We all grew up together on Avoca Avenue. Our families were and still are closely knit. So when one of us succumbs to the effect of terminal illness it affects us all. The effects are greater when the death is that of a childhood friend whose life ended just as I thought it was only beginning. Although 42 Katherine was always in my mind the little girl sitting on my father’s knee being consoled because the boys didn’t ask her play football, or the little girl who used to come in the early morning to fish the goldfish out of our pond, my father being the only person who knew why the goldfish kept disappearing -the tranquillity of innocence that was Katherine. Death in your 40s is just not fair. Isn’t it meant to be still a millennium away? Why was she destined to die so young?
The past few weeks for Katherine’s family and friends have been numbingly tragic. So many emotions, grabbing at hope only to be replaced by despair. And yet it seems that only over the past two or three weeks have I really known Katherine. About three weeks ago she was informed by her doctors in Australia, where she had lived for the past 15 years with Nick, her husband, she only had a few days left in this world. She made the decision that she wanted to return to Ireland to spend her final days at home with her father and mother. Her amazing family rallied together and they made it happen. After a gruelling flight from Australia, accompanied by doctors and nurses, her husband, her Mum, and brother, Katherine arrived back in Ireland on the 8th February.
Last Saturday, my mother called me to say she had said goodbye to Katherine, an experience she said that will never ever leave her mind. Katherine was asleep like an angel, the tranquillity of innocence, her ever attentive brother Nicholas at the foot of her bed reading to her. Katherine had borne her burden. It was time.
In was 1993 when Katherine came to stay with me in Hong Kong, on her way back to Ireland after an extended holiday in Australia. She was feeling uneasy… We talked. She told me about Nick, that she loved him, and already missed him. I told her to go back if she loved him. She did.
Soon she was making a name for herself in the local communities of Ballina and Lismore, New South Wales, her new home. A highly competent and professional journalist, media and promotions officer, she wrote with an honourable conscience for several local medical publications covering the Northern Rivers Division of New South Wales. A cursory glance at the titles of the articles she wrote over the years show the true measure of Katherine’s kindness: “Preventing youth suicide through community adhesion”, “Caring for the carers”, “Separation from birth – the story of one rubella damaged child”, “First Aboriginal doctor for region”….. and more
She continued to write on all sorts of medical issues knowing her word would bring comfort or raise awareness among her avid readership, all the while conscious that the cancer was still loitering in the background.
Katherine’s bravery is her inspiring legacy. Last year she set up a website: http://www. advancedbreastcancersupport.info Advanced Breast Cancer Support, for those with advanced breast cancer and their families.
I have just looked at the website, and read the following, as written by Katherine.
“About the snowdrop motif
I chose snowdrops to be the motif of this website partly because they are my favourite flower, but also because of the hope they signify.
It does not matter how harsh the winter, or how hard the ground, this seemingly fragile flower will always appear in its little clumps in gardens everywhere and sometimes in exquisite drifts, a harbinger of spring and a new beginning.
This small, tough and extraordinarily beautiful flower signifies hope, and also consolation (which we all sometimes need), and it seems an appropriate symbol for those of us with advanced cancer and our families and friends.”
She had borne her burden. In death there is beauty.
We are bounded by memories, which death will never conquer.
Rest in Peace Katherine.