The Grand Taboo: An Ode to Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade—and Especially Katherine

Wanda St. Hilaire

“I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch old cartoons and movies. My whole life is a series of strategems to avoid – and outwit – that guy.”
-Anthony Bourdain

Six years ago, I met an elderly couple at the coffee shop, Kawa Espresso. They came in together everyday for their lunch (always hot, homemade soup) and would beetle around the neighborhood doing different things and visiting a variety of people, good weather or inclement. It was a pleasure to watch them because of the evident love and endearing respect they held for each other. Theo was 94 when I met him and Katherine was in her early eighties. They married later in life because Katherine had been a nun who’d left the convent mid-life.

Theo was a dapper man, always elegant and charming. He would make a point of coming to my table to tell me I looked beautiful or compliment me in some way. Katherine was articulate, intelligent, and über feisty.

One day Katherine came to me in distress. Theo had hurt his arm and had been to the hospital. She thought they’d over-medicated him because he was so incoherent.

“Please go talk to him. You’ll see what I mean.”

Only a fractured arm and yes, they had indeed given him too much medication. He’d been perfectly lucid and spry two days before and he was a mess. Within days he died.

Katherine was inconsolable. She was grief-stricken and became moody. Soon after his death, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. She opted to stay out of the system; she didn’t want to deal with the toxicity of harsh chemo drugs or radiation; she wanted to let her body deal with it naturally.

Katherine frequently chatted with me and kept me abreast of her health. Even though she had no intention of doing anything differently, she came to my book launch (cancer book) with flowers in hand and bought a book.

Her cancer had been spreading and recently she learned that it was in her brain due to a minor convulsion. I asked her if she’d been in pain (it was in various parts of her body) and she indicated only a little. But her emotional agony was intense. She wanted only to join Theo, feeling there was very little point to life.

Today, June 8th, only two hours ago, she left us. She told me a month ago that she was going through the process of assisted death before harsh physical suffering came. She’d been perfectly organized throughout the course of events and had a living “Irish” wake a few weeks ago. She said to me, “If there’s going to be ham sandwiches, I’m eating them too!”

She wanted to die on her and Theo’s wedding anniversary, June 10th, but the “Navigators” don’t work on weekends and so, she opted for today. Katherine was frank about the whole experience and I found it extremely thought-provoking and, as well, daring for a Catholic ex-nun to make such a choice. She told me that she was awaiting death and that it was time to go.

And today, we’ve learned that Anthony Bourdain followed on the heels of Kate Spade in opting out of life.

One thing I know for sure: life can be a bitch. I fully grasp Bourdain’s quote above. I have an inner saboteur who’s downright vicious. Years ago, I named her Annabelle the Bitch. She too would like to keep me in bed all day and tells me I’ve failed at basically everything. She wants me to stay small. Sometimes, she tells me I’d be better off dead.

My conscious mind can refute Annabelle’s ferocious bullshit. I know the things I have attained and I know what’s good in my life. I am cognizant of my redeeming qualities. And I see the trap of the belief that I am living a ‘Groundhog Day’ life. However, all too frequently, Annabelle wins. I don’t know where she came from or why she wants to tear me down.

Yet, in the midst of her carping, I see evidence of my impact on people through my words, for my presentation and presence in the world, and for overcoming the many hurdles I have survived. Deep inside I have an eternal optimism that tells me I can win and break free from this current hell’s trap (debt); that I can fulfill my vision of inspiring thousands (or more) through my writing and stories while journeying through places of beauty, the great loves of my life.

I speculate that Earth is one hell of a school we’ve bravely chosen to attend—the place where we are thrown the mission to earn the Doctorate of the Universe. From all I’ve observed, humans appear to arrive saddled with the proverbial angel and devil on each shoulder. Our challenge is for the angel to win.

Kate Spade had all of the material wealth and the sweet life that anyone could hope for, but her inner demon clearly got ahold of her and no amount of money or love could stop it. Anthony Bourdain lived a life that I dream of; traveling the world, eating well, living with gusto, and telling the stories of the people he met. And still, his saboteur won.

It can appear as cowardice, however, when that convincing, conniving voice gains momentum and overtakes our spirit’s sane space, there is a line once crossed where logic cannot be salvaged.

With the world spinning in two vastly different directions and the scales seemingly tipping in the realm of wicked malevolence, anxiety and depression are on the rise. If we have a tendency towards this, the news is enough to further exacerbate our already fragile emotional landscape. If we allow life to control us via jobs, money, social media, familial demands, etc. instead of controlling our lives, we can find ourselves hanging in a precarious imbalance.

Our job, as Anthony stated, is to avoid and outwit ‘that guy’. We now see a surge in leaders and experts teaching us how to outsmart the inner twerp for our mental and physical health and for our happiness and contentment quotient. We are discovering that our mind has far greater power than we’ve previously given it credit for. We now know we can rewire all of those dangerous pathways we’ve created through repetitious negativity to a brighter outlook.

The inner saboteur is, unfortunately, a formidable foe. I can attest to that. But with dedication to a better life—and determination to leave Earth with that doctorate—I believe we can triumph.

  • We need to use the “delete” button far more often.
  • We must gently remind ourselves to veer away from that which makes us melancholic or feeds hopelessness.
  • We must remember to celebrate our smallest victories to buoy our spirits.
  • When we begin to devaluate ourselves for any reason, we must concertedly counter with things we know are good about our lives and ourselves.
  • We must focus on the truth of who we really are in the eyes of our soul and of our Maker.

Today, I met with my coach and told her that I am confused by the appearance of my inner critic, who rears her ugly mug, just when I think I’m making headway. I acknowledged that I am more susceptible as I grieve the monumental loss of my soul sister, Lynnette, who passed three weeks ago, of Katherine and her feisty spirit, of Anthony Bourdain and his brilliance and sass, and Kate Spade and her creative impact on the world.

We had a deep discussion about it and I left feeling heard. If you are suffering in silence, please reach out. Even though I am an open and candid memoirist, I don’t like to admit this either. The grand taboo of our society is to reveal the vulnerability and weakness we feel because of our inner demons. But we are all in this together, in varying degrees. Those who have successfully learned how to “avoid and outwit that guy” can be the light and the way, if only we ask for help.

Many blessings and much love to you today—we all could use more of both.

Two hearts

Post © Wanda St.Hilaire

3D Cover on table

Now available worldwide on Amazon! 

This fusion guidebook-memoir helps navigate prevention as much as it is for the those diagnosed with disease; it is a resource for living life to the fullest. St. Hilaire presents simple-to-digest material and wisdom woven with insightful anecdotes. She provides an invaluable amalgamation of research in a context not always accessible at your cancer centre.

“What a remarkable mixture of facts, data, research, warmth, humour, compassion, inspiration, vulnerability and courage!”
-Dianne Quinton, Coach

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