Farewell To My Daughter Kate, Who Died On Christmas Day

January 10, 2015

Kate Gross died of cancer on Christmas morning. She was 36, and left behind a husband and five-year-old twin boys. Her mother describes Kate’s final moments...

farewell to my daughter
Kate Gross in her garden, in April 2014. Photograph: John Lawrence

My daughter Kate died at 6.29 am on Christmas Day – 10 minutes before her five-year-old twins, Oscar and Isaac, came out of their room and asked: "Is it morning?" Barely enough time for her husband Billy to hold Kate's hand and say goodbye before stocking-opening, which, of course, cannot be delayed.

She had a colon cancer that was already advanced when they found it two years ago.

I had filled and then emptied Kate's red velvet stocking – bought for her first Christmas, 36 years before – to redistribute her presents. But before going to bed on Christmas Eve, I worried about the stuffed stockings for Oscar, Isaac and Billy resting against the banisters while Kate's hung empty and limp, and went down to re-wrap her presents and stuff her stocking again.

The rest of the day was basically the blackest of black comedy. For the next few hours I moved, disorganised, between touching Kate's hand, watching the stockings being unwrapped, phoning the GP, asking Kate's sister Jo to make the boys their promised waffles, phoning undertakers, letting the out-of-hours doctor in to certify the death while putting the turkey in the oven, consulting with the hospice nurse about arrangements, letting in the second nurse to wash Kate, finding clothes and soap and flannel, picking up wrapping paper from the boys frenzied present-opening, and checking the turkey.

At times I leaned against the sittingroom door, uncertain about whether the turkey or the death arrangements should take priority.

Just as I had stuffed her stocking, Billy had wrapped Kate's presents on Christmas Eve – in the most horrible pink wrapping paper, WH Smith's last remaining stock – wrapped them so as to declare her still and always present. The boys helped to open them and decide which of Kate's family and friends they could be given to. They were quite jolly. Five year olds think differently from us. They live right now, in the moment – and if the moment has Minecraft and Lego and Playmobil, then that's just fine.

farewell to my daughter
Jean Gross with her grandsons Isaac, left, and Oscar. / TheGuardian.com

The undertakers had made me laugh when I'd rung a week or so ago to ask about funeral arrangements over Christmas. Then they'd said in best call-centre voice: "We're booking right through Christmas week already," as if it was a show or a hotel room I was after.

farewell to my daughter
Kate and Billy in 2004 / TheGuardian.com

Christmas won't be spoiled for us for ever. A wise friend of Kate's, who lost his own wife years ago, told us that because he remembered and thought about her every day the "big" days (anniversaries and Christmas) held no fears. I think he is right.

Kate once said, in relation to a mother's love for her children, that "worry is love's currency". Well, for the first time in two years I don't wake up worrying how she is. And two years of advance grieving has helped prepare us for today.

It has helped to have the love of family and friends, and the kindness of strangers, the thousands of messages we have received. Newspaper obituaries (I hadn't realised until now quite how much it helps to have the life of someone you love rounded off in this way).

It helps that we can feel so proud of Kate's work. She had always been high achieving. In her 20s she worked closely with two prime ministers; at 30 she was CEO of a charity that supported fragile democracies in Africa, hanging out with heads of state and wealthy American philanthropists. There are lots of babies who wouldn't be alive now without Kate's work, lots of children being educated, lots of parents able to find work and feed their families.

More than anything, it helps that we have Kate's book, Late Fragments, written so that her sons may one day discover who she was and what she held dear. If anything good is to come from losing Kate, it will be that book and the effect it has on all who read it. Kate had, as her friend Katy Brand, the actress, said to her, the ability "to choose just the right word – to roll all the words around your head like ball bearings, until the perfect one drops into the hole". But if not for the cancer, she probably wouldn't have become a writer – like most high-flying working parents, she wouldn't have had time.

The last two years taught us the importance of time, of stepping off the treadmill. As Kate writes in her book: "Everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. In other words, the petty frustrations and stupid ambitions and general rushing around have melted away, but the good stuff remains. And it's better than ever."

Because of the Nuisance, we became a much closer family. We bridged the distances that grow between parents and their adult children and came to know and admire Kate and Jo, much more than we would have otherwise. We became part of Oscar and Isaac's daily lives instead of occasional visitors. And we were – and still are – overwhelmed at the way Kate's friends and our own have responded to her illness.

I've learned that there is more love in the world than I ever knew and that perhaps all we need to do is learn to ask for what we need.

Credit: TheGuardian.com. Kate Gross died peacefully at home from colon cancer on 25 December 2014. Kate finished writing her book in September and received finished copies a few weeks before her death. To order a copy of Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life) by Kate Gross, go to bookshop.theguardian.com.

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