This weekend, the Turley clan and our friends from around the country gathered in the Irish American Heritage Center to mourn our loss of Kate Turley Mooneyham who died recently after a car accident. Kate was 24. She had had a relatively minor car accident and did not realize that the accident had caused internal damage. She went home to rest and my sister, Ange, found her unconscious later that night. Her family and her friends came together on Saturday to share our loss and our memories of this extraordinary person. Many others could not attend. For them, below are pictures of Katie and my eulogy. Many of the pictures show Kate modeling her mother’s clothes from “Turley Road”in Chicago.
November 17, 2012
Irish American Heritage Center
What a tragedy. We have all said it to Ange to ourselves to each other. It is the only word that seems to fit the death of a beautiful and talented girl.
It is the mantra of grieving.
Of course, all death is a tragedy. Every loss is in the end a tragic uncompleted work. It is all the more tragic when a life is lived so creatively and death comes so arbitrarily.
No one should die from a minor car accident.
No one should die at 24.
No child should bury a father before she is even 5
. . . and no mother should bury a daughter.
We all want a death to have meaning but it rarely does. What remains is regret, loss, and, above all, . . . pain.
I have been thinking a lot about pain because it was something that my niece knew a lot about. Since her death, I have been reading Kate’s private writings and I have learned a lot more about pain . . . and, to my shame, a lot more about Kate Mooneyham.
What emerges from these extraordinary writings is not just a brilliant writer but a profound and personal relationship with pain. On page after page, Kate speaks to the pain that pursued her unrelentlessly in her adult life. It is a struggle detailed in vivid and penetrating prose – writings that speak of an isolation and desperation with pain.
It didn’t begin that way. Twenty-four years ago, I drove with my parents to a suburb of Detroit to meet the newest member of the Turley Clan – Kate Mooneyham. I keep thinking about that day. It was sunny and beautiful. It was the first meeting of Kate with a man who would become central to her life – my father, Jack Turley. He would become a surrogate father after the death of my late brother-in-law, Tom Mooneyham. I remember holding Kate and marveling at her natural beauty even as a baby.
Then there were those early years of Kate. From the start, she took life on her terms. Kate didn’t negotiate terms, she demanded unconditional surrender from life.
When she was a kindergartener, Thomas’ elementary school teacher would repeatedly have to answer pounding on the door only to find Kate demanding to see her big brother. As soon as the door would open, Kate would simply say “Hi, Thomas” and walk back to kindergarten . . . content and victorious.
Then there was the call to Ange from school officials who wanted to discuss the need for more appropriate dress for her daughter. This is not something that you suggest to a fashion designer and Ange went to school intent on showing the officials that they had the wrong child in mind. Before Ange could berate them, however, Kate called out in the hallway and ran toward her . . . wearing nothing but her thick winter boots and her favorite bathing suit. It was dead of winter but Kate would take off her clothes at school and put on the swimsuit that she loved. Horrified, Ange explained that she could not just wear a swimsuit in school, but Kate failed to understand why everyone should not just wear what they felt most comfortable in.
When you think about it, like many five year olds, she had a point. Kate always had a point. It was often found on the other side of convention . . . in clothing style . . . in prose . . . in personal relations.
Kate was her own work in progress and she knew what had to emerge from the block of marble that life gave her.
Kate found a kindred spirit in my father, who delighted in her sense of unorthodox style and fierce independence. She was the spitting image of Ange who gave Kate her love for the aesthetic. Yet, I always saw my father in her eyes. I think he did too. It was a certain, unmistakable flash of perception; a sense of irony mixed with an acerbic wit.
They would also share something that would not become manifest until seven years ago – the curse of cluster migraines – a condition that would consume Katie’s life. I saw the pain that my father experienced during late nights when my mother and I would rush him to hospitals with pain that literally blinded him.
My sister Ange also witnessed the toll taken on my father and then watched helplessly as her daughter developed the classic symptoms of not just cluster migraines but chronic pain syndrome – a condition that eclipsed my father’s condition by a number of magnitudes.
All parents strive to protect their children from pain. We kiss their skinned knees and rub their upset stomachs. They ask us to make the pain go away because they think we have some magical power. If only we did and if only we could. But the pain remains theirs alone.
I remember when Kate almost lost part of her finger over a holiday in a door as she ran with a herd of her cousins up and down the stairs on the house on Hazel Street. We took her to the hospital and she was asked who she wanted to hold her as they put in the stitches. She picked my brother Dom – the very same choice many of us have made at such moments. My brother seemed like a giant cradling Kate as the doctors worked on her finger. I remember thinking how tough she was at that moment. She seemed to fold herself in Dom’s arm like a protective cloak.
As parents, we promise to make the pain go away. Kate’s pain didn’t go away. My sister took her to countless doctors in different states. They tried every combination of drugs in hundreds of different visits and tests. This beautiful girl was trapped in her own body – she was alone with it – pursued by it. All we could see was the outward expression of the struggle in Kate. She could not share her pain as we are sharing our own today because it was neither manifest nor mutual. It was hers alone.
However, her writings give voice to a courage and strength that kept Kate fighting to break free of this oppressive pain.
One of my favorite writings is simply entitled “Attack.” Katie describes living in a room that appears to be hers but is not.
“I felt immediately visible- like when you leave your medicine cabinet open, and the last person who went in knew every secret to your life- there was still the nail polish spill on my couch, and the crease in the leather but the mold of my body was gone, and when I stuck my hand in the cushion, nothing was there-no sand, dirt, loose change, or lighters, the floor was too clean, not completely spotless, but not ignored like usual, a kitchen cabinet was left cracked open- I know this is not right, that always makes me uneasy and distressed I would never leave it like that . . .
All I see are things that are mine- but wrong.”
She goes on later in the piece to write:
“I then noticed something I know well, all too well:
The bottle is still empty, just as I left it.
If replicated, it was not done so correctly.
The residue was not coating the bottle as it should be.
This is not a container whose contents have been moved and shaken. If real, it would have traveled with me everyday as its quantity lessened- shedding powdered remains, leaving a reminder of its once existence.
Everything was the same as when I left it-
Just turned, a little, not obviously noticeable, but uncomfortable-“
She lights a cigarette and the smoke soon takes on a new meaning—part of story of meeting pain with power. She writes:
“the threatening smoke reminds me that I am in control and powerful, and like it, punishing.
I am to be deceived here, and by someone who thinks he is ahead.
How careless and inaccurate can this manipulator be- to think that I would not recognize my own blemished home.
This stalker, replicator, does not know me well enough.
I am not the type who is blind to deformities, I recognize defects, salute them, and create them.
Whoever is behind this painting has not studied me long enough.
The flaws in his fabrication of my reality are endearing- and shows the operator is weak.
He does not know that I am aware of his presence.
And while I lay comfortably, in my misrepresented bed, with sheets too starched to be mine- and the nightstand painted too bright- I await the attack, unfettered by his intention.
He did not know that my watch is set five minutes before his.
I saw him put the hallucinogen in my drink, and drank his instead.
He lays sleeping on the floor of my fake hallway, dreaming of his brilliance- unaware that I am waiting for him to wake. “
Last night, I took a journey with Kate in her writings that left me overwhelmed and changed. While some may view these writings as dark, I saw them as some of the most inspiring prose I have ever read. As opposed to some of us who write columns as pedestrians, Kate was a writer in the first person . . . and the first order. Frankly, learning just now how good she was as a writer is part of my pain. However, these writings are not about the triumph of pain. They are about power. The type that can defeat pain.
A beautiful powerful mind is revealed in these pages that was taken from us. She found something truly transcendental after the years of solitude. She described those years of lying in her bed in pain – staring at the tree outside her room –watching the seasons change as this struggle within her raged. At the time of her accident, Kate had finally found a treatment that allowed her to work again and felt she was emerging from this long nightmare. Her emergence from pain was ended prematurely with Kate’s life.
Late last night a strange thing happened to me in reading my niece’s writings, which I will keep with me. The pain remained but there was hope.
No, the pain would not go away but that I had the power to defy it, to leave it “sleeping on my floor.”
Just like Kate, my niece, showed me.