It was surreal sitting in the funeral home.
Kara died so suddenly and unexpectedly. Almost 2 years ago to the day; it was September 19th, 2013. She was a co-worker and a friend. She was 25 years old. Afterwards, they said it was likely a congenital heart problem, that her family never knew about.
She had her whole life ahead of her.
It was a strange feeling to be gathered among so many other co-workers at that funeral home. A month earlier, another employee from the same company had passed away; my good friend Ginette. She died after a brief battle with lung cancer. Six months earlier, I myself had returned to work following a long battle with an aggressive breast cancer.
I remember towards the end of the ceremony the minister said: "The best thing to do after we lose someone is to keep their story alive." I really liked that idea.
Kara was a designer, a poet, a photographer, a gifted chef and an avid musician. Through her creative and artistic abilities she crafted a custom guitar: a "semi-hollow electric guitar, with three star-shaped ports." I remember she would bring it in to work and play it for us.
When she passed, her family decided to gift her beloved guitar to The Guitar World in Mississauga in order to allow others to play her instrument in a gesture to honour their daughter.
Kara's story spread.
Rock star Phil Xenidis, known as Phil X, who replaced Richie Sambora as the guitarist with Bon Jovi saw a post about Kara. He read about her death and how the family wanted people to play her guitar and so he played Kara’s guitar at the Air Canada Centre with Bon Jovi, a few months later.
One of the lessons I learned during my encounter with cancer and getting so close to death, was how important it is to tell people what they mean to you. To tell them how you feel. To share with them how much you love them. And to tell them straight away, because later could become never. In a New York minute any one of us could be gone.
Kara inspired me daily. And I told her so, many times.
One time, Kara sent me a video which she had shot and edited of a project that we'd been working on together. It was so good I sent her a note saying: "It's beautiful Kara, what an inspiring gifted lady you are." She sent me a note back: "Wow, thank you Kate, you just made my day." I remember the big grin she had on her face because of it.
Three days later - she was gone.
Kara was one of the first people to welcome me back so openly and warmly when I returned to work after my fight with cancer. We didn't really know each other before then. For whatever reason, Kara decided she wanted to get to know me better and I'm so glad she did.
Kara made me feel good about myself, because she was relentlessly happy. And I think in a small way, I helped Kara to believe more in herself. She had so many talents to share with the world.
The strange thing is, as I helped Kara to believe in herself, in turn Kara helped me to keep believing in myself.
One of the ways she did this, was through a poem she wrote. She wrote it for me and told me it was mine to do whatever I wanted. I shared it with some of my co-workers, shortly after her passing, and I gave a copy to Kara's mom.
And since then, it's sat on my inspiration wall, as a reminder to me to keep my pledge to inspire others as long as I am able to.
Today, on the anniversary of Kara's passing, for the first time, I'm sharing it with you.
May you believe in yourself, may you always say what you feel and may you live every moment as fully as you can.
This Is For You
This is your's, a secret to share,
a poem I wrote about your hair.
"My hair?" you ask, so curiously so,
Yes! of course!! and I think you should know;
You told us to do what inspires our soul,
what makes us smile and laugh -- what makes us whole.
So what do I do? I write you a song,
well, maybe not, it's not nearly that long.
We'll call it a poem, a lyrical rhyme,
something to read to pass the time...
It sounds silly to say, but I have to come clean;
your hairstyle is fierce, it's edgy and mean.
I love the cut, I love how it sits;
but what I love most is the story behind it.
It represents you, your strength and your heart,
It's chopped with reason, it's truly art.
It reminds you of times when life was so hard,
but reminds us all that you're a star.
So proudly styled, and so courageously expressed,
when fighting for life is such a hard test.
Such a small frame to hold so much strength,
Hair so tame with very little length.
Your hair is more than a visual edge,
it reminds us all of your heartfelt pledge;
to keep us inspired, empowered and strong,
to remind us our ideas are never wrong.
Kara Alanna Shred
June 28th, 1988 - September 19th, 2013
(Image Copyright: Maridav/Shutterstock)