Emily Writes remembers the uniquely wonderful Lou Kelly, a midwife, educator and writer whose reflections on working in an abortion clinic became one of The Spinoff’s most-read pieces of all time.
This piece discusses suicide and depression. Please take care.
First published on the author’s newsletter, Emily Writes Weekly.
Over the weekend we lost a person who made Aotearoa a better place. Someone who desperately tried, despite catastrophic sadness, to make the world a better place.
I have not stopped crying since Sunday. And I can’t think of anything else, can’t work, can’t write. I can only think about Lou.
You might not know Lou. But many of you will know Lou. Because they were an incredible writer whose words changed lives, created worlds, and brought so much hope. I shared their writing a lot here. I published them on The Spinoff when I was Parents editor. And I shared their newsletter Earthside often. How could you not share it? It was raw and delightful, crushing and nourishing – everything all at once.
I was also lucky enough to know Lou as a friend. As someone I loved deeply. As a soft and warm and kind human who inspired me every single day.
Lou died by suicide, there is no sugar-coating this. Their brilliant brain – it was an enemy sometimes too. All who loved Lou knew this. Lou knew this.
We also know we will never be the same without Lou. I think the world won’t ever be the same.
Lou was, professionally, a writer, a midwife and antenatal educator. But Lou was so much more than that. Lou changed the way people talk about birth and care in Aotearoa. They challenged people to be better, to do better. They took on a heteronormative and cis-centred, white system and asked what it would look like if it included everyone. They asked us to commit to leaving nobody behind.
Lou created incredible resources for free. Lou wrote heartfelt pieces that changed the way we view the status quo and how we fight against hate. The first piece I ever published by them is to this day one of the most read pieces on The Spinoff ever. In typical Lou fashion they cast a critical eye on their own work to see if they could add more nuance. Forever considering the grey. Unmoved by work going viral or being wildly popular – it was never about that.
I could list all of the ways Lou taught the world but all I keep thinking is – Lou I MISS YOU ALREADY.
I MISS YOU ALREADY LOU.
I miss you so much already Lou.
How are we all meant to just keep going without you Lou?
Lou’s favourite dinosaur was a brachiosaurus.
Lou loved Arlene and Lou loved their people.
Lou loved their family – blood and chosen.
Lou was a co-parent to the very best dogs Stevie Nicks and Rupert and the very best cat Luna.
Lou loved their dad’s cats. Jacinda (sleepy), Boo (a good boy), and Winston (he gives no fucks).
Lou is a “gentleboy” and a “cold and broken hollaback girl” – an autistic, queer, poet, lil’ monarchist who loved spreadsheets, the softness of bellies and the smell of rain on hot asphalt. Lou is a thousand private jokes with a thousand different people who all feel like they are Lou’s best friend because Lou.
Lou is fragile. Was. Is. Was. Is.
They once told me they thought they were too squishy for this world. But I think this world was too rigid, too unyielding for our Lou.
But, Lou left us breadcrumbs because Lou told the truth. We knew life was incredibly hard for Lou. It was that pain, so raw that made Lou so kind I think. If you know what it is to be hurt, so terribly, you know you don’t ever want to do that to someone else.
You walk so lightly, and Lou even cared about slugs.
When Lou died I sobbed in my friend’s arms, my things falling all over their doorstep, as I yelled down the phone that it wasn’t true.
That night as I could not sleep, I reached past my baby and took my phone and filled it with Lou’s words.
And I fell asleep with their voice in my head.
“I encourage you to go out and find a small thing that brings you joy, and also to try new things. Take up dance lessons, circus lessons, bouldering, join an aqua aerobics class, marvel at your body and your ability to do new things, even when they are hard and you are very confused.”
“Go look at some dinosaur bones. Or whatever the fuck it is that makes you go “OH,” in capital letters. (I have learnt recently that autistic people (me) call this a “special interest” which touches me: it is special, me and dinosaurs are very special). Even if its by yourself. It’s all you need to make a birthday an ok day, a single moment, a moment that made you go “OH,” in capital letters the way your parents went “OH,” in capital letters the moment that you were handed into their waiting arms – flesh against flesh. Feel the OH. Feel it in the depths of your flesh, your flesh that has grown in the months you have grown and shrunken and withered and wilted and cried and fought and nestled and sobbed and spun at 1,000 miles an hour. Feel it in the stretch of the garment that doesn’t fit the same anymore with your expanding flesh. Feel it. Feel awe. Feel it deep deep deep, as deep as it goes. Cry if you have to, at the “OH” of it all.”
Your words are as gentle as you always are. Were. Are.
“I love everybody, in some capacity, forever. I have never figured out a way to stop the love from going on once it starts. No matter how much hurt gets splattered about in a relationship unravelling, still my love goes on.”
“This life and this love is temporary: of course it is. While that might make some people scared: that one day our lives will look very different and we may be streets, cities, or countries apart, for now it makes me brave – to go on loving in the temporary.”
We will never stop loving you Lou. I hope wherever you are, you’re with Chlöecat and you’re free.
I send my love to Lou’s family and to Lou’s people. Thank you for loving Lou. Thank you for sharing Lou with us all. Thank you for keeping Lou in this world as long as you did. Lou was our temporary visitor, but our love for them will be forever.
If you’d like to support Lou’s whānau and the continuation of projects that were important to Lou, please consider making a contribution on the Lou Kelly givealittle page.
Where to get help
Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Shine (domestic violence) – 0508 744 633
Women’s Refuge – 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
Le Va – suicide prevention and support for Pasifika communities
Yellow Brick Road – mental wellbeing advice and information hub
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Depression and Anxiety Helpline – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202