Memorial for Catherine Anne Cox Veatch 11/17/18
There are only four of us on this planet that can call Cathy Veatch mom. I am the youngest.
My view as her daughter is unique from everyone else in the world. I am learning how others perceived her, her friends, her relatives, her students. People describe her in ways that seem foreign to me. It is amazing to hear people’s perspective on her.
The way people speak about her has brought a fresh look and fresh love and appreciation of her to me.
As her youngest child, there are a few qualities about my mom that you may or may not know that I want to share.
#1 She was an athlete.
She never really participated in sports and I think she never even knew she was an athlete. In fact, I didn’t honestly realize she was an athlete myself until the very end of her life. But there were a few clues along the way in retrospect that gave it up.
The first clue was that on her 23andme DNA analysis, she has the DNA muscle fiber of world class athletes.
The second clue was that when I grew up, every year, there was a tradition called the “Over The Hill Track Club” Inyokern ten-mile run. This was a point A to point B straight 10 mile run in the hot Mojave desert of Ridgecrest California. It took place on a black as night melting hot asphalt two lane road between Ridgecrest and Inyokern that was generally poorly travelled. It took place in the heat of the day in May, without water stops and before portable water bottles were used. My mom never exercised or trained. She never even walked our dogs. Her idea of exercising our dogs literally was to toss them out of the car and drive away in the middle of the desert making them run after the car as though their life dependent upon it, until they were so tired that they just didn’t care anymore. Yet, despite this lack of any preparation whatsoever, she did this 10-mile run every single year. In retrospect, it was probably because I couldn’t get a ride the first time, and she didn’t want to just sit there and wait for me. In any case, she walked it with our two dogs, and she took last place, year after year. Bouncy happy mom bringing it in at the end year after year. The group had to wait for her to do the awards and some participants were impatient “we have to wait for the lady with the dogs” I heard them say once.
The third clue is that she literally walked across the United States. It took her a year, with a group of environmentalists in 1990. She had no physical complaints over the course of the year. She happily walked 15-20 miles every single day for a year without an injury or a concern.
And the fourth clue, the one that put the puzzle together at last for me, was that in the last week of her life, my mom was dying and not responsive. Her soul was trying so hard to be free, but her strong athletic body would not die. She breathed heavily, laboriously, at a rate of 25-35 breaths per minute for 7 days straight, without a drop of water. From my view at her bedside for 8 days, she was running the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme marathon across the Gobi desert. She was running it hard, without support, without complaint, she was running to win. Her body was infinitely strong. In fact, she had almost nothing wrong with her body when she died. Her brain was giving out and she willed herself to die, but her athletic body could have lived another decade.
#2 She was a Girl Scout.
When I was an adolescent, we went with another family to the base of Mt Whitney and climbed it up and down in one day. (my mom climbed Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in California, in one day at age 50 with zero preparation. I feel this confirms my first observation about her physical strength. Upon return to the campsite, it became apparent that someone in our group had carved their name on the picnic table. She would have nothing of the sort. The vandalism needed to be repaired and we would all participate. She insisted that we drive down into the closest town, buy a sander and take it back up to the campsite. We would sand the table and return it to its original state. She didn’t care that we were tired and wanted to go home. No. A point was to be made here. One rule that she lived by, was to try to always leave a place better than you found it. Always. Zero tolerance for anything else.
My mom was a lifelong girl scout. Her wish was to be a career camp counselor. At the time that she wanted to this in the late 40’s early 50’s, one could not major in college as camp counselor and she had to let this go. Nonetheless, she made her own handbook of songs to sing and other camp counselor guidelines. She could belt this out with the drop of a hat under any circumstance:
“I will do my best to be honest and fair. Friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong and responsible for what I say, and do and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and to be a sister to every Girl scout. “ I am a girl scout, she would say until the end.
#3 She was adventuresome, and she was fearless
My mom had no fear of travel, of foreign situations, nor of confronting hostility.
When I went to college in San Diego, my mom bought an investment property in the Clairmont area. The deal was she would fill out the paperwork for the purchase with the bank and make the down payment, and I would do everything else. In exchange for a place to live during college, I would manage it, keep the rooms rented, keep the appliances and the structure intact, keep the complaints around the neighborhood down.
Our next-door neighbor was scary. One of a million lessons I learned during this adventure was when buying a house, one must always take a peek at the neighbor’s house. He had a wife and a girlfriend easily half his age in the house, both with respective children, of different generations. There was constant traffic in and out. One could easily say this character was a bully, a neighborhood terrorist. On one occasion, 4 police officers were surrounding his house, guns drawn. The details were never clear. This man was VERY intimidating. We’d had a conflict of some sort. My mom came to visit and upon hearing about the situation, she stood up and said, well, let's go over there and discuss it. I had never been inside the house next door and I did not have a comfort level with approaching this man on his property. My mom and I went to the house unannounced. She introduced herself and we went inside. She did not wait for an invitation. She sat on the couch, her legs wide apart and her arms open and slunk over the back of the couch. Her body language was as if it were her home, her couch and she needed someone to wait on her. She had ZERO fear of this man and his family. I am 100% certain that he had not interacted with a woman like this before because it really triggered him. Yet, she remained on point and unrattled. She made her case and his response was nonviolent, the hostility was manageable. She then decided “we” were finished, we got up and we walked out. That was that. A model in how to bully a bully. This made an impression upon me that I will never ever forget.
#4 Lastly, she was very spiritual
She was very ready to die for a long time. She talked about the afterlife in her last year nonstop. She explained that she knew there was love waiting for her. She was very lucid as she described that she is going somewhere, she is passing through something and there is a destination. She did not believe that this was the end of the journey. A few times she explained that she had been there or was there now already and how it felt and how she was really irritated to have to wait longer.
Mom, as the child of an immigrant from England, grew up attending the Church of England. She attended church without absence her entire childhood. Her mother kept her Sunday school reports, every single one, in an organized pile in a box. Service to others was a big theme in her life. She could belt out hymnals with one or two words to trigger her memory. She studied the Bible, she knew it, and she randomly quoted it as appropriate from her perspective. When she was a teenager her family switched churches, so that her grandfather could lead the choir in the new church. However, she continued to go to Church of England while also attending the new church by riding the bus between them on Sundays. The rest of the extended family only attended the new church. She was insatiable.
Yet, growing up in my family, our religious upbringing did not involve a positive interaction with Christianity. My mom, to my knowledge was a fierce atheist. She did not attend a “normal” Christian church. She had no objection to our attending one, but she provided no opinion on the matter. She was a Unitarian. She did not indoctrinate my siblings and I, she did not make any assumptions about her children becoming Christians and she would not allow a passive acceptance of it. She taught us to challenge, to question and learn about religions, not to just accept them without understanding them. I had no idea how religious she was when she was young until much later in life. I asked her what happened. Why did she become an atheist after a life of devotion to her church growing up. Why did she reject Christianity so completely? She explained that when she left the house and went to college, she started to have a different perspective. Her Christian upbringing collided with her inability to reconcile the suffering of humanity. “How do you explain God and Jesus and Christianity, when there is so much suffering, where is God in this world?” She could not come to terms with this and after much struggle, she ultimately rejected it altogether. This rejection was fierce. She became an atheist in her 20’s. The mom I knew growing up had always been an atheist. She was not agnostic. She was an atheist without compromise.
In the early 80’s, I was 15 when mom and some of her friends were exposed to and began to study the Course of Miracles. To me, this discipline was and is confusing. The “miracle” refers to gaining full awareness of love’s presence in one’s own life. The books were composed and dictated directly from Jesus through the author, is the teaching. Mom remained a student and a teacher of the Course of Miracles and the Course of Love for 37 years. This was where she could finally align her spirituality with her reality. Her yearning for truth and for God never really died through her period of atheism, that tiny flame was lit when she joined the Course of Miracles.
In the absence of religious structure in my life, I had no place to go to understand or even ask the bigger questions. What happens when you die? Is God in the sky, is God judging us? What are we doing here? And the same irreconcilable issue comes to my mind as it did hers, how is there a God with all this suffering. Is God not actually within us? Are we not in fact all God and all love? Is true love God? Are we all connected and the same, drops that go in and out of the body of water and love that is God? This lack of structure and guidance forced me to create my own understanding, my own spirituality. I created my own religion from scratch, from what I understood and from what could only make sense to me. I got there on my own because she did not give me a preformatted structure to accept as my own, without questioning. I figured it out in a way that makes sense to me. I had no other choice. Had she given me a menu to order my meal, I would not have created my own lifelong sustenance. All four of us kids have ventured out into the religious and spiritual worlds on very different pathways. It was not without pain. The judgment of our childhood community and our family has been a source of shame and pain for us, for me. She did not really care about those issues, her concern was the bigger picture and finding your own way, no matter how hard or easy it was. She wanted us only to be open and to always seek truth, love, and peace.
In the last three years of her life, my mom's temperament changed. She became softer, more approachable, more emotionally intact and more available. She almost even became more, dare I say, needy. She would not like that adjective. She and I were able to connect in areas of the heart where we were blocked before. All I had wanted throughout my life was for her to turn towards me and to love me and maybe even to guide me. It was her inability to be emotionally present that really molded my life in many ways. How I might be different if my mother had been what I desired, what I thought I needed, rather than who she exactly was. I would not be who I am if she had been different. I know that I would not be this person were it not for my mom. She truly prepared me for the brutality of life, for the suffering that we all live through day in and day out. Were it not for her, I may not have honestly been able to survive. Were it not for her, I would not have the core of strength I have. Without her, I would not be such an independent and capable person. Without her, I would not exist.
In the end, I am intensely grateful for this life that she gave me and for how she raised me. There is no way I would have chosen such a difficult path and yet in order to get where I am it was exactly what it needed to be. In the end, I am grateful, I forgive, and I love.
“We were together, I forget the rest. “ Walt Whitman