It is with deep sadness we share that Tarah passed away peacefully at St. Joes on Tuesday, May 28th, 2019.
Tarah battled cancer in the exact same way she lived her life, with unprecedented levels of stubbornness and tenacity, an enviable level of grace and gratitude and (certainly not least important) eternally impeccable grooming.
If you know Tarah, you’ll know that it likely gave her no small measure of satisfaction to know that her nails, toes, and eyebrows were (as she would have said) on point. Her hospital gown exactly matched the ocean blue of those beautiful eyes that saw everything, whether you wanted them to or not.
Even at the end, such things would have mattered to Tarah, and so they mattered to us as well.
Like everything else she took on during her life, Tarah fought cancer her own way, on her own time, and accepted no arguments. I can only imagine that in the entire history of the universe, cancer has never met a more formidable opponent.
I know I never have.
Never one to accept anyone’s notion of how things should be done, Tarah charted her own path through life. She began even before birth, making her mother wait almost an entire month after her due date. With a typical flair for the dramatic entrance, Tarah chose to arrive just in the nick of time to spare her mother a cesarean.
As anyone who has ever known Tarah can attest, she continued pushing boundaries, challenging limits, and fighting the system with every bit of moxie she could muster (and that was plenty of moxie) from there.
Tarah didn’t just fight her own battles, she was always ready to take on the world, and this world was better for it. From her hybrid car plastered with uber-liberal bumper stickers that left no doubt as to her left-of-center beliefs (the source of her first national news exposure) to her steadfast commitment to being an ethical consumer. Tarah was one of those rare individuals who walked her talk, every single day of her life.
These last few years gave her ample opportunity to show the world just how determined she could be, battling not only cancer (which would have been more than enough for most mere humans) but also the state of Arizona. In characteristic Tarah-style, she effortlessly called in national media and government attention and created safety and security for fellow state employees facing health challenges like her own.
Those who knew her were not surprised. Tarah was an uncommon woman who blazed her own trail, through and through.
Uncommon and determined, yes. But a good, compliant patient she was not. Tarah took great pride in sharing the many stories of her refusal to bend to authority or conventional treatment protocol. I can only imagine the combination of utter frustration and reluctant admiration her providers must have had for her, only because I know it myself.
Tarah did not do things by anyone’s book; she found herself a pen (likely, knowing her, several multicolored pens with a complex system of color coding!), stole herself some paper, and wrote her own — entirely grammatically correct — story.
If she had to fight this particular fight, she was going to do it her way. And that is what she did.
Tarah was never easy — with unprecedented levels of self-awareness, dig-her-heels in the ground dogged persistence, a righteous sense of justice and entirely few fucks given.
No, Tarah was never easy, but for those of us who loved her, she was always worth it.
As her cancer returned and progressed this last year, our independent-to-a-fault Tarah was forced to accept more and more care and assistance. I was struck by the grace, strength, and gratitude with which she welcomed the help she needed. Even in tremendous pain, and facing levels of dependence that could not have been easy for a woman so fiercely self-reliant, Tarah remained quintessentially Tarah. Funny and sarcastic, stubborn yet appreciative, unconventional to a fault and incredibly loyal to the people and animals she loved the most.
Tarah left this world far sooner than she should have, and far sooner than any of us were ready for. In the end, she was peaceful, surrounded by her beloved boyfriend, Harold, her devoted friend and roommate, Jenna, Her mother, Linda and myself, as well as the energy and love of her dearest Kyana, dedicated friends Glenda and Tyler and close family Uncle Ken, as well as so many of the friends and loved ones who had played an intimate role in her support and care over the past few months.
Tarah was not one for organized religion (I’m pretty sure she had a bumper sticker for that!), but it was a holy honor to be present in that room with those that loved her the most as her spirit left her body and continued to the all and the everything and the nothing that lies beyond this existence. To have held her hand and kissed her forehead and whispered my love to her unchanging essence. I am forever grateful for that moment.
Once, near the beginning of our friendship, Tarah took me to see Wicked. And from that day onward, my song for her was “For Good.”
“I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…”
Knowing Tarah changed me forever. She pushed me and challenged me and pissed me off, over and over again. She forced me to look beyond my own small notions into a larger, wide open world. She taught me how to give fewer fucks, just through witnessing her fierce insistence on being wholly herself and nothing but herself. She showed up for her people, even when it cost her to do so. Tarah had higher standards and expected more of herself than anyone I know, and in turn, she expected more of us. She saw what we — her friends, her students, her loved ones, were capable of —and she didn’t settle for less. She asked us to step into that version of ourselves, and we became more in response (mostly because Tarah seldom took no for an answer).
Being granted access to her final months and weeks on this earth is a blessing for which I have no words.
Fly free, Tarah Nicole Ausburn. Wherever it is that you are now, I hope they have damn good pedicures, an unending source of shoes, handbags, and glasses to match every outfit, all the scrabble tiles you could ever ask for, and worthy enough opponents to keep you from getting bored.
Wherever you are — keep on raising hell, pushing boundaries, asking hard questions, and not letting people get away with complacency.
I’d send a warning ahead of you, but I’d hazard a guess that you’ve already made some changes and stirred things up a notch. That’s okay, this universe needs a little bit of an ass-kicking, and I can’t imagine anyone better suited to give it.
In celebration and honor of Tarah and the incredible life she has lived, please share your favorite photos, memories, and stories in the comments below.