Sunday, October 6, 2013

Catherine the Great

Catherine Deenihan, 1941-2013.
My mother passed on Saturday, on what my sister Nancy says were her own terms: privately, with her loved ones nearby.  She left to the sound of her grandchildren laughing outside, one of her favorite sounds in this world.

After a hard-fought year of unsuccessful treatments for the leukemia in her bones, and even after ceasing treatment and handing her life over to God, she still found the strength (and perhaps the stubbornness) to do it her way. 

That was my mom.  She was both fiercely independent ("Don't 'should' on me!" was one of her mantras) and made of grace.  And she died the way she lived – with quiet resolve.

Mom (Kitchie to close friends and family, otherwise Catherine – never Cathy) was born in Islip, NY in May of 1941, the youngest of her parents' four children.  Being the youngest child of a widowed mother who worked as a nurse taught her the value of service and hard work, and as an adult she became a social worker.  (Independent even then, she rebutted my father's proposals of marriage until she could finish her degree at Misericordia University.)  She worked in family services for years before spending most of my life working as a substance abuse counselor, first in county clinics and then in the county jail.

She had a special combination of hard and soft that made her able to do her job – my mom was one of the toughest people I have ever known, and I can barely recall her ever fearing much of anything.  But she also possessed a heart filled with compassion and kindness and a faith that could fill a church on its own.

When Mom first got sick, I was beside myself with anger.  It's so unfair, I said to her.  You've barely had time to deal with losing Dad.  Couldn't God give you a break?  I'll never forget her reply: she told me not to be upset, that she was grateful for her many blessings.

"I only ever asked for the strength to take care of your father," she said.  She told me that she had gotten that, and trips to Maine and Ireland after his death, and that she was going to be getting excellent care.

That was my mom too.  No matter how bad things got, she was always grateful for what she had.  And she always had faith that things happened for a reason, and that God would keep her on the right path.  "God provides," she'd always tell me.

Mom taught me so much that I still carry with me, and so much more that I try to emulate with middling success.  She raised my sisters and I to be ladylike but strong, to be compassionate and always consider the feelings of others, to be self-sufficient but charitable.  She taught etiquette and decorum with such effect that to this day I cringe to see what most of my friends consider old-fashioned norms eschewed.  (I'm the ninny who insists on covering my shoulders at a church wedding no matter how liberal the parish, because if I don't my mother will know.) If my mother knew you, she knew your birthday, anniversary, and any other pertinent occasions, and would make every possible effort to properly commemorate them and make sure you felt special. 

And she was fun.  She had a quick and often wicked sense of humor.  She loved to laugh – and no one could make her laugh like her grandchildren, who she prized above any possible treasure this world could offer.
Mom with her four favorite people:
Holly, Patrick, Keira, and Dan.

It's funny the little details you remember of a person.  I remember riding in the car with my mom years ago – I've long since forgotten where we were going, but I remember her singing along to the Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" on the oldies station.  I remember how much fun she had imitating the Bopper's deep voice.  And a ponytail, hanging doowwwnn...

The past year was a trial for her.  But what's struck me more than anything is how calm, how strong, how grateful she remained all along.  She didn't give up and she didn't linger in despair.  Instead she gave thanks and clung to her faith for strength.  She took comfort in her family and friends, and fought every second to live with dignity and grace to her last breath.  And she left on her own terms, at peace with her life and with her death.

Watching her has made me want to follow her example.  I try.  I don't know if anyone can ever truly fill my mother's mold, but the best way I can think of to honor her is to try.  And to always be thankful for the many blessings life has given to me.

1 comment:

  1. What a spectacular tribute to a beautiful human being. I can only hope that my children would feel and write such things about me some day. It's apparent you've inherited her grace in dealing with tough situations, otherwise we wouldn't be reading this right now. My love to you and your family!! - Jamie