Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page - ROSS PURDIE

Liv­ing with sur­vivor’s guilt.

SUR­VIVOR’S guilt weighs heav­ily on Natalie Cole fol­low­ing her de­ci­sion to ac­cept a life- sav­ing trans­plant while her sis­ter lay dy­ing.

The Amer­i­can R ’ n’ B singer, the daugh­ter of late jazz leg­end Nat King Cole, says she is still haunted by the ag­o­nis­ing choice of leav­ing her sis­ter’s side to un­dergo surgery.

The dilemma arose in 2009 when Cole was bat­tling kid­ney dis­ease caused by Hep­ati­tis C, which had de­vel­oped since her younger days as a drug ad­dict.

Her sis­ter Cookie was em­broiled in her own fight against can­cer in a nearby Los An­ge­les hos­pi­tal, where Cole held a des­per­ate bed­side vigil.

‘‘ My sis­ter was in a coma when my hos­pi­tal called say­ing a kid­ney was free,’’ Cole re­mem­bers.

‘‘ I had to leave and go get a trans­plant know­ing she was go­ing to pass away.

‘‘ They didn’t even tell me she’d died un­til a good day af­ter my surgery, so it was very dif­fi­cult.’’

Now re­cov­ered and re­turn­ing for a five-date national tour, Cole ( pic­tured) is seiz­ing ev­ery day in hon­our of her sis­ter.

She is also in­spired by the fam­ily of the stranger whose tragic death de­liv­ered the vi­tal kid­ney that ul­ti­mately saved her life.

Jes­sica Ar­gueta, a fan of Cole’s mu­sic, died from com­pli­ca­tions caused by child­birth.

Ar­gueta’s sis­ter Patty has since be­come a life­line to Cole, with the two women shar­ing sim­i­lar sto­ries. Their tragedies bond them deeply.

‘‘ There’s love all the way round with me and Patty be­cause I lost a sis­ter and she lost a sis­ter,’’ Cole says.

‘‘ The up­side for me is that her sis­ter lives with me, but she’s lost hers and that’s some­thing I can’t bring back. ‘‘ It’s a bit­ter­sweet type of re­la­tion­ship.’’ Cole has walked a fine line be­tween life and death since launch­ing her ca­reer in the mid-’ 70s with hits This Will Be ( An Ev­er­last­ing Love ) and In­sep­a­ra­ble.

Her spi­ralling ad­dic­tion to crack co­caine and heroin in the ’ 80s, blamed on self­es­teem is­sues, meant she was lucky to es­cape the decade un­scathed.

She found re­demp­tion in the 1991 Grammy- win­ning sin­gle Un­for­get­table, a re- recorded duet of her fa­ther’s stan­dard de­spite once promis­ing never to touch his work.

Now thank­ful for the golden op­por­tu­ni­ties and the bul­lets dodged, Cole has wrapped her highs and lows into a new mem­oir Love Brought Me Back.

‘‘ As I was writ­ing this story, I was as dumb­founded as ev­ery­one else be­cause it’s just so amaz­ing that these peo­ple stepped into my life when they did,’’ she says. ‘‘ I have sur­vivor’s guilt be­cause I lived and my sis­ter died, but the good­will of­fered to me by Patty has re­ally helped.’’

Cole’s come­back as a per­former is even more re­mark­able given the bat­ter­ing her body took dur­ing weeks of dial­y­sis and the trauma of los­ing a loved one.

She suf­fered breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, mus­cle fail­ure and fa­tigue. Doc­tors shared their fear that her tour­ing days were over.

‘‘ The thing I wor­ried most was not be­ing able to sing again,’’ Cole says.

‘‘ I wasn’t think­ing about dy­ing so much as liv­ing and not be­ing able to per­form.’’

Cole per­formed at last year’s Ade­laide Cabaret Fes­ti­val, the first time since the ill­ness that she was not con­fined to a chair.

Now she’s back to full force, you can sense her de­fi­ant re­fusal to mel­low.

‘‘ When you have a crit­i­cal ill­ness, you tend to make lit­tle changes in your life,’’ Cole says.

‘‘ It’s only right that you should and when I’m tired, I just have to say no. But when I’m feel­ing great, I al­ways say yes.’’ Natalie Cole will per­form at Ho­bart’s Wrest Point En­ter­tain­ment Cen­tre with the Tas­ma­nian Sym­phony Or­ches­tra on Jan­uary 30.

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