January 2021, Fort Myers, FL
An update on the life and death of Cathy Devine…
I want to thank everyone for the cards, flowers, plants, messages, emails, and texts expressing sympathy at the loss of my beloved. Some of the people expressing the most heartfelt condolences are people that I have never met. It is clear to me that many people are grieving, and a number of those people are also wrestling with the incongruity of someone so good and so otherwise healthy dying in the prime of her life.
In an effort to promote some slight measure of closure for all whom Cathy touched; I have decided to describe the circumstances that led to her end. I will withhold certain details to protect Cathy’s dignity.
On or around the ninth of November 2020, Cathy was preparing breakfast when she suddenly felt faint. I carried her to the couch, and she began speaking incoherently. In short order she recovered her senses, but the episode concerned us both. She additionally started to have persistent and painful headaches and back aches. Cathy’s primary care doctor recommended that we take a COVID test—which we did with negative results. That same week Cathy received her semi-annual PET scan. She decided that she would ask her oncologist about the headaches the following week. While results of the PET scan were good, Dr. Rodriguez ordered a brain MRI for the next day. Twenty-four hours later we learned that Cathy had a brain tumor pushing up against her right frontal lobe.
Cathy met with her neurological surgeon on November twentieth. The tumor presented itself as cancerous. Cathy would have to undergo brain surgery, and once she recovered, begin radiation. She never hesitated about moving forward. During the days before her surgery, we talked about everything we had shared across six decades. We marveled at our mutual good fortune and the life we built together. Cathy was completely ready to face her fate. I did my best to be equally brave.
Her surgery was scheduled for December tenth. The day before our former Paster, Father Stan Dombrowski, came to our home and gave her the sacrament of the sick. Cathy’s physical state had weakened to the extent that she needed the assistance of a wheelchair. I dropped her off at the hospital that morning and at around 3:00pm I received a call from the doctor telling me that the surgery went well and that there appeared to be no residual cancer. The doctor did say that Cathy had suffered two post-surgery seizures—not uncommon for surgery taking place near the frontal lobe.
I visited Cathy daily in the ICU. She recovered rapidly across Saturday and Sunday. She was well enough on Sunday, December thirteenth, that we were able to take her home. She slept for several hours but upon awaking was in pain and restless. She became less alert as the night passed to the next morning and I was forced to call 911 for the paramedics to return her to the hospital. After four or so hours in the emergency room, Cathy remained listless and uncommunicative. She was moved that night to the neurological wing of the hospital. It was now Tuesday, December fifteenth.
Across Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday Cathy rebounded strongly. On Thursday she was alert, eating solid food, and answering all my questions. She did, however, think that the year was 2012 and that she was fifty-two. I had to advise her that it was 2020 and that she was sixty years old. “Oh my,” she said, “I’m that old!” I assured her that she could easily pass for a woman of forty. I spent three of the allotted six visiting hours with Cathy and our daughter, Ava, spent the remaining three. We had every reason to be optimistic. She was back. 2
As Thursday evening turned to night, Cathy suffered another setback. By the time I saw her on Friday, Cathy was in a dire state. She had suffered a series of seizures and was unresponsive. She was moved back to the ICU on Saturday. She had five doctors actively working to restore her life.
Two CAT scans: one on Monday and another on Friday showed no changes in Cathy’s brain since after her surgery. On Sunday (December twentieth) I arrived at the ICU at noon (the start of visiting hours). Cathy had been on a ventilator and feeding tube since Saturday night. Doctors were still hopeful that if they could get her seizures under control that Cathy could still recover. As soon as I entered Cathy’s room in the ICU, her nurse (clearly a man who had served in our military) advised me in a respectful but firm tone, that a just-completed CAT scan showed that Cathy had suffered a herniation of the brain and was not going to recover. Cathy’s oncologist, Dr. Frank Rodriguez, who had been supporting me throughout this entire situation, took my call and told me that the person in the bed was no longer the love of my life. I ordered the life-ending protocol that Dr. Rodriguez and I had discussed on Saturday night. I intended to follow Cathy’s instructions on this possibility without reservation or hesitation. She needed me to be my strongest at that moment. I did not falter but a part of me died with her that day.
We were moved to a private room where all the tubes and connections were removed. I stroked Cathy’s hair and sang to her some of her favorite songs. She was very peaceful and despite all, still beautiful. I watched her take her last breath and whispered to her that wherever she was that I would find her someday, somehow. The time was 2:58pm, EST, on December 20, 2020.
In my penning of this letter, Cathy would have said, “If it helps one person to heal, then it was worth the effort and the tears.”
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Tribute for Catherine Josephine Devine | Harvey-Engelhardt Funeral and Cremation Services (harvey-engelhardt.com)
John J. Devine
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