Wednesday, April 04, 2012
My cousin, Dorothy, died yesterday. She was 84. Cause of death? God's grace.
I mean that. She didn't have a great life to live these past several months, so I consider her passing a blessing. She was entirely bedridden, due to her advanced osteoporosis, and her vision had been compromised via macular degeneration. Thus, she never left her bed at the nursing facility (except for perhaps once a week when the staff gently put her in a wheelchair to go down the hall and take her weight, which hovered between 75 and 80 pounds) and she could not entertain herself with such pursuits as reading (which she dearly loved to do.) She spent her days and nights in bed with little to entertain her aside from her roommate's television set (and she had no choice concerning that, as her roommate kept it on both day and night, something which would have driven me around the bend, but to which Dorothy seemed benignly resigned.)
Her other maladies included cancer of the breast (she had previously had a partial mastectomy, thus the use of the singular), lung cancer, a touch of arthritis here and there, and, as near as her physicians could figure, she had lived through 5 or 6 heart attacks during her life (that diagnosis made via electrocardiogram.)
She was not going to get better. Neither were her living conditions. She was not one to complain, or to cry about her circumstances, nor to regret whatever had brought her there, but it was a trial for her. She was in pain during one of my final visits with her, and she expressed it to me. She was in pain before, too, but she never said anything to me when I visited. For her to say something means the pain had to be excruciating.
The staff decided that Dorothy should be administered morphine. She was on it continually for her final ten days. As a result of the medication, she barely opened her eyes a week ago when I made my usual Tuesday visit. Instead of the nice hour or hour-and-a-half chat we generally shared, I was only there for about five minutes. When I realized she was comatose, and wasn't going to be able to speak, I held her hand for a bit, told her I loved her, and kissed her on the forehead before leaving. And I knew, as I left, that I wouldn't be returning. It had been the last visit, and now it was just a matter of when she would be leaving us. And that time came yesterday.
She was a special person. I don't know anyone else on the Sullivan side of my family who would have endured so much pain with so little complaint. That's not a dig against any of my other relatives, past or present, but just a compliment for Dorothy. She was a rock in that regard.
She was intelligent, and she was smart. Those might seem to be the same thing to some of you, but they aren't. What I mean is that she had book learning (a masters degree in education, which she put to good use as a teacher for many years), but she also had common sense and some fair degree of what would be termed "street smarts".
(She was a lady - the feminine of 'gentleman' - through and through, so she rarely, if ever, needed to be 'street smart', but she mostly knew what was what. She wasn't a bumpkin.)
She was devout, a daily communicant in the Catholic church until her physical maladies didn't allow her to continue going to mass. As such, she was fearless concerning her demise. I suppose a statement such as that needs to be qualified by adding the obvious: I'm no mindreader, and I don't know what she feared deep within her soul and in the dark of night, but she never gave any outward indication of being afraid. Her faith was strong, and that was a very good thing for her to have when dealt the hand she was.
She was a funny woman, told a good story, and had a sense of humor concerning herself. As with many from her side of my family, she would often tell a tale using herself as the butt of the joke. She wasn't afraid to look like a fool if she knew that the person she was speaking with would get a laugh. It's a true blessing when someone like that is part of your life.
She was many things, most all of them good, but I think she would probably like to be remembered for one thing above the others. She was The Mad Cat Lady of Franklin.
She used that term when describing herself, by the way. She knew she looked like a loon to some folks, going out in the woods twice every day to take care of a bunch of feral cats. She was their living saint, though, and she cared for these mostly unloved animals, with money she could barely afford to take from her own pockets, for years and years. Some in her town of Franklin regarded her with much love for her good deeds, most others were bemused, and a small minority would have rather she hadn't done anything.
Those cats were her lifeline. She kept them alive and they kept her alive. And they loved her and trusted her. They were not domesticated. They would not come near any other human, and anyone else trying to touch one of them would no doubt have gotten claws and teeth as a thank you for the effort. They loved Dorothy, though. They'd come right up to her, rub up against her, let her do whatever she wanted - pick one up, pet it, whatever.
Dorothy made use of this loving familiarity from the cats to help the cats. They trusted her, so she was able to take those needing medical attention to where they could get it. And, lest you think she was a misguided person without the true best interests of the cats at heart, she took every one of the cats that she could easily capture to be spayed or neutered, then returned them to the pack after the operations. Dorothy also took kittens to a local shelter for adoption. Thus, the pack was shrinking while Dorothy took care of them. It grew smaller with each passing year, and thus less troublesome to those few folks who would have liked Dorothy to stop her humane actions. They didn't understand that, without Dorothy, the pack would have grown and been full of diseased animals possibly spreading rabies and other things to more animals. Dorothy not only kept them fed, she kept them as healthy as it was possible to do.
(She did this with the help of a kindly veterinarian's office, as well as the aforementioned shelter in her locale. They knew of her efforts, approved them, helped her to accomplish the good things at little or no additional cost, and also placed as many of the kittens as possible into loving homes.)
She gained some small measure of fame. She was interviewed for TV and had a couple of stories appear in newspapers. As a result of the publicity, some folks sent her a few bucks to help. That was nice. Of course, with the good comes the bad. She also became blog fodder for her dopey cousin Suldog. And that's where you come in.
I owe you a debt that can't really be repaid. So many of you went out of your way to make Dorothy's life much nicer, these last few months, than it ever could have been without your love. The cards, letters, gifts, drawings, books, stuffed animals, and other nice things you went out of your way to send her, were greatly appreciated by her. Although her eyesight prevented her from thanking each of you personally via mail, she always made sure to ask me to thank you for your generosities. Those cards and such which I didn't read to her, the nursing staff did, getting almost as much of a kick out of them as Dorothy did. They marveled at this frail little woman, best known for feeding cats, getting mail from all over the world.
Having said thank you to you, I don't know that there's anything else to add concerning Dorothy. Her mass will be said, but those arrangements have not been finalized. Given that this is Holy Week in the Catholic church, it may be delayed until next week.
I'd certainly be remiss if I didn't mention my Uncle Jim here. He'll tell me that I shouldn't have mentioned him, and that whatever he did is just what a family member should have done, but that's not true. If he hadn't done it, it never would have been done. He, and his partner John, were the other family members involved in Dorothy's life over the past few years, and their efforts on her behalf were much more of a bother than what I did, which was just visiting Dorothy and enjoying her company. For instance, they will be absorbing all of the funeral costs, settling what little there is to settle, and taking care of all the legal stuff. For that, they should be heartily blessed. They have my blessing, anyway, for whatever that's worth.
If you didn't know Dorothy from previous writings here, and you wish to read more about her, here are the links to the stories I did, in chronological order:
Dorothy & The Cats - An Update
Another Visit With Dorothy
A Favor For Dorothy
Dorothy Says "Thank You!"
Dorothy Leaves Latin School
A Short Story From Dorothy
Dorothy & The Ingrown Toenail
Dorothy & The Handwriting On The Wall
She Killed Me Everywhere!
Oh, and the title of this? Dolly Ann was her favorite nickname. It's explained in "A Short Story From Dorothy".
Again, thank you. And God bless you.