: I care deeply about how she is and what happens to her; I know she cares about me, and we still see and speak to each other regularly. We hold each others' memories, and each others' histories, so often intertwined; our lives, too, have taken us along separate ways, but still very closely connected.

Today is, according to my Twitter feed, National Siblings Day. For us only children it's a reminder that - in-laws and religious community aside - we don't actually have any siblings for real... but although she may not be "for real", I know my Big Sis is for life...!