You know what? I’m thankful for all the feist she rained down on me all those years. Her vibrant red hair almost demanded she set the world on fire and my blessing is that I was part of that fiery furnace of love. It may not have always felt like love, she could unleash forces i’m still making friends with, but my oh my she brought joy with her quick mind and poised lips. And her hands, when I think of her, I think of her freckly soft hands. So neat and together looking and competent, just like she was. And I miss them. I miss the beauty they made on this earth, I miss the love they infused into all they touched, and I miss their kindness and the snail mail they sent. Only a human that has known the richness of life could touch with such loving grace. And she knew the richness.

Kate M Foster

In my dreams I am waiting to go in for a facial, I am almost desperate to know her heart and feel her touch just one more time. I’m ready to be renewed by their coolness and healing. I’m waiting. I didn’t ever go for the steam and creams, I went to be held, and to let go and to discover my own beauty. You only come to know such things in the hands of a heart that can alchemise even the darkest of shadows. She was a master alchemist. It may seem strange but I have not had a facial since.  Part of me knows there is no one on the planet with her exact heart and mostly, I’m petrified i’ll forget what her touch felt like. So for now I’m content to remember her warmth while I ever so tenderly hold my memories of her precious. I’m not ready to risk letting them go. Those precious moments are a salve for my being until I fall into something greater.

Suicide for me is a dark word. It’s hard to type, I wish I couldn’t even spell it. It’s so neat and short and contained and does nothing to express the tyranny of anger and bone shaving grief it has birthed in my life. And somehow at the same time I refuse to go to war with it. It rips me open again and again, my bones bare and melting and naked. It’s messy and shocking and hard to make friends with and for the seven little letters it contains its ripped and broken my heart like no other word on the earth.  It’s wild and out of control. And maybe that is how people feel when they complete suicide? Maybe people who end their own lives feel so wild and afraid and out of control they somehow feel like suicide seems like a safer option? I don’t know. I don’t have the answers.  And for all the times I’ve wished that I could have done something more or less or different, what I have learnt this last year is that it’s a wild and crazy life and that despite my broken heart i’m still here showing up.  I’ve also learnt that no matter how much I love or wrap my heart around another, in the end maybe I can only ever save my own sorry ass.

I get into conversations with myself a lot, sometimes I tell myself she packed so much god damn beauty into this world in 35 short years that she lived 50 lifetimes in one. And I tell myself it is entirely selfish of me to want her here to listen to my stories, to share more tea and mangos and avocado on toast. But sometimes I do wish she was here to unleash her trademark feist on me just one more time and tell me how it is. I really don’t mind what ‘it’ is, I don’t mind how wild or funny or randomly true it is, I just want her, going off like a frog in a sock, telling me the truth according to the way she sees the world. I get scared I’ll forget the little things, like those rare occasions her lips hadn’t caught up with her brain and they did an ‘official lip wag’ just before they spoke. And the way her nose wrinkled when her eyes were shut and she was snorting cause we were laughing so hard it hurt. Often at highly inappropriate things. And that filthy look she would give me when she finally opened them and had decided that was enough ‘out of control’ and it was time I stop the ‘carry on’ and get our shit together. She was a master of ‘that look’ that conveyed ‘I totally should listen and follow through’ cause no one knew, especially her,  what the force might unleash if I pushed, another, second, more. And I miss the silence. Those terrifyingly loud silences that her wrath or her love could inflict on me or any unsuspecting soul in less than a heartbeat.  Those silences, that over time, I learnt to trust, because she was just like the moon. Her beauty and power intoxicated even the ocean and her forces were equal in courage and presence. Her waves could be gentle, caressing, life-giving or relentless and deeply polishing. And each month she was new again, sometimes many times over. She grew big and bold and shrank small and vanished. Then she had the courage to show up and do it all again. And this courage is what I miss most.

I forget she is not here sometimes. America is so far away that at first it conveniently allowed me to begin conversations with her in my mind, silly little conversations about anything really, even confessions when I put a towel in with my ‘clothes load’ in the washing machine, I would forget she was gone.  I am sad that the frequency of these conversations are slowing. At first after she died, most days I would forget she had gone and it would break my heart open anew when I would remember. And guilt, what could I even say about guilt other than in the end you have to open the door and sit down together, and eventually make friends. It’s rare now that I begin a day forgetting she is gone, the reality of her absence is so much more real 12 months on, mostly because the hole in my heart makes it presence known before I slip into ignorant bliss.

Those first few months I was sure that hole would swallow me. Its darkness was complete and I struggled to even see my children. I had no choice. I was petrified. I was scared for all the times in my past I didn’t know how to go on and even more afraid the darkness might eat me alive as well. I saw her over and over in my mind, alone in her final moments. It haunted me. My grief was like crazy weather, unpredictable, scary and completely out of my control. Over time I began to learn my only protection was to dress appropriately and remember my umbrella and even well prepared, there were no guarantees of staying dry. And that’s the truth. None of us escape the reality that death and loss bring.

I’m not sure exactly when, but  at some point I began wondering if maybe that black hole in my heart was the same black hole she had in hers? And it became very clear that I was the only one of us left sitting here. And then I wondered if maybe that meant I was the one that needed to make friends with this abyss of all consuming darkness?  Because it wasn’t going anywhere fast. You see, I knew the depths of her darkness, because I knew the depths of mine, and our hearts had sat and thrashed together through all kinds of weather. I’ll never understand the forces that bound our hearts together yet I feel so grateful they did.  We used to call each other ‘the friend I knew before I knew’, because, when you are friends with someone before your earliest memories begin, you share a language that’s rare in this world. It’s a language that says I know you to your core because we learnt human together and I taught you how to use scissors and you taught me to love and let go.

It wasn’t an easy ride for her. From the outside it looked like she had it all together.  And that’s the bit I think most of the world didn’t know. They saw her luminous shiny eyes, her radiant beauty, mischievous fun, her walk, the charisma that puddled on the floor wherever she stood. And they didn’t realise it was hard earnt. That while she made it look effortless, it really wasn’t. From the moment she opened her eyes till the moment she fell asleep she was growing herself and perfecting her ways. Yes, she was born beautiful, but the kind of beauty she spread around this earth, that breed of beauty, it came at a cost. It was a price few could pay and in the end she paid all she had to give it to the world. Maybe we all thought she was immune to the darkness, that she had found a unique way to navigate this beautiful messy life while overflowing with fun and grace and wisdom. Her mastery was effortless. Or maybe that’s the way i saw her. Maybe I forgot she had gifts that only came through countless dark hours alone questioning the world and being polished. And I forgot that she polished herself over and over and over again. And that dedication and unrelenting effort made her a master craftswoman. And this is why she shone. And i’m guessing it also made her tired, which might be why she left so soon?

I wish there was one great lesson that I could harvest from this mess, but there are only countless small ones. And right now as I sit here in the middle of the night, almost a year on, I’m willing to bring a new kind of loving to the world.  I’m asking myself to ease up on all the polishing I do to myself and others. I’m asking myself to put the sandpaper down, to let go and trust life has its own ways of polishing me without needing to turn in on myself.

A year and a half ago i began the Lifeline crisis training. At the time i was not really sure why i signed up, navigating suicide and the mess of life was never something i was comfortable with. I certainly wasn’t the type of person who would call lifeline. I was more the type that suffered alone, in the dark. When she died i realised i was wasn’t so different and my life could have ended the same. Her death came one week before my last Assessment. Completing that Assessment is one of the hardest things i have ever done. I almost didnt show up. And my first shift live on the phones made me sick, for days, before it came. Im still not sure how i managed to show up? Its been a year of the messiest richness and at the same time, most potent beauty i have  ever known. I may not yet be the kind of person that is brave enough to call Lifeline. However, i do intend to embodying the kind of vulnerability and courage required for such heroic acts. Cause for the most part, in this great big ocean of life, its the ones that wave their hands in the air, vulnerable and flailing, that the lifeguards come to save.

Even now it’s never easy to go in to lifeline, to begin with i was petrified i wouldn’t be able to help ‘that caller’ save their own life. But all the listening i have done to other people’s pain has reminded me of a lot. I’ve made peace with the truth that i couldn’t help her save herself. Every shift i think of her and dedicate my service and any peace i have to the world and all who are suffering. And while deep inside of me there is an abyss of darkness so fathomless it doesn’t have a bottom, that abyss and i are on talking terms, we don’t turn from each other any more, and all the holes it has poked in me seem to be the broken bits my light is leaking from. And if that serves the world, i am willing to be flailing, vulnerable and a shining mess for the rest of this short life. And that is where i will go on the anniversary of her passing, I will haul my petrified butt into that call centre with the hope that i can listen and love and shine a light for who ever appears on the end of the phone line. And that my love, somehow, finds a way into her heart, where ever she is in this miraculous and rich world.

Stay brave people, the world needs your light…. and maybe we are not so different you and I?

Please take care xoxo

One thought on “My cousin and her richly beautiful short life….”

  1. Your a gifted wordsmith and story teller Katie. It was an honour to share your story, so personal. I felt like I was reading your diary. Thank you..
    I would like to share this on my page when it comes together. My focus is mental health, depression in particular…. It can be sooo deceptive and your raw poetic expression exposes this so clearly.

    Keep shining gorgeous woman.
    Blessings
    Laoise xxx

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