We buried my sister Cathy today.
That statement is both a bit overwhelming and totally surreal. I want to share a few more thoughts about her. These include private stories that I thought about not sharing. Then I thought they might help someone who is dealing with a very dangerous disease like her pancreatic cancer either in his or her own life or with a loved one.
As we heard in all the eulogies today and in all the comments from everyone at the wake and after the funeral mass today, Cathy cared about other people a great deal. I wish I could have tape recorded all the individual conversations I had with people over the past 36 hours and play them for you. Cathy was a case study in how to truly care about people in personal and professional situations.
However, there’s one other aspect of Cathy’s caring that I want to focus on.
Cathy cared a LOT about her relationship with God both in the best of times and in the worst of times.
Within our family we watched Cathy’s career grow. It went something like this. In 1979 she started as an entry-level manager at AT&T. She got promoted, promoted, and promoted. Then she got a really big promotion. Then she got a really, really big promotion. Then she got a really, really, really big promotion. This whole time she cared a great deal about her relationship with God. She never missed going to church on Sunday. Ever. She was rock-solid in her faith in God through all of her successes.
18 months ago we all got a call. Cathy said, “The doctors have found a tumor in my pancreas. I have cancer.”
Over the next 18 months she went through multiple chemo treatments, radiation, surgery, and then a return to chemo in August 2014 and another surgery in 2015 and then more intense chemo and then even more intense chemo. She became thinner and thinner. Through all of this she cared a great deal about her relationship with God. She almost never missed going to church.
Three months ago Cathy called me one night. She was in Dallas. I was sitting in my car in St. Louis outside of a gym. My son, Ben, was practicing basketball, and I was out in the car reading a book.
Cathy said, “Dan, I just want you to know that no matter what happens everything is going to be fine. I believe in God. You believe in God. I believe in the afterlife. You believe in the afterlife. So everything is going to be fine. This stuff happens. People get cancer. Our family is no different than any other family. We’ve been incredibly lucky so far, but bad stuff happens to people. It’s okay. So everybody at work and everybody at home just needs to RELAX! Everything will be fine no matter what happens, okay?” I said, “Okay.”
Last Monday Cathy was in her apartment in Dallas lying on a hospital bed. She was surrounded by family members. Patty Montoya, Cathy’s Executive Assistant, was with us. Patty is basically a family member. We’ve adopted her. I kind of like the name Patty Coughlin. It has a nice ring to it. We were saying the Rosary. Mom, in her strong voice, was leading the way. Mom would say the first half of the Hail Mary and we would respond with the second half. Later she would say the first half of the Our Father and we would respond with the second half.
About halfway through saying the Rosary, I looked over at Cathy. Her jaw was moving slightly. Opening and closing just a little. There were no words coming out. There were no sounds coming out. But her jaw was moving. Then it dawned on me that Cathy was saying the Hail Marys and the Our Fathers with us. Cathy was saying the Rosary with us.
Cathy cared about her relationship with God all the way until the very end. Her faith in God was rock-solid strong until the very last second. It never wavered.
I don’t think Cathy’s greatest title was Chief Global Marketing Officer for AT&T. I think her greatest title was Chief Caring Person for the World.
For me, Cathy was and is a role model of excellence in all areas of life. Of all the nice things she did for me, the nicest thing was showing me The Way of how to live a life of excellence.
Mom and Dad cleared the path for all of us to see what we could be, and Cathy further cleared the path for so many others, including me, to see their own potential and how to live a life of excellence. Now it’s just up to us to go do it.