passed away

SMH: Late author’s lasting legacy

sara-in-office-featuredSara Douglass was world-famous for her novels, but her blog about dying, featured in the Sunday Times, captured WA’s attention.

She sparked a flood of letters when her controversial blog entry, The Silence of the Dying, featured in the Sunday Times last year. And now she has found peace.

Award-winning fantasy author Sara Douglass had her ashes scattered over her gardens at her home in Tasmania on Friday after passing away from ovarian cancer, aged 54. (September 30th, 2011)

The former South Australian nurse turned medieval history lecturer shot to international fame with her Axis Trilogy.

A collection of short stories, The Hall of Lost Footsteps, was finished just before her death and will be published in November (2011).

Douglass, whose real name was Sara Warneke, gained unexpected attention mid last year when her blog was featured in Sunday Times , giving a raw, funny and honest account of dying.

It included how the well-meaning drown people in soft toys, cards and empty platitudes, while the seriously ill are forced to cheer up loved ones. Assuming loved ones still want to visit, that is.

“Our collective attention span for someone who is ill lasts about two weeks,” she wrote. “After that they’re on their own. From my own experience and talking to others with bad cancer or chronic illness, I’ve noticed a terrible trend.

“After a while, and only a relatively short while, people grow bored with you not getting any better and just drift off. Phone calls stop. Visits stop. Emails stop. People drop you off their Facebook news feed. Eyes glaze when you say you are still not feeling well. Who needs perpetual bad news?”

“I have begun to notice death all about me,” she also noted. “I resent every celebrity who ‘has lost their long battle with cancer’. Oh God, what a cliché. Can no one think of anything better? It isn’t anything so noble as a ‘battle’ gallantly lost, I am afraid. It is just a brutal, frustrating, grinding, painful, demoralising, terrifying deterioration that is generally accomplished amid great isolation.”

The response was enormous, and Douglass told The Sunday Times she was greatly warmed by the outpouring of emails and feedback.

“Incredible,” she emailed later about the huge response. “And such a shame. As a society we deal with death very badly. I am glad if I could help – and shed light on just what one person goes through.”

The author is survived by two sisters and a brother. They posted a tribute online recalling her as “possessively private” and someone “who could see a funny angle to most situations”.

Douglass’s close friend of 20 years, and carer for the past nine months, Karen Brooks, wrote this week: “She seemed to find inner peace. She died, as she lived  on her own terms, in her own time. Her death was quick.”

Brooks spread the author’s ashes “over her beloved garden with her cats and a bottle of bubbly as witnesses”.

She also shed some light on Douglass’s final days, which the author had always said she hoped would be spent at home.

“The final days were, by her choice, in a palliative care ward in Hobart,” Brooks wrote in a tribute. “Despite what she wrote in her forthright and amazing blog, ‘The Silence of the Dying’, Sara chose not to die at home.

“After two weeks in hospital and then just over two in palliative care, she made the decision, despite everything being set in place (care teams organised, doctor ready, and I was to move in with her), not to return.

“I think it was emotionally too hard for her – the distancing from her old life had begun. The palliative care ward was comfortable, the ambience was warm, the staff caring, frank and compassionate: just like Sara.”

Douglass’s five adored cats, featured regularly in her blogs, will be adopted by Brooks and her husband, Stephen.

Read The Silence of the Dying blog post here.

This article was written by Sheryl-Lee Kerr and originally appeared in The Sunday Times, the Sunday edition of perthnow.com.au.

Karen Brooks: Obituary

Sara-2011The outpouring of grief that has followed the death of Sara Douglass (Sara Mary Warneke), who died on Tuesday morning has surprised no-one – except, had she lived to see the effect of her passing, Sara herself.

How do I know? Having been Sara’s close friend and confidant for twenty years – and having followed in her career-footsteps (from academic to author; as she did for many others, she both inspired and encouraged me) and being in the process of recovering from cancer myself – I’ve spent the last nine months caring for Sara, along with my husband, Stephen. We shifted to Tasmania at the beginning of the year and have been privileged to share the best and worst of times with the woman who called me her soul-sister.

Though Sara was an intensely private person, when Stephanie Smith, Sara’s editor and good friend at Harper Collins, asked me if I could write an obituary, revealing something of Sara’s last weeks, I agreed. Sara had a deep affection for her readers and fans and loved connecting with them through cyberspace – through the early years of her message board and its various discussions, to her blog and websites (her homepage and the Nonsuch garden) and FaceBook. So, without disrespecting her privacy and with a heavy heart, let me briefly invite you into Sara’s, Stephen’s and my world – a world that with her death, for us at least, has been cast adrift and irrevocably shattered.

Her final weeks were not easy; even the seemingly simple act of showering tired her for an entire day. Nonetheless, Sara maintained her wonderful sense of humour and acerbic wit, and her curiousity and concern for others. She managed to edit and see the publication of what is now her final novel, the magnificent The Devil’s Diadem and even saw (though didn’t read) the advance readers’ copies of her collection of short stories, The Hall of Lost Footsteps, which is being published in November by Ticonderoga Publications.

karen-sara-stephen-selfieAccompanying her to every medical appointment, ensuring she had meals, clean clothes and well-fed cats, Stephen and I spent as much time as we could with Sara and did what we could for Sara. And typically of her, she was incredibly undemanding and often apologised (for what, we still don’t know!). I don’t know how many times she thanked us. We didn’t feel (and still don’t) that we deserved her thanks … we loved her and still do love her and it was a joy to see and be with her, as others who know her can attest.

While she sometimes appeared aloof, it was often because she didn’t hear what was said – Sara was quite deaf and relied on hearing aids – but distant she was not. On the contrary, she was one of the most loving and affectionate people I know who would embrace you in the warmest of hugs and squeeze you tight. I will miss those hugs more than I can say.

Visited by a few dear girlfriends (she was selective about who she let into her life) who travelled to Tasmania to see her, she very much enjoyed their company, but was also glad to be by herself again. She was a very solitary person who lived in her imagination as much as she did in the real world. I think she would be overwhelmed by what people are expressing on various forums now; she would be laughing in her unrestrained and contagious way and shaking her head in bewilderment.

Her final days were, by her choice, in a palliative care ward in Hobart. Despite what she wrote in her forthright and amazing blog, ‘The Silence of the Dying’, Sara chose not to die at home. After two weeks in hospital and then just over two in palliative care, she made the decision, despite everything being set in place (care teams organised, doctor ready, and I was to move in with her), not to return. I think it was emotionally too hard for her – the distancing from her old life had begun. The palliative care ward was comfortable, the ambience was warm, the staff caring, frank and compassionate: just like Sara. There was a garden on the balcony outside her window.

At first she felt guilty that she experienced relief at her decision not to go back home, but we quickly assuaged that and told her it was both normal and perfectly all right to feel such things.

After that, she seemed to find inner peace.

Then, she died.

She died as she lived – on her own terms, in her own time. Her death was quick.

She looked peaceful, serene even, her alabaster skin glowing, her hair softly framing her face. It’s an image that will live in my mind forever.
In accordance with Sara’s wishes, there’s no funeral or formal celebration of her life. She wanted ‘no fuss’. That is so Sara! As I promised, I’m following these wishes – it’s the least I can do.

Sara will be cremated on the 29 September at 10 a.m. There will be three people present. I will read from both BattleAxe (the part where StarDrifter sings the Star Song) and from page 511 of The Devil’s Diadem to the end. I will also read selections from the various tributes that family, friends and fans have left. I will make sure you’re all there with Stephen and me as we say another goodbye.

Then, as the sun sets on Friday the 30th of September, I will spread her ashes over her beloved garden with her cats and a bottle of bubbly as witnesses. I ask that, wherever you are in the world – real and virtual – you raise a glass or pause, and for just a moment, help us send Sara on the first steps in the eternal dance of stars.

I know she’s poised to soar and once she departs, she’ll twinkle brightly forever – in our hearts, minds and every time someone picks up her books and reads her astounding and beautiful words.

Vale Sara.


Editors Note: Karen Brooks had been Sara’s friend for over 20 years and with her husband Stephen was her carer for the 9 months before she passed away.

This obituary was posted on the VoyagerOnline blog, the original post can be read here.