For many, the 1st of June signals the start of a new season; winter is welcomed in to our worlds. But for me, this date holds a more sombre significance. This year, it marks 21 years since the world lost a beautiful soul, my much loved Aunty Cathy.
She was so unique; you see, Aunty Cathy was born with a hole in her heart which meant she not assured the chance to be alive to celebrate her first birthday. Even before blowing out that first candle she endured countless operations, but sure enough she turned one, then two rolled around, and all was well. But the joy was to be short-lived. My grandparents were once again warned by Doctors that she would not live to see out her fifth birthday.
It was a harrowing time, during which it was predicted she would not make it through one particular operation. My grandparents, deeply religious though they were, had lost hope that their sixth born would pull through, so much so they’d written her name in their sacred bible, as being deceased! Except someone forget to tell little “Catherine Mary May” that little fact. She sat up in bed, politely asking “Can I have a Milo please?”. That simple sentence epitomised her courage, her humour and reminded everyone sharply that you don’t give up on the living when they are fighting as hard as she was.
The Doctors however, continued to spin their roulette wheel, this time landing on the age of fifteen. Again, the birthday came and went and she was still alive and well.
Not satisfied to let her be, the Medico’s came up with the age of 30 – AND brought with them the most crushing news of all. She could not have children of her own.
Despite this devastating news, and being dealt a dud hand when it came to health, Aunty Cathy was simply joyous; laughing, joking, just generally happy. She married in 1982, my uncle Barry rightly saying he had indeed married a very special lady. All seemed to be going so well, in 1988 they were finally greeted with the most wonderful news that they had been chosen to be adoptive parents to a beautiful baby boy. That is when we first met little Jeremy, with his big brown mischievous eyes, and cheeky smile to match. The resemblance was uncanny. He was meant to be a Cassidy.
It was just after Christmas in 1989 when I recall Aunty Cathy became ill again. Much of our extended family had congregated, as we were want to do in the summer, to go water-skiing. I remember seeing her walking down the wooden steps, with tiny toddler Jeremy in one hand, a bucket and spade in the other. She looked so pale, so fragile, but I didn’t think much of it, as I splashed merrily about in the water with my siblings and cousins. Life was so carefree back then; my biggest issue was wondering what outfit I’d dress my Barbie in for her upcoming date with Ken…
It was the 1st of June, 1990, when my carefree life shattered. My aunty lost her brave battle, aged only 31, while she was at home doing what she loved most, being a Mummy.
I still recall that nightmarish afternoon vividly. We were in the middle of a school assembly, I was seeking out my Dad’s face in the crowd, and thinking it odd that wasn’t there, when he had promised to come, but soon dismissed the thought. Later, I noticed my Principal unexpectedly walk away, returning a matter of minutes, and calling on my brother and I. His face looked so serious; usually he’d crack a little joke whilst talking to you. “You’re Mum is out there” he said quietly. “She’s pretty upset.” The words puzzled me. As soon as I saw her though, I knew something terrible had happened. My stomach dropped to my knees and I automatically began to cry right along with her, as did my little brother, who was only 7 at the time. We kept asking “What has happened? What’s wrong?” and when we finally knew, that we had lost someone so truly treasured, so adored by us all, it was all we could do to stand. We literally clung to each other, the impact of the news was so intense it crippled us.
We collected my sister from her high school, the image of her and Mum gripping each other tightly, tears streaming, as they approached the car, has never left me. That and Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” ironically filtering through the car, as we drove in silence, to be with our family.
I still see the image of my uncle sitting in the front row, his shoulders shuddering, body shaking, as the sobs racked through him. And I will never forget my final farewell at her graveside, held under leaden skies and upon muddy slopes, running my fingers along the coffin and whispering “Goodbye Aunty Cathy, I love you”. And even more so now that I have my own child, aged the same as Jeremy was when he was at home with his Mummy… it still breaks my heart…
21 years on and I am still in awe of my amazing Aunt, her warrior strength, will to live and seemingly bullet proof ability to beat the odds. I guess you become guilty of complacency, that she was always still in danger, always still sick. She was living on borrowed time; thirty years of it.
I’ll never forget her passion, her fire; her great love for her family and her cheeky nature. As an aunt, she was simply the best. My sister and I relished our weekend stays at her home and we knew how lucky we were to have one as wonderful as she. She was a devoted mother to Jeremy, and a fun, if not feisty wife, friend, sibling and daughter to all who had the honour of knowing her.
It just goes to show what they say is certainly true, “only the good die young”
Catherine Mary May McMullen (1958 – 1990)