The Other I

August 20, 2007

My sister who became Catherine

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:30 pm

I was nine years old when Cathy was born.  I thought she was the most wonderful, beautiful, delightful child in the world.  She had blonde hair and large blue eyes, and a smile that could beguile a snowman.  She played the piano with innovative genius and in a family where outstanding musical ability was average, her musical ability was outstanding.  She also had a wry sense of humour and capacity to mimic that delighted us all, and captivated my father. 

As a six-year-old she was chosen to present the flowers to the Bishop during the confirmation ceremony.  As she came down the aisle, the bishop nudged the priest next to him and said “look at this.”  I remember this tickled Mom, and she often smiled at Cathy’s blue-eyed strategies but didn’t lose sight of the serious child within.  When Mom knew she was dying, she told me Dad loved her especially, but feared he wasn’t going to know how to give her the firm support she needed.  He didn’t.

Cathy described herself as “complicated.”  To me, she seemed to look at the world from just a slightly different point of view – a perspective I found fascinating, often wonderful, and sometimes baffling.  I don’t know anybody else who could make a successful fashion statement wearing a purple shoe on one foot and a green one on the other.  And I suspect it is part of her genius that I still don’t know whether she really had to count to find out how many 8ths there are in an inch.

Cathy was nine when Mom died and of all the children, I think her dying and the new regime established by Dad’s new wife was hardest of all for her.  I had entered the convent just eight months earlier, which meant that she had lost both her mother and her oldest sister who had in many ways been a second mother.  Bit by bit as her joy drained out of her, she replaced purple and green shoes with dark outfits, and serious anguish became her constant companion.  When she was in her early thirties, weeks after she and her husband had moved across the country to Arizona, Brian sat down beside the pool one morning and died. 

Eventually she asked us to call her Catherine, “the name my mother and father gave me.”  I think she was trying to cast off an old image, to step into a new maturity, but in some ways I felt I’d lost her forever.  I still love her with a special unique tenderness, and every once in a while, the old sense of fun glimmers through.  But I think mostly she is sad.  She tries with a painful earnestness to be good and kind and loving, but often asks for directions to understand what her sibs are saying, and I fear she lives with a sense of enduring failure.

Depression runs in our family.  Like so many others who suffer from it, I think Catherine pays a price of pain for the gift that can give so much happiness to others.


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