Today marks a sad milestone for my family. Twelve months ago today my sister Lou made the decision to end her life. Lou was such a gentle soul and it shocked us all deeply to hear of the tragedy that day.
Lou was an intelligent, graceful, sensitive woman, qualified as an architect, financial planner and teacher. She was also a great traveller, a photographer and a prolific writer. But most of all, she was a precious soul – kind, gentle and thoughtful. I really do not think for a moment she meant to bring any harm or distress to anyone, and would be deeply sad to know of the grief so many have endured in the aftermath.
Unbeknown to almost all who knew her, Lou suffered with mental illness for many years prior to her death. We did not know or understand the extent of it until after she had gone. Lou managed to keep up a brave front for most of her adult life, but underneath it all, I believe she suffered enormously, largely on her own, not wanting to acknowledge to anyone, not even herself, the extent of her poor mental health. She did not want to be defined by it, and having a mental health problem meant that she did not always make the best decisions, ultimately leading to her untimely death, aged just 49.
As I reflect on her death, it is comforting to me to know how thoughtful Lou was to all of us in her final hours. She left us a long letter, acknowledging the support and love she had received from many. I personally feel such gratitude for my last day with Lou in Melbourne, just a few short weeks before her death. It was a gift. A ten hour gift. Lou and I had the best conversations we had had for many, many years. Lou was such a private person, I knew it was an honour for her to have shared so openly with me. I will be grateful every day for the opportunity that day gave me to give Lou some hugs, to tell her I loved her and that she was not alone. Lou knew all of that, but it was good to say it, and know that our final day was one of sharing and caring for each other. It was so special.
So today we are honoring the best of Lou and respecting how very challenging it must have been to live with such an anxious and unwell mind, while acknowledging she was so much more then her illness. I am remembering the many happy moments we shared as sisters and as very dear friends. I am grateful for her many friends too that supported her along the way, especially when we, as her family, could not understand her as we do now. I am so grateful that we have no unanswered questions, which are so often left lingering when someone takes their own life. I am sad for the stigma that so often exists around mental illness, and have such admiration for those who are able to live with and successfully manage their mental conditions. It was only a part of the person who Lou was, and in the end, it overtook her.
I received a card yesterday from one of Lou’s oldest friends. I think it sums up the essence of Lou so I will share it with you here:
Not many days have passed that I haven’t thought of Lou, you and your family. Thank you so much for sending those photos of Lou and the picture frame with Lou’s writing. … I have kept your card on my sideboard with Lou’s photos. Each one captured such lovely sides of Lou, elegant, thoughtful and damned hilarious – the last one when I look at it just makes me laugh. It’s the Lou I mainly think of despite the turbulent years before she died. When I think of her now I always feel that she is peaceful. It is a great comfort…. Now I just think of the joy her friendship gave to me over many years. Gorgeous gentle soul…
I will be thinking of you all next week
I think that captures the spirit of Lou so well. And shows what lovely friends she has too!
Whilst so sad she has gone, today I am celebrating the wonderful life that Lou lived, for the most part. She packed so much in to her 49 years, that’s for sure. She whooped it up! And had lots of laughs. Travelled near and far. Stretched her brain in learning so much. Was kind to so many. And very brave. Who can ask for more than that? I will remember all of the special times we had and the vibrant, intelligent, lovely person she was when she was well. It’s not her fault her unwell mind hijacked the show. I am sad for the private hell Lou must have endured, and feel such relief she now just can sit back with Martha, relax and enjoy the show of our lives here on earth, from her special place in heaven.
I am a visual person, so I like to think that my visual tribute to Lou (below) sums up well the person that she was – an adventurous woman of style, intelligence, grace, warmth, sensitivity, courage, a lovely sense of humor and a beautiful heart.
God bless you Lou la. Enjoy that peace up there in the sky with Martha. You are with us all now more than ever. We will strive to be happy, be our best selves and make the most of our blessings. We will feel you with us daily, a gentle, loving presence alongside us all. Rest in peace.
“We are all such delicate souls in some ways. So too we have strong and merciful hearts.” ~ Mary Lou Bailey