Not as she died, but as she lived

Cathy with catI shouldn’t have done it, but I did.

An envelope came in the mail today that I asked for. It contains the autopsy on my baby sister Cathy. I asked Sally to send it to me so I could share in the pain and agony that she and Susan already knew: how Cathy died. Sally put a post-it note on the front that said, “Please, don’t read this alone.”

Obstinance. Stubbornness. They run in my family. Crap on that.

I read page two and had to stop.

I don’t want to know anymore until I have to. I don’t want to know this and I’m sorry that Sally and Susan have. One day I will be there in that club with them, but not today.

Today, I want to remember how Cathy lived.

She was the youngest of seven, the last born to George and Jeanne Prescott on December 7, 1964. It was Pearl Harbor Day, but she was a gift to them, not a reason for infamy.

She was always shy, like me. On one of our memorable trips to Ponca State Park for our vacation, she was just a little thing, maybe five. She was afraid to get on a horse, even with Daddy. And I can remember her standing along the trail as the line of horses with all of us except her on one walked by. Jack the wrangler would have none of it. He stopped and scooped her up and put her on the saddle in front of him. I’ll never forget the moment.

Her life was one of torment under our evil stepmother, and it just caused her such emotional damage. Years later she ran away from home. To Ponca. To Jack. He called Daddy to let him know and Daddy drove up there to get her. Ponca was a safe place for her.

She had a lung removed in her twenties. So many bronchial infections over the years had just destroyed it. It wasn’t from smoking or asthma or cancer. Just childhood disease that had taken its toll.

Her many illnesses and hospitalizations gave her a front row view to life as a patient and she didn’t always like what she saw. She worked for a number of years as an aide in hospitals and nursing homes and saw the way an older generation without money or insurance was treated. Doctors didn’t listen to them. Nurses ignored them. Cathy, having been one who suffered that kind of emotional abuse – not being loved by one who should have – took umbrage. She found a calling. She went to nursing school and became a healer herself.

She would never back down when she felt a patient’s voice was not heard. She didn’t make many friends among the ranks of hospital administrators or doctors. But, her patients loved her and she loved them. She was part of their community.

She became part of a traveling nurses’ association and went from Colorado to Hawaii to Wisconsin to Iowa. I thought it was perfect for her: 50 states meant 25 years of employment on six-month contracts. As she ticked off people in one state, she could move to the next, caring for people and being their voice.

She was incapacitated by two strokes that came before her 40th birthday, possibly due to surgical sponges that were left in her body from a previous surgery. The irony is palpable.

So she was disabled and couldn’t work. Aphasia took her ability to communicate clearly but, my oh my, she could still swear when she was mad!

She loved her nephews with a tiger mom’s passion. Let them eat more chips!

She loved her dog, Rebel, and it was a sad day when one day she had to put her down.

She drove to California by herself in her early twenties. In her time with Marriott in Palm Desert, she met celebrities like Sonny Bono who checked into the hotel. She was not impressed.

She loved our dad until the day he died, and he loved her. I am glad he went before her, because this is hard to lose her in this way.

She was Sally’s protector in life, and Sally is her champion in death.

And Sally is my protector now. And I won’t read anymore in that envelope.

I remember Cathy as she lived. And, oh my, how she lived.

5 thoughts on “Not as she died, but as she lived

  1. I’m so so sorry I sent it. I cannot bear it myself. But you are right to focus on how Cathy lived. I’ve been trying for days to remember the song that she and I sang at the top of our lungs, driving down that beach in Australia trying to reach the ferry. Everyone was annoyed with us, except for Jared. 🙂 I miss her.

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  2. Karen Cassidy says:

    Julie,

    It is interesting how thoughts seem to synchronize. I hadn’t thought about Cathy in some time, but she popped into my head on Wednesday and I decided to search and see if I could find her. It broke my heart to find out what happened, and that she had lived here in Colorado, not far from me, and I never knew. Cathy was my best friend in high school, and she changed the course of my life in many ways. Four the last four days I have been trying to compose a letter that I hoped would find its way to her sisters. I wanted to talk about how Cathy had touched my life, and give you some good memories of her. I searched her again today to begin my search to find her family, and found that you had also posted about her Wednesday. I would love to send you my letter and some pictures I have of her, and wondered if you would be willing to email me privately so that I could do so. Maybe you can share it with your family as well.

    I will keep Cathy and her family in my prayers, and you have my sincerest condolences for your loss.

    Karen Cassidy (Karen Lee before I married)

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