My name is Kathy-Cassy. Hers was Cassy-Kathy.

9 Nov

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Every week, a reminder pops up on my phone and computer: Call Kathy. I set it a little over two years ago when I realized weeks were easily morphing into months while life took over and every time I’d actually get her to answer her phone, things had always progressed.

Kathy was my aunt. My dad’s sister. And the last living relative my brother and I had on that side of our family, give or take. The fact that our family is so microscopic is a huge factor in why we are so abnormally close. I spent so much time at my grandparents’ house growing up that Kathy was almost more like an older sister at times. She and I flew to Europe together to meet my grandparents, my first plane trip was to visit her in Baltimore when I was 7, and she’d spend countless hours accusing me of cheating in Go Fish.

She was diagnosed with epilepsy after a brain bleed in college and, though married for a brief time, never had children. She wholeheartedly preferred animals to people and, when I’d tell her stories about my girls, she’d laugh and say, “I guess God knew what He was doing not giving me kids.”

I adored her. Her eccentricity. Her laugh. Her sarcasm. Her wit. (Her failure to ever, ever clean her house…not so much. <Insert gagging sound here.>)

I first realized something wasn’t right on Thanksgiving a few years back. She was driving to Chapin, SC from Florence to have dinner with my brother and his family. I was glad she was going. I always worried about how little she was getting out. She could be so anti-social — especially since Mima died. Then, my phone rang. “Cassy. Where is Cory’s house?” My heart dropped into my stomach. “Uh. In Chapin? Where are you?” “Well, I’m near a church.” Shit. There were only like 50 GD churches within a mile radius of my brother’s house near Lake Murray. “Okay. Which one?” And this whole time I’m thinking to myself…why in the hell is she calling ME? All the way in Colorado. Instead of my brother, whose house she was apparently circling. I can’t remember if he went to get her or exactly how it played out from there, but I knew. Either her epilepsy meds were off or it was something worse.

So, that Christmas, I bought her an iPhone. Thinking the Googles would solve all of her woes. Just put in the address she wanted, and VOILA, instantly read aloud directions and all would be right in the world. Instead: “Cassy. I LOVE the phone. But that lady just starts talking and I don’t know how to make her stop, so I just threw it in the basket.” Siri? Yea? Uh. Great.

Then the calls started coming. She’d gotten lost on the way to the movies, to Starbucks, to [fill in the blank]. Her friends were worried. She was getting the days mixed up. Missing appointments. She told me she kept sticky notes. Was creating index cards with directions to the store and Starbucks and the animal shelter… on the good days when she knew right where she was. I got this note via email from her on June 11, 2016: “Just ran out to Magnolia on an errand—made it out and back!! Y’all have a great weekend!” The little things… like making it to the mall and back.

My mom said, “She really shouldn’t be driving.” And my heart skipped a beat again. I knew it was true. She’d swiped a car on the interstate and run into a fence. But. I was panicked thinking of how to put this all into motion from afar. How in the hell would she get groceries for god’s sake? How does this all work? And she would bite my head clean off any time I tried to bring it up.

Luckily, the friends knew what to do and I will be eternally grateful. Because what I’d get was, “Well now that I don’t have the walker any more…” And I’d say, “What are you talking about?” Then it would all come tumbling out that she’d had an ‘episode’ at church which I later learned was a freaking stroke. So the bits and pieces that would actually reach my ears were so deeply disturbing that if I hadn’t had those friends to fill me in, I would’ve been completely and utterly left in the dark.

Bobbie, Maggie and Nadene called regularly to check in — all with the strict promise that Kathy couldn’t know we’d talked. She was a feisty one. And it turns out that she’d made them promise NOT to call me when the stroke happened because she was afraid I’d come back there. And there is some jacked up thing in my family that started when I moved west about not letting me come back there. Like if I show up they all just know they must be dying. It’s total bullshit.

Back in the spring, I was getting out of the car at the grocery store and my phone rang. Kathy. By this point, it had become so rare for her to call ME, that I instantly answered. “Cassy. I need to tell you something. I went to the doctor today and I only want to say this word once and I don’t want you to ever say it again. He said I have dementia. Don’t tell anyone that word though.” I had to catch my breath. Breathe. Breathe. She knows. She’s talking about it. She was so lucid in so many ways. Ways I hadn’t heard in so long. “What is it about the word? Do you think it makes it sound like you’re demented?” “Yes,” she said. “It makes me sound like I am running around my house with no clothes on.” “Well ARE YOU?!?” My favorite moment of that whole conversation was right then. When we both burst into laughter. You see, we had a pact. If either of us was ever walking around in circles in the yard, mumbling to ourselves, drooling…we’d promised to shoot. It was a joke of course, but she knew this was where my mind was going.

That conversation lasted for the entire grocery shopping trip and all the way back to my driveway, where I parked and sat while she told me how scared she was. Asked me what was going to happen to her. About whether she should move to get more help. How she couldn’t bear to leave her animals – her dog, Ben, who also had dementia. Laughed at the irony of that too.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the saddest conversations I’ve ever had.

It wasn’t long after that when she stopped answering the phone entirely and our conversations came to an abrupt halt.

Once Bobbie got everything arranged with a helper, sold the car, and took over power of attorney, I could finally breathe again. She called me with all big decisions and to give me updates. And it seemed to be humming along minus a few hiccups with a crooked ‘tree’ guy (to which ‘payments’ totaling $8K to this ass wipe prompted the bank to send in Adult Protective Services). It takes a village.

In June, we’d just gotten home from Montana. The hubby had flown directly from Kalispell to Greenville, SC for work. Bobbie had called me while I was at the Kalispell airport to go over some of Kathy’s finances. So when she called again the next night at 10pm mountain time, the air went out of my body yet again. “It’s Kathy. She’s in the hospital and it isn’t good. You need to come.”

Bobbie and the helper had found Kathy slumped over on her couch in a pool of urine. She couldn’t stand, was barely coherent. The ambulance came and the paramedic couldn’t find words for what he was seeing. “How long has she been like this?” And it was hard to hear. Hard to answer. Because only those of us who know and love her could explain that this was exactly what she wanted. To be with her animals until the absolute last possible second. Even if she’d gotten down to a skeletal shell of her former self. The only way you’d get her out of that house, in fact, was on a stretcher. And there you have it.

I quickly arranged to fly back to SC and Teen Queen decided she wanted to come too. I tried talking to Kathy on the phone and I wasn’t sure if she knew who I was. We had no idea what to expect upon our arrival. But I had a gut feeling that it wouldn’t be good.

Turns out, I was right. The shock of her appearance was short-lived though. As soon as she saw us, she smiled. But then said, “I told them to tell you not to come.” I smiled and said, “And you can see how well I listened.” She laughed a little at that.

The news was dire. Her mental state had apparently been masking the symptoms of advanced, metastatic bone cancer. She was in the last few months of her life.

The whirlwind of that week. Her disoriented and combative state. Her inability to move much. Her desperation to leave when you did. Begging, pleading, “Take me too. I’m ready to go.” It was horrific to witness. I think I cried every time I walked out of her room.

We met with Hospice and got the arrangements made for her to be under their care at the nursing home. Transport was arranged and she was finally discharged from the hospital. I went to her house and to the Dollar General and bought anything I could think of that seemed like it would make her more comfortable and ‘at home.’ In that awful nursing home. (My grandmother died there when I was 15, so it isn’t a happy place for me. Plus, all of those poor souls in their body shells, moaning. <Shudder.>)

The day of her transport, she was pissed. Spitting nails. Angry at anyone and everyone. She even told this one orderly to “step back. Further. Into the hall. Behind that line!” She wasn’t playing. Even though he was only trying to help her back into bed.

Leaving her there that first day as she repeatedly tried to go too. Heart breaking. But then she asked me to turn the TV to “that channel I like” and I realized she meant Fox News. That may have been when I truly knew she’d lost it for sure. (Calm down, red staters. It’s a joke.)

We spent that week going through her house (it was bad, like, toxic bad in there) and just getting everything settled. And it was so hard to leave. I knew I had to come back as soon as possible. I just didn’t feel settled about her. Didn’t feel like she was getting the pain meds she needed and she was just so disoriented still.

There were days during that week that we’d walk in and she would act like it was the most natural thing in the world. For Lucia, my mom, me to be sitting there in camp chairs in her nursing home room watching Fox News while she pretended to eat a grilled cheese.

The fates conspired and we ended up back in South Carolina in July for two and a half weeks. Mostly driven by the hubby’s work. But it gave us another week or so to spend with Kathy and check in on her care.  She kept asking me when I was due and I kept telling her, “I’m not pregnant, I just eat more than you do.” (She was eating NOTHING by this point, mind you.) The weird part is she kept asking if I was expecting my first. While my first child sat right there beside me and she was looking straight at her and calling her by name. That disease is so fucked up.

The last day we saw her will be forever etched into my soul. For many reasons. But. It was one of her agitated days. And we were startled to find her sitting up in her wheelchair looking out of the window. I could tell she was wild-eyed at first glance and she started in the minute she saw me. “Cassy. I’m glad you’re here because I know you’ll be honest with me. I’m not leaving here am I?” My little family just behind me took this huge, collective OH SHIT type of sigh and sat down. I lowered myself onto the foot of the bed, as close to her as I could get, looked into her eyes, shook my head and answered simply, “No.” She took a breath and asked, “Why is this happening to me?” “I have no idea. I wish I did.” “So what is it?” “It’s cancer. It’s in your bones and the dementia was masking your symptoms.” “I have DEMENTIA TOO?!?” And she started to cry. And my head, heart and soul exploded as I sat there watching her tears fall.

One month and seven days later, she was gone.

NOTE: I’m adding the speech I gave at her funeral here. In case you aren’t sick and damned tired of me just yet. And here’s her obituary for a bit more insight into all this 73-years-young woman was about. (Try to ignore the typos and spacing issues. They don’t call it the Florence Morning Misprint for nothing.) AND, the photo video my brother created.

Thanks for reading. I needed to get this out.

TODAY’S THEME SONG: And although my eyes were open. They might have just as well’ve been closed. Procol Harum. In memory of Kathy and her all-time favorite movie and soundtrack…The Big Chill.

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3 Responses to “My name is Kathy-Cassy. Hers was Cassy-Kathy.”

  1. Beckie H November 11, 2017 at 6:26 am #

    Cassy. Thank you for sharing… ❤️

    Like

    • soboclassifieds December 12, 2017 at 7:07 pm #

      Thank YOU for reading, Beckie!

      Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go: Putting 2017 in the Rearview | - December 12, 2017

    […] bone cancer. She’d be gone in two months. I’ve written quite a bit about her and you can too here and here. It was an incredibly rough […]

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