Today I want to write about a good friend of mine who died suddenly last Friday morning. Her name was Gab - short for Gabrielle...a name she didn't feel comfortable wearing, and a name the rest of us had trouble making stick to her. The diminutive though, was perfect.
I met her online, in the photo group I've been posting in daily since the beginning of 2017. I've written about that a few times: and the daily focus it's given me, the re-awakening of my creative juices, the challenge of developing my photography skills when my only camera is the one on my iPhone. But the most important, and surprising aspect of this activity has been the people. I didn't expect the people.
I've been on Facebook since 2008. I've had the predictable experiences of reconnecting with people from my past - OMG all the people from my school days who I wasn't friends with, who suddenly want to be my friend... What IS that?! Connections with various people from the present time - friends and acquaintances, some who live far away, and others that I see regularly. And then the friendships that develop via different interest groups, and those I've been able to meet in real life, face to face. Some of those encounters didn't amount to lasting friendships, any more than some of the online ones. But some did.
Gab was one of those. The photo group is ginormous. Currently, there are 26,177 members. Not everyone is active all the time, and not everyone posts every day. But enough do that my FB notifications can go crazy just from that group, let alone any other activity, and it's easy to feel quite lost among such big numbers. Early on, I noticed that there were lots of small groups, 'tribes', of people within the mass. People who'd connected particularly for any number of reasons. I was a bit envious of those folk. Reading the banter on the comment threads showed just how much enjoyment there was in contact at that level, and it became clear that there were some people that were managing to connect outside the group, on the ground. Photos of PaDster (Photo a Day, PaD. PaDster being our nickname for participants in the group.) meetups always drew loads of comments.
And then it happened. Over the course of a month or so, via comment threads on particular photos, a group of six of us grew closer, drawn to each other by the photos, and then more so by the conversations in the comment threads. The The Catsuit Gang was born. Six women. Different ages, different backgrounds. Two in America - on opposite sides of the country. One in Germany. Three in Australia - two in Melbourne, and one in northern Tasmania. The two of us in Melbourne organised a meet up - that was easy. Lots of nerves. Lots of, 'OMG, how will I recognise you?' - directed at me, because I rarely have photos of myself online. We did the 'sensible' thing and met in a neutral space, a local cafe. Sensible, cos that's what you do with online people, right? Because they might be nutters. Only she isn't a nutter. She was as she is online. We met up a few more times. And then the great day came when the Tasmanian Cat was going to be in Melbourne and the three of us could get together on one day of her trip.
It was as it had been in the group chat. Gab was exactly as she was online, only more so. We spent that afternoon talking non-stop and laughing so much. It was SUCH a good day. We drank loads of tea, ate good food, told stories, laughed lots, and just enjoyed each other. The photo I've included in this post is from that day. I posted it today in the FB group for today's prompt, 'a really good day' and the edit of black and white with a splash of colour is for a theme I'm doing with my other little tribe for this month.
Gab was an amazing woman. Not well, physically, she struggled with a number of chronic conditions and illnesses, including anxiety. She valued family and friendships immensely. She was possessed of great commonsense, and always seemed to know exactly what to say when one of us was struggling with something. She had a wicked sense of humour. She was a truly gifted photographer - although, I'm sure she'd argue with that. During that trip to Melbourne, her photos changed as she focused on photographing Melbourne itself. She found the guts of what Melbournians recognise as their city, and did superb edits, knocking back the colour just enough for the shapes and subject matter to really shine without the colour being a distraction, but with enough richness still there to be immensely pleasing to the eye. She had a knack for observing and capturing the human condition, and there were some brilliant 'stalker shots' of strangers going about the the business of their day.
At different times in her life, she'd followed various creative pursuits. She'd crocheted professionally for a while. She could draw. Wrote wonderfully. She never settled on one thing in particular though, always being hungry for new interests and things that would challenge her. She loved to travel and see new places, and we all enjoyed the photos she posted of different places, and the accompanying, sometimes sidesplitting, stories.
She brought something rich and unexpected to my life, as part of our little gang. I think we all feel that. The online experience can be bizarre. People aren't always the way they present online. Gab was. She was an object lesson in how to be authentic online, and be consistent with who you really are. Meeting up with her, with the other Melbourne Cat, that day felt like we'd passed through some magical portal and instead of chatting online in the group, we were in the same space - it felt the same, only in real life.
When she knew she was coming last month, we talked about meet ups. We planned a day at Ripponlea House, one of Melbourne's historic houses that's open to the public. It's a photographer's dream. We planned to pack a picnic for lunch, to save funds. We thought to start at the on site cafe to fuel up with caffeine, then wander and take photographs while we caught up, and then picnic. That was the plan. Life got in the way. Things changed that day, and in the end, we relocated to my house again. Gab came earlier in the day, and then the other Cat joined us for dinner. Dragon Dad got to meet her this time too, and loved her. Said she was hilarious - which she was. When she headed off at the end of the evening, she was talking about her next trip across, and things we might do. And as always, we talked about a grand gathering of the Catsuit Gang. Quite where, geographically, has long been a puzzle, given how widely scattered we are. And the money of course, as none of us are millionaires. Sadly, when that gathering does eventually happen, we will be five, not six.
But Gab will always be part of our gang. She's left us with a rich legacies of 'Gabberisms.' And as we all trawled back through our conversations with her, on comment threads, and in various chats - group and one on one - we found many treasures. Perhaps one of the most meaningful, particularly for me as it was a comment in response to a post I did with a photo of my mother for the prompt 'I wish,' she wrote this:
What a special shot of a precious photo. It's beautiful. She was beautiful. This will sound so wrong right now on this post but here goes. Tears, sadness and regrets are probably not the way to remember her, lovely Karen. While those feelings will almost certainly remain, holding her memory in the joyous and simple times can be helpful. You were lucky to have her for as long as you did. To know her as a woman and person as well as your Mum. I never got that chance. Only the good die young I suppose.The emojis won't go smaller, and they make it messy, but I'll leave them, because she put them there. That smiley face and the yellow hearts were her signature emojis, 'To me they epitomize my existence. Live, love, smile and be happy. Love and laughter have always worked well for me!'
Try turning it a little. Let the grief and sadness turn into thankfulness that you had her in your life at all, even for a short time. While the pain never really heals, you can use it to become the person you know she wished for as a daughter.
Maybe I'm a little too practical but I can't see that any parent wants their child to feel the broken soul feelings that I sense in your words hon. She will not be diminished if you can smile and laugh when you remember her nor would she be content to know you feel guilt for not foreseeing the impossibly unexpected.
It's been 37 years without a Mum for me and while I might wish things had been different, they weren't. I can't change that or it's circumstances but I can remember her with a life and laughter that honours her existence in love.
Wear white to my funeral and celebrate for I am going to a better place and it is you who will remain in this turmoil called life.
So, as sad as we all are, we're only too aware that she'd be very cranky if we sat around weeping for her. Friday, when we heard the news was such a dreadful shock, and we were all in pieces. Today, knowing she's being laid to rest and none of us could be there, has been very hard, and I've been teary, so I'm hibernating at home. But to honour her, we'll all have to pull our socks up and get on with living life as it comes, finding the humour, as she would have, and looking after ourselve and each other.
Zichrono livracha. Gab, you will be missed.
|That first Melbourne get together. Photo by Gab. Edit by me.|