Painting saved my life. After our daughter Katie died, 3 months short of her 3rd birthday, I was completely lost. She was my only child and it devastated her father and I to have to say goodbye to her following complications that arose from a stem cell transplant that had taken us to The Bubble Unit in Newcastle, England. She had spent most of her short life in and out of hospitals both here and in the UK where we were kept in isolation for much of her short life, as even a common cold could kill her. For the next 4 years, we struggled with the type of earth-shattering grief only known to those who suffer the loss of a child. We threw ourselves into work by day and oblivion by night, coming home each night and using alcohol to escape the crushing despair and deep deep sorrow that was the undercurrent to all
I was a mother without a child and longed for another, but we were warned there was a 1 in 4 chance of the illness happening again. Having another baby was not an option for us. We couldn’t put another child through all the pain and isolation we watched Katie endure for most of her life. I continued on the dark road I was on.
By some miracle, and I can only describe it as a miracle, there was a moment of cold stark realisation that my life had turned into something I didn’t recognize. There was no laughter, no light and no hope. I also knew at that moment that my little girl would not recognize the mother she once knew. That morning, I had been reading an article on Annie Slone Chalk Paint and upcycling furniture. Having got a “D” in Art for my leaving cert I had long buried any hope of pursuing my dream to be an artist. As there was no prep needed with this paint, and it was all I could manage at the time, it gave me the first bit of hope and light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Something creative had stirred inside of me, and in that awakening, I made a decision to put down my crutch, pick up a paintbrush and with that the light came flooding in.
As I began to paint, I began to feel again. And instead of mourning her loss, I began to celebrate her life. From that shift in thinking, dark to light, there began a profound change in me and I embraced it wholeheartedly. I also made the decision there and then to reach out and get the support I needed around my grief and my alcohol dependency. It was the best decision I’ve ever made as I was given the chance to embrace all that I had been given and not drown in all I had lost. Kate’s bedroom is now my studio. I paint and I create. Every time I stand in front of a blank canvas or an object of creativity, I feel her spirit with me, cheering me on and it’s her colours that are shining through.
“I hope the art that I create will bring much hope, joy and gratitude into your home. Painting mainly in oils and creating in encaustic and mixed media, I hope each inspired piece will find it’s way into a home where it will be a spiritual reminder that if we cultivate gratitude in the face of life’s harsh and formidable adversaries, the human spirit will always win through.” Rachel x
Introducing Mal, Kate’s dad. He is the 2nd half of Colours of Kate. Childhood sweethearts, growing up exploring the freedom of the Dublin mountains together we forged a deep bond that would hold us together through the most difficult of times to come. “I was hit by the Sicilian Tunderbolt” Mal says of the first time he saw me, July 1981, I was on my bike buying dinner in the local butcher for my mam. I
was 14 and little did I know I’d be slow dancing with my future husband that week at the local GAA disco. I had found my soulmate.
Life took us away from each other in our 20s but we reunited and were married in our 30s. We couldn’t wait to start our own little family, a little brother or sister for Mal’s older daughter Amy. Giving up his own job to become Kate’s full-time carer when she was born with immune problems, Mal became an integral part of keeping Kate home and away from the hospital as much as possible. She needed 24/7 care by trained professionals and we became trained with the support of the Nurse specialists in Crumlin Children’s Hospital. Mal was thought how to feed Kate through a line in her stomach. He learned to administer lifesaving medication through a central line into her heart and take regular bloods and a litany of tests daily to ensure her survival. She was a trouper through it all with her light shining through and her deep bond with her dad was a joy to watch.
Four years after her death he too realized we were not dealing with our grief and instead were self medicating with alcohol, pushing down the pain and not giving it a chance to breathe. We both decided to get some professional help so engaged in the Rutland Center 12-week outpatient programme which deals with addiction and recovery. There, we were gifted with a programme of recovery where Myself and Mal have been introduced to a more spiritual way of living, which in turn has helped us accept Kate’s death and concentrate on where her life has brought us now. Helping other men and women in addiction and using my art to show that there can be a life worth living after tragedy and loss. We can
learn to navigate ourselves through the tough days by reaching out for support and talking.
Everyone has a story and you are not alone. We are blessed to have met some very strong men and women in recovery who have helped and supported us and we, in turn, offer the hand of help to anyone who reaches out to us.