Somehow I never believed it would really happen, but Cathy Seipp, a friend, died yesterday of the kind of lung cancer you can get even if you never smoke. She was 49.
Already, the memorials and testimonials are pouring in. Especially touching are accounts by those on Team Cathy, the group of close friends and loved ones who made sure she was never alone or wanting during her final days, who offered rides, food, or just their strength and company. Surprisingly gratifying are the widespread condolences and heartfelt comments of those nationwide who knew Cathy only through her writing. Denise Hamilton’s elegy here on Native Intelligence is a moving addition.
I will also miss her.
I met Cathy, along with Emmanuelle Richard, through Amy Alkon, about five years ago. In early 2003 they threw me a boisterous book party for “The Mailroom.” I get the feeling, though it was never said out loud, that because I took the three of them to lunch soon afterward as thanks, that my good manners was the wedge in the door that let me into Cathy’s world, where, as has been said before and better, a whirlpool of personalities and philosophies, with Cathy in the center, sucked me in. She helped get this stay-at-home writer out of the house more often, and I made some good friends because of her generosity.
Cathy and I weren’t the closest of pals, meaning that we didn’t spend hours dishing, chatting on the phone, going to the movies, having Farmers Market breakfasts. During her final days I never felt my visiting an overcrowded ICU was appropriate; honestly, I didn’t think Cathy would want me to see her in a hospital gown.
We certainly didn’t agree politically, and I think that was true of many in her circle -- a testament to her inclusivity. I'd tease her now and then by (honestly) telling her when I loved a recent piece or post she’d written – even though she was, of course, completely wrong. (Smiley face here.) In fact, that day we went to lunch, I glibly told Cathy that I had no opinions. In other words, why let any political differences stand in the way of anything? Fine by her. Still, I looked forward to her weekly email touting her new NRO column or somesuch. The emailbox will be a little poorer now.
When we saw each other over the years (at Yamashiro Friday nights, at her home, at various media functions around town), we always had something to talk about: the burden of joy that is raising children (our kids are the same age), our guilty pleasure TV shows, the latest local or media kerfuffle, or which pretentious underachiever she thought acted more entitled than her place in blogging society merited. Cathy sometimes sought my advice and vice versa. She was always interested in the latest news of my endless (and most recent) book. We always hugged. I wanted to tell her she was a babe, but because I’m mindful of a married man seeming untoward, I settled for complimenting her hair, luminosity, and the occasional dress.
I remember that as our first lunch drew to a close, she began to talk about the cancer. Typically, I immediately suggested she write a book about it as a cathartic way of dealing with her illness. Cathy chose not to; she was never the navel-gazing type. In fact, she waited another two years to spring the news on the world, on her blog, Cathy’s World. Even then, unless she was too tired to attend an event, Cathy never dwelled on her illness or acted at its effect. She never seemed to feel sorry for herself; she was too busy writing up a storm and, teaching by example, making sure her daughter was prepared for life, and for life without her.
Here’s what I liked most about Cathy: With a zest unmatched by the healthy, Cathy simply willed herself to endure. To smile. To laugh. To care. To befriend. To love. To live.
We should all be so.
What she’s left behind for her family and friends is the strength and purpose to carry on -- and more.