Monday, August 24, 2009

Remembering Kathi

It has been one month since I unexpectedly and very suddenly lost my sister, Kathi. The days between then and now have been filled with confusion, pain, sorrow, and profound grief. They've also been lightened by laughter, education, friendship, reverence, and a strengthening of love among family.



My sister touched so many lives during her too brief time with us. We were all awestruck to see three full rooms and the foyer of the funeral home filled with well-wishers sharing their respect and humor-filled memories of her.



I was asked to prepare and deliver remarks at her memorial service. Although I don’t entirely know why, I feel compelled to share those words here, on this date. I continue to grieve and like many who lose a loved one, I sometimes wonder if I’m doing it properly.



I suspect there will be periodic dark days ahead. I take comfort in knowing that for me, a lightening sky is emerging from the bleakness of the past month and the ray of light, undoubtedly fueled by Kathi’s laughter, is shimmering on the horizon.





Remembering Kathi Bimshas

November 6, 1956 – July 24, 2009





Today, we celebrate Kathi’s life. Her unexpected passing has left us all in shock. By now she is in the protective arms of both her grandfathers; listening to a lullaby from her grandmother, Ana and sharing jokes --some of which make her giggle and others that produce her trademark burst of laughter, the kind that made her double over and brought tears to her eyes. She has likely offered a wager with someone up there as to which brother will be the first to remind everyone that she was the oldest. A fact she liked to lord over each of us until she turned 29, at which point she claims to have stopped counting the years.



There is a surreal quality to all of this. Kathi would be thrilled to have everyone here and to catch up and share a story of some adventure or misadventure. She could be counted on to attend every family function. I suspect, she always will.



She became the family historian, partly because of her role as the eldest, but mostly because of her love of a good story. And did she love to tell a story. Over and over … this would drive me crazy as a young teen. We did many things together, from running errands to doing laundry to playing games. Knowing Kathi, you know that some event always took place on her outings. It could be a driver who cut her off, or how she burnt water trying to cook hot dogs, or her spotting one of her elusive hawks. Often I would be with her and witnessed whatever happened. She would immediately recap it to me, then she would tell the story to Mom, and then retell it to each subsequent relative she saw, then to friends at work and then, on the anniversary of the event, she would tell the story again. What I came to realize in later years, was that each time she told it, there was no variation. She delivered it pitch perfect every time and with just as much passion or humor the 40th time telling it as she did the first. Today, I long to hear her recite just one more story.



Kathi always had a childlike curiosity that never went away. She had a tremendous thirst for knowledge, particularly on the subjects she already knew pretty well. If I told her of a bird I saw, her eyes would widen and she would ask, “Was it a Wren or a Finch?”

“I don’t know,” I would shrug, “It was red.”



She loved her books, like Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, the wit of Ogden Nash, or a good pulp mystery. She was extremely intelligent, and if you weren’t sure, you could ask her, and she would tell you she was.



Before Wikipedia, there was Kathi. She was a great resource for information, but playing Scrabble was a nightmare for both of us. She would arrange her tiles to spell something like, “Loquacious” to which I would place an “N” under an “O” to create “On”. Her scores were typically triple digit and I was lucky to break into the low twenties.



Kathi loved a good puzzle and liked to be stumped. Never mean-spirited, she hated being tricked, but appreciated wit. I think, our favorite story of each other is when I was three or four years old, at a party, and people were popping balloons with pins. A little later, I was running around and somehow she “accidentally” poked me with a pin. I apparently screamed very loud and was terrified. She comforted me on the foot of the stairs until I regained my composure. It seems my young mind was afraid I was going to pop like one of the balloons. She felt horrible and was worried that she had traumatized me for life. She held me in her arms and I promptly deflated, complete with the whooshing sound and wiggled to the floor. We laughed together. And so it was for many years.



Her taste in music ranged from The Cowsills to Kenny Chesney, From K.C. and the Sunshine Band to Alice Cooper and Barry Manillow. This of course inspired her beloved Mandy, the caramel colored Pekinese that was part of her life for so long.



She loved animals of all types. Cats, dogs, snakes, birds. Domesticated or wild, she appreciated them very much. Except for spiders. Otherwise, she had a certain affinity for wildlife. It dawned on me that this past March marked the 30th anniversary of Kathi’s and my first trip to California. Dad brought us along on a business trip, first to San Francisco and then to San Diego, the place I now call home. While there, we visited the Zoo and Sea World. It was these two place in particular that I think cemented Kathi’s resolve to love animals, no matter what, because they did not treat her very well on this trip. A walrus sneezed on her, and a camel spat. She witnessed the cloud created by a beluga whale and the pile deposited by an elephant. She averted a stream from a Clydesdale horse, and whatever it was the monkeys were throwing. She was finally able to see real live Koalas, who were sound asleep. She was also the first to see a newborn polar bear emerge from its cave. Through it all, she was able to find great humor. A trait that was often repeated in her life. She didn’t take herself too seriously.



But sometimes she did. Although she was not often afraid to try new things, from exotic foods to rafting down rivers, to line dancing or skiing, or should I say, attempting to ski. She was open to experiences and didn’t like giving up. Her interests never really waned as much as were replaced by something else.



She fought demons with that same determination and resolve. Kathi could fight with passion and hold a grudge, but she also made peace. She was complex. Sometimes like a jellybean, she had a tough shell but a mushy center. To some she was more like a peach, soft on the outside with a hard to crack solid center. Either way, with Kathi, there was always sweetness.



She loved her family, particularly her nieces and nephews. She spoke of her friends often, and to her friends, she spoke of her family. Her career, as with many people, was a source of elation and frustration depending on the circumstances. Her 33 years at SunLife (an aptly named company for her disposition) provided stability, as did the countless coworkers she interacted with daily. She felt a sense of responsibility to family members, often helping with taxes, acting as chauffeur and offering her home for visits. Kathi was also an artisan who enjoyed painting, ceramics, and intricate needlework. She adored nature and frequently photographed flowers and birds. I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on her photographs of nature. I think we have all see the hawks, the seals, the buffleheads that looked suspiciously like specks of dirt on the lens. That was the dues paying, because she improved with each shot. Many of her pictures taken from the last five to ten years have been spectacular.



Kathi had fears. Spiders. Flying. Driving in Boston. And yet her fears did not prevent her from fulfilling life-long dreams of trips to Europe and Australia. Nor did it prevent her from racing me to Logan Airport during Friday rush hour on more than one occasion.



A well-wisher, in an attempt to comfort me, reminded me that Kathi’s work on Earth had finished. I disagree. I think it’s just begun. I think what she leaves behind is a catalyst for us to live a little different. We have come from distant places to be here to honor, remember, and celebrate Kathi. And to those distant places, we will return. But I can think of no reason why that means we should return to the status quo. Although in some areas of her life she was a private person, Kathi was terrific in sending a quick email or handwritten note to stay in touch with people. Let’s follow her lead. No matter how busy you are, make the time to tell others what you are doing. Send a Christmas letter, send an email, have a Hallmark moment. As our family and extended family of friends grows, let us ensure our roots are not shallow. We are often polite and don’t want to interfere in each other’s lives. I think we can stand to be a little bit nosy, and show interest. Stay connected.



Kathi, even when not at her best, was always able to find humor. I will forever remember her spontaneous joy each time she saw a hawk. I suspect she is soaring on the backs of them now, watching over us, contemplating dropping a little something on a few of us just for a good laugh.



Though she was taken from us too soon, she has given to each of us great gifts. Her humor. Her love and friendship. Her love of God’s creatures. Her spirit and passion. Smile when you think of Kathi, and grace others with kindness, as she has graced each of us.



Prepared remarks

by Karl Bimshas

July 31, 2009