Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cathy Connery (1966-2010)

I met Cathy Connery when I was 25, and I can tell you I am now a long way from 25. We worked together at a law firm in Philadelphia, and the day we met she was wearing this really sharp suit. It was all wrong for a law firm in the 90s, but it told me that we were going to get along just fine. When she saw me wear a NARAL t-shirt on dress-down Friday, also the wrong thing for a law firm in the 90s, she realized the same thing. The department in which we worked had an "in crowd" and Cathy and I were pleased to be together on the outside. We were the only people that Irish-Catholic law firm could get to work on Good Friday, so Cathy promptly renamed our portion of the hallway "Atheist Alley."

We got through the day by indulging a mutual appreciation for humor that was both intelligent and silly. We shared a passion for rewriting pop songs to describe our lives, and my personal favorite was when Cathy's car was stolen and she reworked the Go-Go's hit "Head Over Heels" into "I Have No Wheels." She retained that sense of humor even when misfortune struck. A diagnosis with lupus didn't blunt her funny view of the world, and she quickly reworked Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" into "I Have Lupus" for the newsletter for the Lupus Foundation of America.

Cathy was someone who was not intimidated by the world. When buying her home, she declared herself ready to walk away from the deal two weeks before settlement over a small charge that was nevertheless the seller's responsibility to pay. "She who holds the gold makes the rules," she told me at the time, and sure enough, the seller came around. Once she owned that house, she decided she wanted to put up drywall and case new windows, but did she call a contractor? Nope. She learned how to put up drywall and case windows. Just like that. She was never afraid to ask the question, to speak her mind and to learn something new.

This fearlessness also served her well when she was diagnosed with lymphoma, she quickly became a mini-expert on cancer, consistently amazing me with the amount of medical knowledge she could acquire, process and recall. She was as on top of her medical condition as her doctor, and she didn't even have an "MD" after her name.

Cathy was well acquainted with misfortune, however, and in the end it was just too much for her. Cathy took her own life in a motel room at the New Jersey shore. Knowing Cathy as I did, I was not surprised to hear she'd gone off alone to do it. She was an intensely private person, and she would never have wanted the neighbors to know what she'd done. It's taken me a year to admit that publicly. I don't know why suicide is a dirty little secret, but this is one secret I have held long enough. I'm not and never was angry at her, but the long hug she gave me at the end of last year's Halloween party takes on a new and terrible meaning: she knew she was never going to see me again.

I knew Cathy for sixteen years, long after both of us left that law firm, and in that time we each went through ups and downs, wins and losses. No matter how she chose to leave this life, her ability to laugh at her downs and face her losses helped me do the same with mine. Twenty-five years old was a long time ago, but the road from there to here was infinitely more wonderful because I knew Cathy walked it too. Now her journey is over, and even though I take with me the memories of her intelligence, her courage, and her ability to find joy in the unlikeliest places, my road will be that much lonelier.