This is a book about Kate Gross who died young and wrote a book about it.
In the process of her death, Kate prepared a “manual for life” chronicling her life and identifying ways to recognise what really matters and how to experience more wonder and awe.
I would not hesitate to recommend this brave and lovely book. There was so much life flowing from each page, the corners of which are – turned down for remembrance and writing that word in this moment – seems wholly appropriate.
Kate loved words too.
She died (from cancer of the colon) on Christmas Day 2014, early in the morning before present opening with her twin boys, Oscar and Isaac (“the Knights”) and her husband, Billy.
But before that, Kate was writing of a full life, a life “hard wired for happiness”.
“After each hammer blow of diagnosis or failed treatment, she and Billy would stumble and weep” writes her mother Jean “but within days of receiving the un receivable news, they would find a new normality”.
Because they were both hard Wired for happiness. It’s a really interesting concept a default setting to be happy regardless – re -defining normal.
I love this and identify so strongly with it.
I am another Kate hard wired for happiness. Even after the hammer blows of the death of my first husband then my parents one after the other, rejection by my birth mother, my eldest sons – I stumbled and faltered, I wept but kept moving almost by default.
After a while normality with my little family returned.
I have ever held the feeling that the days continue regardless of circumstance or happening and that the sun also rises, relentless. I have been a witness to this and understand how being present with pain with the thought of pain, with dreadful sadness that follows every loss, life goes on adjusting to its new normality almost by default.
Some how, I find permission in Kate’s words to be my self, and I am grateful.
There was something else Kate brought home to me about feeling loved by her parents.
It has always troubled me that I have worked, hard every day of my children’s life.
When I search through photographs for me and the children together it is though as if I was never there.
I don’t exist.
Until I realise that I was there, ever the watcher, the photograph taker and that behind every image, I am there, so loving and proud. Only you can’t see me that’s all, look closely and I am there, remember me by my presence that touched and moved through you because when its over that all I can give you to hold and share: perhaps that will be a form of remembrance behind the visual proof?
“What goes around comes around, in the perfect symmetry of life. This comforts me because in all the childhood memories that I have, there is a notable absence. It is my parents and specifically my mother. My early memories are those of a self centered child, secure in her solipsism. I am the star and my supporting cast is my peers, children of all ages (including the long suffering Jo). My mum’s Eighties perm and brightly coloured boiler suits doesn’t really feature in my mental tableaux. Not because she wasn’t there, Not because she didn’t love me. No, quite the opposite because she was always there her presence is a given. She is the stage hand pulling the strings behind my performance, the wardrobe mistress ensuring that my outfit is flawless, the prompter waiting off stage should I falter with my lines. Her invisibility is a mark of the security she provided me. Had it have been otherwise she would feature more heavily, I have no doubt. So while I want my boys to remember every detail of me – of course I do, I’m still the star of the Kate show – if I really think about it, I would be content to be just a blur of blonde hair and a soft lap in their memories. That would be proof enough that I had done my job, as my mum did hers.”
And I hope and pray that my children will feel the same when they look back on our life together. For I have loved each of them to my best.
On faith, Kate writes:
“I have started kneeling down in forest glades and old, cold churches and asking for help. The God I find there – the one who helps me cling on to a still small voice of calm – is the God of churches at smoke fall, a God who swims in cold seas, inhabits high mountains and wild places. Being outside amongst nature amongst all of this is the one unfailing way I have found to stop my Achilles heel from crippling me”
I love this God.
Nature brings us closer to Spirit, the God of churches at smoke fall..
And the ten year old Kate who knew so clearly who she was and now asks – would our ten year old Kate selves recognise us today?
“The ten-year old Kate knew what she liked. First words. Second, swimming and being outdoors. Third playing.”
This was me too, how funny, how exhilarating this deep recognition.
Kate calls this her “cantus firmus” and asks again
“what would your ten year old self think if they could see you now? Would your “cantus firmus” ring out or has it been deadened by the intervening years.”
It’s a good question.
Brings me up short and breathless.
And any book that can do that is worth inclusion in my library of life.
Let’s leave the last word to Kate’s mother, Jean Gross:
“Read it”, writes Jean, “not just because my lovely daughter wrote it and because it’s funny and wise but because it truly teaches us all how to deal with the impossible and still find joy in every day”.*
*source: Jean Gross December 2015 http://www.redonline.co.uk “Kate left us a manual for living” pages 137 – 139