Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Goodbye, Dolly Ann

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.


Stephen Hayes said...

Dorothy sounds like a remarkable woman, and isn't it nice to know she lives forever so long as she's remembered? So sorry for your loss.

Mushy said...

What a loving tribute Sul...she would be smiling, and maybe is somewhere, and slightly blushing, upon reading what you have honored her in saying.

Sorry for your loss, but I understand it's better to go on sometime than to linger in pain.

Thanks for giving me something to ponder today.

Maggie May said...

You really did her proud, Suldog, with that lovely obituary which also really paid tribute to a lovely lady.
I like what she did with the cats. She sounded as though she had a heart of gold and it seemed a very sensible way of dealing with the problem.
Thanks for letting us know that she is in a better place, now.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Michelle H. said...

So sorry to hear about Dorothy's passing. You've allowed us to read about her triumphs, her kindness, and her savvyness. For that, I'm grateful to have briefly known her through you, and that you would share such stories with us. Many prayers to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry about your aunt but hope you take comfort knowing she's in heaven with all those that went before her.

I've very much enjoyed reading your columns about Dorothy (all the Dorchester ones too)

Ami said...

I so enjoyed your stories of her before, and I'm saddened at the condition in which she had to spend the end of her life, but she's going to be on of the ones arriving at the Pearly Gates saying "Wow, what a ride!"

She was remarkable. Thank you very much for sharing her with me. I feel like it was a privilege to know about her.

((Hugs)) to you and your family.

Hilary said...

Jim, I'm so very sorry for your loss. Dorothy was a true gem of a woman and your love for her shows in everything you've written about her. Thank you so much for allowing us to know her this way.

Big hugs to you and yours.

haphazardlife said...

She was a wonderful woman from everything I've read about her. I'm sorry for your loss. Rest in peace Dorothy.

Uncle Skip, said...

I get what you said about "smart and intelligent," and she was. Her subversive acts toward feral cats shows as much

I'm glad the staff did what they could to alleviate her pain

You're right. It is God's Grace that gave her the final respite she deserves

I'm sorry for your loss

I won't be sending any cards now, just prayers

Tabor said...

I do remember you prior posts about her. YOu have made her come to life for those of us who did not know here. I am glad she is finally at peace.

Craig said...

Thanks for introducing us all to Dorothy. This is a wonderful tribute

Requiescat In Pace

Barbara Shallue said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. I know you knew it was just a matter of time, but that doesn't make it easier. I'm so grateful that you shared her with us through your stories. Sending hugs and saying prayers!

Quirkyloon said...

My sincere condolences to you and your family.

What a lovely tribute. I hope when I go someone can say even a quarter of what you said here!

I would be honored. And I know she is too.


messymimi said...

Please accept my sincere condolences for the loss of Dorothy. She was a kindred spirit to this crazy cat lady.

Christina LMT said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Jim. Thank you so much for sharing Dorothy with us.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Jim, your love for Dorothy still shines. I am sorry that I never knew this wonderful and great lady who helped cats and people.

This is the stuff that dreams are made of. I hope she is having wonderful dreams in the after-life.

I am heartily sorry that I carried her address in my handbag and never got around to sending her a card or picture. I am proud of what you did for Dame Dorothy. Such a lady!

Thinking of you and yours,

Fhi xxx

lime said...

i am truly sorry for the loss of one so dear, though i understand it is good she is no longer suffering. may she rest in full peace. may your heart and those of your uncle and his partner be comforted. i am so glad you shared dolly ann with us. it was a joy to read the posts about her. clearly she made the world a better place.

silly rabbit said...

I felt the same as you when my mother passed. It felt like a blessing to me when I lost her. I would not have had her suffer a moment more because I did love her.
I have so enjoyed your Dorothy stories. She sounds like an amazing person. Good for your Uncle Jim and John for being so caring to her. Good for you too for your visits and the mail you created. What a nice family.I'll say prayers for you all.

SarcasticTestGuy said...

Sorry for your loss, Sully, but I can empathize with you on the blessing of a loss: my dad's passing was a blessing too.

Be well. Or, 'more better'. :)

Absolut Ruiness said...

My prayers are with you, your family and Aunt Dolly. May God give her the peace and love she always deserved and may there be lots and lots of cats in heaven that need care. I know, a person like Dolly Ann just cant sit idle. Even in Heaven.

Ericka said...

i'm glad her pain is over. i hope yours is not too awful. condolences for your loss, and celebrations for her life lived.

Jewels said...

What Ericka said... she says it the best way possible I think, if there is such a thing. This was a moving post Suldog, I'm going back to read the other Dorothy posts.

Bruce Coltin said...

You were lucky to have her and she was lucky to have you.

SueAnn said...

I am so sorry hun!!! She sounded always like a special and caring woman!! Dorothy is in good hands now and probably dancing!!!
Hugging you

Clare Dunn said...

Oh, Sul...please accept our condolences, and know that jd and I agree with you that 'God's Grace' as a cause of death is a blessing.

Dorothy can see us now, is is probably laughing at what a collection of blog friends you have! Thank you so much for introducing her to us.

xoxoxo, cd

Bill Yates said...

Jim, I so enjoyed getting to know Dorothy through your stories. She surely was a wonderful person. You and all the rest of her loved ones will be in my thoughts and prayers.

Julie said...

Sorry for your loss ... my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

She sounds like a lovely lady.

LadyFi said...

A beautiful tribute.

Karen said...

Rest in peace, Dorothy... where there is no more pain. xoxo

Daryl Edelstein said...

may she rest in peace and may all the good memories of her bring you comfort xoxo

notactuallygod said...

I admire the intelligent and deliberate way she handled the feral cat situation. It really is the perfect balance between kindness and practicality. I hope others use it as a model.

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

Oh Jim, I'm so very sorry to read of Dorothy's passing. I know she was such a special part of your life and though it is a blessing that she is at peace now I'm sure the news couldn't have come easy regardless. She was a special person and I really felt as if I got to know her from your stories over the years. I truly send thoughts and prayers, not to mention a whole lot of hugs, out to you and your family. ♥

The Broad said...

I'm so grateful to you for sharing so much of her story with all of us -- for allowing her to make us smile and perhaps even to heed her advice. I do believe she is at peace now and she will always be in your heart -- and in your head. And how you must have eased her final days with your visits and your time and your obvious love. God bless you, Sully...

Buck said...

I'm so sorry, Jim. I feel like I knew this remarkable woman through your writing.

RIP, Dorothy.

Joan said...

She will always be remembered as the Mad Cat Lady in my mind. She was a wonderful lady.
My thoughts are with you and your family. Such great stories you will be able to share with each other.

i beati said...

Greatness is in the hearts of special people like her..I remember a few notes and cards to her. I hope they sunlighted her days somehow. I love that you appreciate people as they age. I sometimes feel I have been kicked aside like an old shoe.

Babs said...

I'm sad for your loss. I know this sounds like a standard cliché during this time, but I am. I'm sad because the conversation has ended. Thank goodness for the eternal memories though.
You seem to have had quite a few. She was one of those people from the sound of it who lived a life in benefit to others as well as herself. Giving.
Just think of where she's "waking up" and with no pain, (I understand how you feel about that part of it...pain and suffering.... because of my own parents) ...

Jackie said...

The world is a better place because Ms. Dorothy was here. She left a beautiful mark on it. Thank you for sharing her with us, Jim. My heartfelt condolences to you and your family.

Jeni said...

I've followed all your stories about your cousin, Dorothy, and all with a great deal of interest as well as humor from time to time. I'd like to say I knew her but alas, I only knew of her from your posts but she was one remarkable woman to learn about, that much is for certain. I'm sure she is resting at peace now in a far better place -perhaps one where she is surrounded by the things she loved in life -cats and maybe some darned good books too! Thanks to your efforts Jim, you made us -your readers -aware of a wonderful woman and the works she performed in particular, for those cats. A blessing to the cats and a blessing to her family as well as to those of us lucky enough to meet her via your blog. My condolences to you and your wife and to your other cousin and his partner for their caring efforts on her behalf.

Pearl said...

She sounds like she was a wonderful woman, Suldog. My condolences, and my appreciation for you sharing your memories.


Shrinky said...

She is a fine example of a life well lived, Jim, and much as I am sorry for your loss, I can also understand it was now her time to go. She leaves behind a wonderful legacy of not only good memories of the times you and she shared together, but also a much better life for those cats she cared for and loved.

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

I'm gonna miss looking for appropriate cards to send to a truly unique individual.

Chris@Knucklehead! said...

Sorry to hear this, Jim, but she's moved on to a grander place.

Brighton Pensioner said...

Jim, I have only just today caught up with your sad news, although for Dorothy perhpas it was not so sad. Anyway, my sincere condolences.