Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Remembering Kathy

Today we held the services for Kathy and below is what I read during the funeral:

I’ve known Kathy for a short period of time in comparison to the lifelong relationships most of you have had with her. Your experiences and memories may span many decades and include places like DC, Kalamazoo, Chicago and Los Angeles. You have memories of a vivacious, lively, healthy woman who worked, hiked, entertained, traveled all over the world and enjoyed the company of her family and friends.

My relationship with Kathy has spanned the last seven years, but it’s the last seven months with her that have had the most impact and influence on my life. And as difficult as it was to witness the deterioration of someone as strong and lively as Kathy, it was a humbling experience- one that I truly feel grateful for and know will continue to shape my life.

Over the course of the past three months, I watched my own relationship and the relationships around Kathy strengthen in the face of the hand she was dealt. Although it was an unfortunate situation, she was given the gift to prepare for the end and to have meaningful conversations with her sons, her husband, her sister and everyone else close to her. We all had the opportunity to say the things we wanted to- a chance to say I forgive you, will you forgive me, thank you and I love you. Everyone rose to the occasion in their own way- recognizing that our time with Kathy was limited and we had to make the most of every moment together. Visits increased in frequency. Cards piled through the door every single day. An abundance of flowers was delivered and placed all around her room.

I wanted to speak today so I could say thank you to Kathy -- for helping me grow as a person, and for all the life lessons she taught me. As difficult of an experience it was for all of us, I know that I am truly a better person from having sat beside Kathy all these months at doctors appointments, chemo and radiation sessions and up at the house. They were filled with sadness, enlightenment and, true to Kathy’s personality, moments of humor I will not forget.

During one of our most recent visits, Kathy asked me what I thought about her and Stephen when my Steve brought me to the house for the first time. This was almost seven years ago, and I don’t remember much from that first encounter. Like any first visit with the parents, you just hope they like you and that you make it through. So I told Kathy as much. Not knowing any better, I decided to turn the tables and ask the same question. “What did you think of me when you first met me?” She responded with, “We’re being honest, right?” I burst out laughing, wondering what she could possibly have to say about me- especially after all we’d been through together in the past few months. I said, “Yeah, we’re being honest.” Kathy picked up her hand and made a motion as if to say, “So so.” I just shook my head and, of course, not being one to let this go, asked why. She said, “You reminded me too much of myself.” Kathy did follow that up with letting m know she was “happy with how everything turned out.” Satisfied with leaving it at this, and not wanting to be scarred further, I didn’t ask anymore questions.

As most of you know, this was how she approached her life. It’s why I have such funny memories of her. I’ve even written down some of her off-the-wall, sometimes inappropriate and yet always funny comments from the time I’ve spent with her over the years.

Kathy’s ability to speak her mind impacted me most in the last few weeks of her life. We had honest conversations about cancer, dying, what she wanted, what she didn’t want and what was happening to her and around her. We opened up to each other in a way that I’ve never done before. I learned how important it was to not shy away from the difficult conversations about her nearing the end of her life. In fact, these conversations were the most impactful for me and I can take comfort in knowing Kathy felt similarly.

And while these last few months have proven Kathy’s grace in the toughest of circumstances, one of my favorite memories of Kathy will always be from a happy time we shared as a family: my own wedding. Years leading up to the wedding, friends had heard stories of the famous Kathy Fast and she did not disappoint! My brother-in-law decided to reenact the video to “Hungry Life a Wolf.” After he thoroughly annoyed my sister by crawling around on the dance floor, Kathy appeared seemingly out of nowhere. She materialized in the middle of the dance floor, re-enacting the song, and instantly became the hit of the party. She danced with him while everyone else gathered around and literally pointed and laughed in delight and shock. Once the song was over and all of our friends cheered and hollered for Kathy, she disappeared just as stealthily as she had arrived. For about a year afterwards, anytime I saw Kathy she would ask, “Who was that nice young man I danced with at the wedding?”

I know there are so many people who will miss Kathy- whose lives she has touched so deeply. And if these last few months with Kathy have taught me anything, it’s to say what you can to people while you still can, with as much honesty as you can. So if you’ll allow me just a few more moments, I wanted to say a few words to the people closest to her.

To Kathy’s sister Dar. You were there with Kathy at the end when it mattered the most and I know how grateful she was for your visits, your trips down memory lane and your assurance and knowledge that no matter what happened she would be alright. She always lit up when we mentioned your name and was so happy for the time you spent together in recent months.

To Patrick & Steve. I think it’s safe to say that a large reason why your mother fought so hard and for so long was because of the both of you. Although the circumstances were less than ideal, she loved your visits and spending time with you these past few months. And we all know, from the bragging she did in her Christmas letters, how proud she was of the both of you and the families you have created. Luckily, there are so many good stories and wonderful memories that your mother will never ever be far from yours and all of our hearts.

To Stephen. I know when you married Kathy you agreed to in sickness and in health but I just have to tell you how amazing you’ve been throughout this experience. I’m sure the past year is an indication of what you’ve been like for the past 51 years. And I can honestly say that Kathy was so so lucky to have you. You were patient. You were kind. You were caring. You were loving. You were her advocate. Her partner. Her provider. You stood beside her and encouraged her to fight- to take more treatment- and you gave her every reason to want to do that. And when all options ran out, you gracefully let her know you were okay with that too. I can only hope that if any of us ever finds ourselves in a situation like this, that we are lucky to be blessed with someone as devoted as you were to Kathy. She was a tiny woman but her personality was larger than life and I understand just how much you will feel her loss. I hope you know that Pat, Michele, Steve and I are here for you during the difficult days, weeks and months ahead and have every intention of supporting and loving you through this time.

During my own mother’s last visit, you asked her how she dealt with the loss of my father. She explained that she gets through each day without him by believing that the people we love are still with us -- just "hovering above." My mom said she doesn't think that the people we love really ever leave us. I like to think that you, Kathy, haven’t left any of us either- that you’re just hovering above to watch over us. Although life won’t be as funny, colorful or entertaining without you, we all have wonderful memories to help us through.

And lastly to Kathy. As I told you in the last few days of your life, you were so brave. Your strength amazed me. The time we had together was a gift that I’ll never forget. I have learned from watching how you handled your battle with cancer and have become a better person from going on this journey with you. You fought just as you lived- with fire, wit, strength, determination, a little bit of mischief and a lot of heart.


cari June 24, 2009 at 6:19 AM  
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cari June 24, 2009 at 6:20 AM  

Kathy was exactly on point in saying that you reminder her of herself.

Reading your words, I felt as though I was reading a description of you my friend -- someone with "fire, wit, strength, determination, a little bit of mischief and a lot of heart".

I love you even more today than before...

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