Everyday Portraits of Love and Loss: A Tribute to Aunt Kit

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I come from a line of Katherine Sullivans. It all started with Katherine Sullivan Madden. Then there was Katherine Sullivan Gorman. Then me, Katherine Sullivan Stone.

Katherine Sullivan Gorman was my Aunt Kit. Oh, how I loved Aunt Kit. She was my mother’s younger sister and she was awesome. I always felt special that I had been named after her, and I named my daughter Madden in honor of the entire line of Katherine Sullivans, but especially her.

Aunt Kit never failed to be funny and fun, always playing with her nieces and nephews at any family gathering.  She never had children of her own, and I always felt this was completely appropriate since I was convinced she had been put on this earth to be an aunt. She couldn’t possibly have showered so much attention and love on my cousins and I had she been looking after children of her own.  She was an accomplished young horsewoman and a writer, and the two things combined made me think she was the ultimate in cool. I wanted to be her when I grew up.

Aunt Kit was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. I remember the whole family being so shocked that the diagnosis came at such a young age. I think I must have still been in high school, or perhaps even younger at the time, but I lived far away so I wasn’t around much during her treatment. I know that she had a mastectomy and suffered through chemotherapy. I remember her telling me that she’d start throwing up whenever she arrived in the parking lot of the hospital; in anticipation of how sick the chemo would make her, her body would start to react before she even received the treatment.

It was a long and awful slog, and we were so thrilled when she went into remission. She had changed, that’s for sure. I remember in particular that her once straight and luscious long brown hair — her signature, really — was now short, gray and wavy. But whatever. Who cared? Aunt Kit was back!

Years later, whenever my husband and I went to visit my grandmother in Mississippi, you could always be sure Aunt Kit and Uncle Phil would be there. We’d all sit out in the sun in the side yard and talk about what we’d been up to. She was the editor of CityBusiness, a newspaper in New Orleans, and I eventually became a writer too, thanks to the blogosphere, though nowhere near as good as she was.  She was sharp as a tack, a great conversationalist, and always had a Mark Twain wit that never failed to make me laugh.

In my grandmother’s large old pre-Civil War era Mississippi home, the four of us slept in four-poster beds on opposite sides of the same room and at bedtime we were usually making inappropriate jokes and giggling at each other.  I was convinced decades later we’d be hanging out in those same rooms, matching wits and drinking champagne together, her favorite drink and mine.

Thirteen or so years after we thought Aunt Kit had beaten her breast cancer for good, it came back. It was now in her bones.

She fought very bravely, but I lost my Aunt Kit to cancer when she was just 49 years old. I’m still mad about it. I’m angry that I can’t go visit her and sit out in the side yard with her and talk about genealogy and daylilies and writing.  I sometimes lie in my bed and talk to her and tell her how bummed I am that she’s not here. How I wish I knew more about her. I wish she were here to make me laugh. That I hope she knows how much she is missed.

I’ve created a special tribute to her in the form of a portrait, featuring some of these words and an image of the two of us together, thanks to Bank of America and Susan G. Komen. The project is called Everyday Portraits, and it allows all of us to honor the amazing people in our own lives who have courageously fought against breast cancer.  For every portrait made in the month of October, Bank of America will contribute $5 to Susan G. Komen!  You can visit Everyday Portraits and create your own lasting tribute.

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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Comments

  1. I am so sorry that you lost someone so beautiful and special like that. She sounds like she was a true warrior and a wonderful person.

  2. i love this post, katherine. it reminds me simultaneously of my aunt nikki (who has no children, and i’ve always thought the same as you as to why) and my uncle mark (who we lost to hepatitis 9 years ago this month at the age of 45). your aunt kit was no doubt an amazing woman and her legacy is carried on through you.

  3. Beautiful photo. Beautiful Katherine Sullivan(s). I wish you had more time together.

  4. Your Aunt Kit was one of my very best friends in high school at St. Aloysius. We used to spend the night at her house & ride her horse, Princess, around the property. We also roomed together at MSU. I loved her dearly & still miss her. I married & moved away & we didn’t keep in touch after a while. I never knew she was sick & had passed away until after her funeral. I can’t tell you how much finding this article & seeing this picture means to me. Thank you so much for your devotion to her. I can certainly understand it. She was the COOLEST PERSON EVER!!!!

  5. Your Aunt Kit was one of my best friends in high school and college.
    She truly was a very special person! What a wonderful tribute to her! I am so glad that another one of her good friends found your tribute and shared it with me!
    I lost contact with Kit after graduating from college. I have always regretted not keeping in touch with her.
    Thank you so much for sharing!!