Today we say goodbye to my sweetheart – and your sweetheart – in fact, everybody’s sweetheart, Cathy Brady. Although we have become, sadly, very seasoned at saying goodbye to people we love, our grief is not diminished nor the depth of our mourning lessened today. There is a loneliness that I know we all share today and that will undoubtedly be our companion in the weeks and months ahead. There is some comfort, though, in knowing that as another of our “icons” makes the passage into the communion of saints, she is welcomed by a whole host of incredible people who have gone before her, including her beloved Mommy and Daddy, and at least a couple of Old Hens. Picturing that heavenly reunion does make me smile.
It is no surprise that as we have shared stories and memories of Cathy over these past few days, we have spoken so much about what a sweet and loving woman she was. We have talked about her hugs, the ways she comforted us in our sadness, her sweet little laugh, the many times she tilted her head and said “I love you” or “You’re cute” as she gave us a little pinch on the nose. The condolences that have poured in from Cathy’s friends around the world have called her lovely, gentle, beautiful, tender. And so she was.
Of course, this is not to say she was without her stubborn or even harsh side. Apparently, while still in Bras d’Or, what we knew as Cathy’s walking stick was used in a less angelic way – for vigorously berating whoever was the latest person to anger or disappoint her. She would stomp furiously up and down Brady Drive, wagging that stick in the air and getting all the irritation out of her system, likely at Ricky for not being home when she arrived for one of her twice daily cups of tea. And there was at least one assistant who felt the sting of a slap from Cathy when he stood between her and plate of nachos at a community gathering. You did not mess with Cathy and her food.
But it’s a fine line between stubbornness and independence, and Cathy fell solidly on the independence side. She knew she could do it herself, whatever “it” happened to be. And more often than not, she could, and she did. Everything from opening a Cadbury crème egg to putting away her own clothes to climbing up on the counter to reach a tasty treat on top of the fridge, Cathy was determined to be the master of her own affairs. Having never had the opportunity to go to school, what a testament this is to Cathy’s family that she grew up with such a fierce belief in herself and in her own abilities.
And what a testament to them, too, that they knew their sister well enough to understand her need for growth and friends and a life of her own. To each of her siblings, especially to her dear Patsy (whom we all know by name, if not by sight) I want to say thank you for trusting us with your sister. Patsy told me this week that the decision to have Cathy come to L’Arche was one of the things she did in her life that she could be proud of. I hope it has been clear these past few days all the wonderful things that have come of this courageous choice.
I imagine it was at home, too, where Cathy learned her incredible work ethic. Sure, she liked to relax on the couch and read a magazine – often upside down. And she liked her cup of tea and a cookie, but only as a break between the important work of the day. When we would travel to give talks about L’Arche, Cathy made us seem like more of a work camp than an intentional community. According to her, she spent her time at Corinthian House washing the dishes, cleaning the bathroom, sweeping the floor, and making the tea. This was actually true, of course, but only because it was what she loved.
The work she really loved, though, was at our clothing store, The Ark. How many hundreds of hours did she spend, sitting on an orange chair at the baby bin, folding those tiny clothes just so, with her tiny just-so hands, and just barely tolerating the insolence of the customers who dared rifle through the bin, messing up her work.
When we thought it was time for Cathy to move into retirement, we suggested a day a week at our seniors’ program. When Thursday mornings rolled around, though, Cathy would frequently hide from the van run to avoid the drive to the dreaded Siesta Club. Eventually we relented and she went back to her full time job at The Ark. It is so fitting that, on the last day of her life, when offered the chance to spend the day at home, she chose instead – and quite firmly – to wheel off down the lane to work. You can’t keep a good woman down, and Cathy Brady was a good, good woman.
And more than just a woman, Cathy was also a lady – I think maybe the only one we’ve had around here. She was proper, polite, and had a clear sense of right and wrong. She would feign embarrassment when her picture would show up in a slide show, or cover her mouth demurely should a burp unwittingly escape. She would admonish people with “that’s gross” or “that’s really rude” when she felt they weren’t minding their p’s and q’s. Of course, sometimes that admonishment was self-directed when she just couldn’t hold back from wiggling her behind at the audience in the middle of an otherwise graceful and dignified dance.
Our charter identifies “simplicity” as key to the vision of L’Arche. Cathy embodied simplicity in the very best sense of the word. She did not need big things to impress or satisfy her. Her deepest joy and fulfillment came from a good cup of tea (or even a bad one, for that matter – she wasn’t particular), a snuggle on the couch with a friend, a haircut, a piece of pie with a just a taste of ice cream. She found beauty in a solo walk, either around Brady Drive in or doing the loop of the lanes around Corinthian House. She would somehow saunter gracefully, even on those little tiny legs, trailing her walking stick and swinging her head back and forth to the music within.
And sometimes the music made it out, when she would take a pit stop on the swing and just let loose with whatever tune was in her heart. It was a rare gift to hear her, though, since as soon as she caught sight of a spectator she would immediately stop the song and wait to be alone again. She clearly wasn’t in it for the audience.
This week I read a Hopi Indian saying that “To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak.” Cathy did not talk a great deal, and when she did it could sometimes be tricky to understand what she said. (Her lips moved in a way that bore almost no resemblance to the words that came out!) But when she danced she said things that words could never express. She danced in the Chapel, in the lanes, at churches, and on stages all over Nova Scotia. She danced to Enya and the Rankins and church choirs and Silas’ guitar and the music inside of her. She twirled in graceful circles, her arms thrown in the air and her eyes always lifted to heaven. And although she danced in front of hundreds of people, and almost always got a standing ovation, I don’t think she was dancing to perform. I think she was dancing to pray. To offer her gratitude and praise and rejoicing for the beauty of her life and the life around her. She danced from her heart, and every one of us who saw it got a glimpse of that heart.
Over the past couple of years, Cathy’s health began to fail. She started to rely more and more on her wheelchair, and to learn to accept help gratefully and gracefully from her friends. She seemed to understand some of her limitations, and took the responsibility of gently teaching the young men at Corinthian House some of what she had learned about community life. And those of us who loved her, and who had seen others make the same passage, were acutely aware of the importance of savouring every moment with this remarkable woman.
So during the sing-a-long at our Community Retreat back in the spring, there was not a dry eye in the Chapel when Cathy took the microphone to sing “Working Man”. That was Janet Moore’s song, and Janet, Cathy’s best friend, had died just a few short months before. But Cathy sang that song without a waver in her voice or a tear in her eye, but with tremendous strength and deep, deep love.
Then it was time for “Swing Low”. For this one, she put down the microphone and struggled to get up from her wheelchair to dance. I will never forget the image of Cathy standing in the centre that day, Gray kneeling behind her and holding her up for an incredible moment of beauty and transcendence. It is such a powerful image of what we all did for Cathy – we held her up with our love and our friendship and our care. But even more it is an image of what she did for all of us.
Rest in peace, dear friend.