The story behind a hippy chick, her stick and those mandalas in Nambucca

For in grief nothing 'stays put'. One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? How often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, 'I never realized my loss 'til this moment'?

C.S. Lewis

Chances are you've seen Kath Latimer's soul writ large for the heavens to see.

If you've discovered her mesmerising sand mandalas along our shoreline then you'll know to what I'm referring.

Her etchings are now internet-famous, so perhaps you know her Instagram moniker - 'a hippy chick with a stick'.

But it's more than likely you don't know her story, nor her grief.

Kath Latimer @AHippyChickWithAStick

Kath Latimer @AHippyChickWithAStick

Kath first picked up a stick two years ago because her youngest son, Sam, told her to. And so she started to spin and made a perfect circle on the sand. And then another...and another...until a pattern emerged before her eyes.

Only those directly above would have been able to witness the realisation of her first piece of sand art; Her artist, Sam, would have seen it.

Because Sam died five years ago.

When the incessant grinding of depression and anxiety wore away the last of his fighting spirit - at age 26 - Sam decided to take his own life.

Kath and her husband Paul had just moved to a house by the beach in Nambucca Heads and were in the middle of renovating when the lives they had known collapsed around them.

The house was gutted, and I was too - emotionally, physically, mentally.

In her role as a breast cancer practice nurse, Kath gently guided people through some of their darkest days.

She always knew what to say, or when to just listen, and how to care for broken people.

"I used to feel pride that I was one of those people that could give compassion and care. But after my experience with Sam I realised that those kinds of people are few and far between," she said.

When it was her turn to lean on others, nearly everyone had vanished.

"There's noone that can talk to you about suicide," she said.

If she dared leave the house, former friends averted their gaze. Kath said she knows there wasn't any malice in it, just that people had no idea what to say or how to act around her.

"But when that happens, you start to question yourself, you struggle with your own identity, with relationships, with why you're even here," she said.

So she isolated herself out of the anxiety of not being understood. Eventually Kath broke. And even her family retreated.

"It showed me that it's not ok to not be ok in my world," she said.

She tried phone hotlines and counselling, but nothing worked for her.

A mandala from Wednesday

After a year passed it seemed to Kath like the world was expecting her to move past her grief. But anyone who's lost someone they love dearly knows that grief doesn't own a watch.

It was nearly three years after Sam died that Kath was walking the beaches near Nambucca and looked up and saw an eagle: "That was Sam's totem".

And then she heard his voice telling her to pick up that stick.

Her first drawings were done on private beaches without anyone walking by to witness them.

"Drawing in the sand wasn't about drawing attention to myself, it was a release of energy. I didn't know how to do it before, but Sam gave me the avenue," she said.

It is pure poetry that Sam gifted her this path to funnel her grief: the sand art is a beautifully apt metaphor for the impermanence of life. 'Leave It For The Tide' and 'Let It Go' are two mantras that Kath centres on while drawing her line in the sand.

Kath never comes with a predetermined concept, she says the design just flows out of her organically.

Drawing in the sand filled back in some of the hollowness that consumed her after Sam's death; she felt like she was able to give something back again.

Image captured by James Lander

She has found an online community of sand artists through her Instagram posts, and locals always approach her, eager to connect.

"I've had mums send me photos of mandalas their kids have drawn after seeing one of my designs," she said.

While she appreciates the effect her art has on the people who witness it, she still draws for her angel. 'I'll be watching if they let me', Sam - the wordsmith - wrote in his final letter.

Over the weekend that just passed, Kath was invited to draw at Woolgoolga by the Fluoro Friday Mob, who hold fast to their pledge that there will always be someone on the beach at Friday sunrise to talk to if you need.

"We really need something like that here in Nambucca," she said.

"I guess what I'm doing now is being brave enough to put it out there that this happened, and you don't get over it in a year."

"Don't tell me angels don't exist!" For her 60th birthday Kath journeyed to Mission Beach. There was noone else around except two backpackers, who just so happened to have a drone.

It's been five years now.

"People think 'oh it must be ok now'. But it's not, the pain's still there," she said.

"I'm not bitter, I'm not obsessing, I'm just processing...in the only way I know how.

"Trauma brought me here - that's what I tell people on the beach. I could have blown all my money at the pokies, picked up a drug habit or drunk myself stupid, instead I went to the beach. Because nature is a nurturer."

Kath said she's ready to talk about suicide now because it's something that people go through...and they're always alone in it.

"We need to talk, and not judge. We need to give people time to grieve. And we need to remember them," she said.

For Sam, the happy guy with the sparkling eyes and crazy laugh: 'Love is eternal, just not enough'.

For Sam, the happy guy with the sparkling eyes and crazy laugh: 'Love is eternal, just not enough'.

If anything in this article triggered you or if you are experiencing personal difficulties, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.