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.