Catherine ‘Kitty’ McCarthy
How I Met My Mother
By Sheila (McCarthy) Sieusankar
Catherine ‘Kitty’ Cecilia Fitzgerald McCarthy
December 19, 1927 ~ July 26, 2020
(Link to extra pictures and info about my Mom’s life https://drive.google.com/file/d/1SQa0ajWjVsh_MH-osNCcMB32TTsViNUo/view?usp=sharing)
Summer of 2020, I had the surprising realization, that although I had been raised by my mother, and had lived with her for my first 18 years, I still didn’t really know her. And I didn’t even have that realization until I really, (finally) did get to know my mother over what turned out to be, the last seven weeks of her life. And I want to say a special thank you to my husband Troy Sieusankar, for his loving support during this time, which made it possible for me to have this transformative experience.
In the beginning, I had come into the world as the last of her five children. I grew up, left home to go off to college and then later went off again to adventures around the country and abroad. Sure, I frequently talked to her on the phone. And I would visit for holidays throughout the year. However, I hadn’t stayed overnight since college. But this past January, when my brother Frank who had been a big help to my mother, died suddenly, I found myself spending more time with her. And then as Spring turned into Summer and my mother had some recurrent infections, I found myself arranging my life to be with her full time, in her home. I wanted to help support her and her well-being, as well as to support my brother Joe who has been my mom’s steadfast companion for over 30 years. And then in July, we got the news that there was more than just an infection to be considered. That there was actually an underlying process. And this led the doctors to advise me, and the rest of the family, to help my mother get her affairs in order.
During this time, I found that just by being available, I got to know my mother as a person, and a woman, as well as a mother. It has been an amazing, life affirming experience. And I am sharing some highlights of that experience here because, it feels like a way to celebrate her, while crystalizing those good feelings. And this way, you will get to ‘meet’ her too. I see the three main focus areas of my mother’s life as; her faith, her family, and her sense of fun/wonder.
First and foremost, my mother was a woman of profound Catholic faith. She often shared an event from when she was four years old, when she had a vision of Jesus on the cross while hearing his voice speak to his mother Mary. My mom credits this experience with cementing her very personal relationship with God. And she often expressed her wish that everyone could have such a personal experience. Another touchstone event for her was in 2nd grade, when my mother had, uncharacteristically according to her, answered one of the nun’s questions correctly and won a prize. The prize was a picture of Jesus with his eyes closed. My mother was told (as she was given the picture) that this image of Jesus would only open his eyes to someone who was in a state of grace. As my mother gazed upon the picture, she saw his eyes open. Throughout her young life, she continued to find peace and purpose in her faith, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that she had seriously considered becoming a nun. But, as she was growing up, her father frequently reminded my mother just how much she loved babies and that he thought she would like to have some of her own. So, if not for her love of babies, and her father’s love for her, I am fairly certain she would have become a nun instead of becoming my mother.
Her ever-present faith revealed itself in areas that I would have thought were completely unrelated. For example, while staying with her recently, I wondered why she was so focused on being sure to catch the weather report during the TV news. Her fervor reminded me of Rainman wanting to watch Wapner. I had shared with her that I had an app that continually showed the weather, in an effort to ease her recurrent stress. At first, I was somewhat frustrated that she seemed dismissive of ‘my app’ and yet was so intensely focused on the news’ version of the weather. Eventually, I asked her directly why she was so intent on seeing the weather and was surprised by her answer. My mother said that the reason she wanted to see the weather was because, if she saw there were areas of bad weather, she would then pray for those people who were experiencing it. Whoa. Her answer left me, uncharacteristically speechless. I had known that when my mother said her rosary, the last decade was for the ‘whole wide world’. But the fact that she was actively looking, throughout the day, for those who might be in need of prayers made me realize just how much she was, always, and more often than I had realized, quietly, living her faith.
My mother treasured her family and I got to hear many wonderful stories. Especially, those of her close connection with her father, funny anecdotes regarding her mother, and long-standing closeness with her twin sister. But it wasn’t always easy. Turns out my mother and her sister had to leave high school prematurely and go to work full time to help support the family because their father had become injured. But it was at one her first jobs that my mother met my father. As she would tell it, she heard that John McCarthy was going to be coming to the office. She said she wasn’t impressed because John McCarthy lived next door and she didn’t like him. But when the ‘new guy’ was being given a tour of the office, my mother quickly realized it was a different John McCarthy. And as she gazed into his big, blue eyes, she thought dreamily, ‘I’m going to marry that man’. And she did. And my mother not only got a husband she was crazy in love with, and that made her feel loved, but she also got a mother-in-law that was more like a second mother to her. It seems like all this love spilled over to the children. My mother had this quality of unconditionally loving her children. Which sounds wonderful but, could sometimes be frustrating to me if ever I was trying to point out how I was ‘right’ and one of the other kids was ‘wrong’ in some way. My mother seemed to only want to see the best in each of us. Even if we weren’t always at our best. Funny thing, it was hard for me to see/appreciate it when it was being showered on me, but rather, it only became apparent because I noticed unconditional love being showered on everyone else. I was just about ‘today years old’ when I was able to understand this viscerally.
A few years back, I had the pleasure of getting to know my aunt Gerry a bit as an adult, because I’d (briefly) moved back to New York. But what I didn’t know until recently, was that my mother had an endearing (and slightly personal) secret. Once my aunt became more limited in her physical movement, she had to come up with a solution for putting on her bras more easily. She would simply hook them closed before putting them on. Then she’d put them on by sliding the bra over her head and adjust it in place. Turns out, as soon as my mother heard this, she started, secretly, doing it too, although she didn’t need to because she was physically stronger. I found out about this touching tradition just a couple of months ago, when I was helping my mother with her laundry. And she told me to keep her bras hooked because she puts them on over her head, ‘just like Aunt Gerry’ offering it up in a way which she hoped would bring her sister some peace/relief. This simple, sweet gesture really had an effect on me. I’m telling ya, they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
Her Sense of Fun/Wonder
Growing up, I knew my mother chose to go by the name of Kitty. But it wasn’t until when she was recently hospitalized for an infection that I learned… ‘the rest of the story’. Fortunately, I was able to stay with my mother for 2 of her 3 recently hospitalizations (and luckily the 3rd one was just a couple of days). I enjoy making the best of wherever I am, and during these stays, I realized I’d gotten that from my mother. So, since the two of us were focused on ‘silver linings’ we did our best to treat those days as a ‘slumber party’ of sorts. At one point my mom mentioned that she’d decided to go by the name ‘Kitty’ based on a 1945 movie of the same name. She spoke so fondly of it, that I immediately ordered the DVD on Amazon and we were able to watch it in the hospital. My mother considered the movie ‘quite the love story’. And I’m so glad that I was able to have the experience of watching it with her. Of course, during her hospital stay, she met many, many people. And as soon as they heard that, ‘she goes by Kitty’ they always brightened up. It was as if something as simple as that nickname, opened the door to a different/playful experience. I recently learned that it was one of my mother’s core intentions to have fun and uplift others. Which is one of mine as well (and now I know where I got it from). An example of her sense of fun, was that whenever she was asked those memory/orientation questions like ‘What is your name’, she’d always say ‘Wanna have some fun?’ to which the medical professional usually, initially, just stared, and then my mom would answer their first question about her name, with, ‘Mommy’ and laugh. Then the medical professional would crack a smile too. And my mother would go on to give her full name and answer the rest of their questions. But she was always looking for a way to break the ice. My mom often said to them, that she wanted to have fun with them because she never knew if they needed it because of the day that the ‘had’ or ‘were about to have’. And I remembered back to all the years, and all the interactions, I’d seen between my mother and others and realized/appreciated the uplifting she’d been doing all along. And that I’d inherited that intention from her without even knowing it.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to train/interact with about 30,000 people, both in person across country, and virtually. I mention that because, through all of that, I haven’t yet, met anyone like my mother. To me she seems to be a truly unique individual. I like to think a way to connect with her/memory may be to savor some of her favorite things and so I wanted to list them here (in the order they occurred to me) in case you’d like to embrace your ‘inner Kitty’. My mother enjoyed; the sky, clouds (imagining what the shapes might be, like a child does), noticing out of state license plates, ice cream, potato chips that are ‘folded’, babies, animals, TV shows like NCIS/Blue Bloods/Star Trek/Animated movies/Old time-y movies, Almay make up, ginger ale, having her children all together, and of course her Catholic religion/faith, and personal relationship with God.
Because they were fraternal, and didn’t much look like sisters let alone twins, (and they had such different personalities), my mother often joked that it was a good thing they were born at home or no one would have believed it.
My parents took their first and only cruise around 1986. My father passed in 1988. It’s so nice that they took some time together.
In their wedding forward they look so good, it’s almost like it’s the photo that would come with the frame when you buy it.
My mom was a big fan of Betty Boop. I like to think she identified with her brunette good looks and her carefree, irreverent spirit. My mother believed that we are humans, before being men/women and men/women before being parents (and/or all our other ‘roles’). My mom also had no problem embracing such a free-spirited mascot at same time as her strong catholic faith. And it’s this idea of seemingly contradictory ‘sides’ that I see in myself as well. My mother often got as gifts (and got for herself) many Betty Boop items over the years. And Joe frequently created awesome Betty Boop posters for our mom. He made one recently to put on her walker so that she could see it, and be inspired by it, whenever she used it. Thanks Joe!
The oldest in a family of five, Kathie was often the one who made sure we got some extra TLC. My mother relied on her and Kathie always came through. I especially like this pic because, in this case, I got to ‘have my toy’ and ‘eat my cake too’. Thanks Kath!
We had moved from New York to Florida when I was 5 years old, so I didn’t really get to know my relatives outside of my nuclear family. I when I was 8 and my maternal grandfather was visting. I was going through an entrepreneurial phase (probably still am) and had a lemonade stand on the lawn. He came out to join in the fun. I was wearing what had been my favorite red dress in 2nd grade which I kept wearing until it became a ‘top’, thanks to my parent’s laissez-faire style (at least by the time I came around, which was 15 years after their first born, lol). Other than going to church and CCD, I had a lot of freedom which I credit with providing invaluable opportunities to develop my creative side. During the past few weeks with my mother gave me a wonderful compliment. She frequently told me that the things I was sharing with her about my point of view/beliefs, reminded her of her father, who she was so very close to. Sometimes she my mother said my comments reminded her of the Holy Spirit. And I can’t imagine better compliments from my mother than those.
My mom’s granddaughter, Colleen Jolly, thoughtfully initiated, planned and pulled off a surprise, 85 birthday party for ‘the twins’, all with her characteristic style, in 2013. The family memories made through this event were priceless. Thanks Colleen!
Soon after beginning to stay with my mother and brother this Summer, I realized that my brother Joe, over the years, had been continuously finding ways to surprise and delight our mother, especially with delicious treats. Recently he had created a homemade, chocolate, ‘Welcome Home’ surprise after one of her hospital stays. Joe made sure she always had something to look forward to. And then later, when she was having a bit of a tough time, she was buoyed by his efforts/attention and she often said to me, ‘Joe makes life worth living.’
This June/July, my Mom received such excellent care at home, where her caregivers continually went above and beyond. Initially ‘the bar was set really high’ by both the Health First Transition Team Ashley/Ryan, and Health First Home Care with Melissa and her team. Then the ‘TLC’ continued with Health First Hospice and Lalanya, who was like our guardian angel, guiding us through the process. And sweet Stephanie who helped arrange pet therapy was such an awesome experience on Thursday, July 23rd. My mom loved animals, and we had many pets, over the years. So having this beautiful, energetic black lab in the house, was a breath of fresh air and my mother was so tickled that as soon as the visit ended, she was looking forward to seeing Parsley again. My mother was also treated to music therapy with Dawn and her beautiful voice which was so soothing. My mother appreciated the all care these wonderful people gave to her. My mom kept herself in good spirits throughout, even asking me to make videos of her to show that someone could be dying but, they didn’t have to be ‘grumpy’. And she always expressed her appreciation to each caregiver in a specific and personal way. Everyone seemed to fall in love with her, and I was happy to share my mother with this new, expansive, and loving ‘family’.
Recently, my family grew from 5 to 6 kids when my mother announced she’d adopted Deirdre (initially her Eucharistic Minister) as another one of her daughters. In recent years, my mother wasn’t able to go the church. But, fortunately, the church was able to ‘come to her’ in the form of homebound visits. And from when Deirdre met my mother, the two became very close. I know my mother treasured having Deirdre to discuss her faith (among other things) with. And my ‘new sister’ is/was always the perfect blend of warmth and no nonsense, in her interactions with my mother (which was also very reminiscent of the personality of my mom’s twin, Gerry). I feel blessed to have been able to be present during a few of Deirdre’s visits with my mom and to witness their true, heart connection.
My mom had quite a sweet tooth, and she loved ice cream. It was a wonderful surprise, last Thursday, July 23, when she suggested that she and I share a chocolate coated popsicle. It was just one of the simple-pleasure memories that the past few weeks were full of. And if you join/joined us at Friendly’s beachside Monday afternoon, Aug 3rd, I hope you enjoy/enjoyed your favorite sweet treat to celebrate my mom, life in general, and yourself.
During the past few weeks, my mother often said that she’d had dreams/experiences of loved ones who had passed that were connecting with her and of traveling. She frequently shared a story of a dream/vision that she had, where she seemed to be in a duplicate version of her tv room, including comfy blue recliner, but in a different ‘place’ which made her feel so safe and gave her profound sense of well-being. There was a ‘guide’ with her, and she used to say that she felt she’d seen a real-life angel (and that the real ones don’t have wings). I’m so glad she had that experience and that she shared it. I used it as a touchstone for us during her last weeks. I like to think she had many people that were ready to greet her ‘on the other side’…her parents, twin sister Gerry, husband John, son Frank, niece ‘Sugar’ Michele to name a few.
This weekend, my mom got wonderful, heart-felt care from those at the William Childs Hospice House, including; Sierra, Shannon and Sheila. Special thanks to nurse Jan (who is also a twin with 5 kids of her own) because she explained the process in a way that made it easy to understand/accept how things unfolded. I was with my mother right before she was passing. She was so relaxed and peaceful with no tension anywhere in her body. There was also, at least to me, a bit of whimsy present. My mother frequently liked to say, ‘Wanna have some fun?’ before doing something playful. And I had the feeling she was communicating that idea/question to me. Just then, Deirdre arrived as well, and she was a wonderful support to both me and my mother. Joe was on his way and was able to be on speaker phone to share his heart/thoughts with our mother and he arrived in person just a few minutes later. I found myself feeling so light-hearted around the time of her passing that I can’t help but wonder if I caught a glimpse of what she was experiencing. It made me wonder if she was communicating to me an idea about what’s next… What if it is better than we could have ever imagined?
Children and Grandchildren
Kathie Jolly (Grandchild, Colleen Jolly), Joe McCarthy (Grandchildren, Sheila Hipp, Vanessa Sue Stein, John Gage, Eva Mae Gage, Michael Gage. Great Grand Children; Kayden Renea Hipp, Kyler Dan Hipp, Nathan Stein, Jasmine Gage, Jacob Gage, Janessa Gage) Frank McCarthy; Sheila Sieusankar, plus Grandchildren, Charlie Bunting (Great Grandchild Lainey Bunting) and Laura Isom, and ‘adopted’ daughter Deirdre Eginton.
‘Official’ Obituary in Florida Today (7/29/20)
Catherine “Kitty” Cecilia Fitzgerald McCarthy, 92, a Daddy’s girl, lifelong twin, loving wife, joyful mother, and faithful parishioner at Holy Name of Jesus Church, passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, July 26th. Mrs. McCarthy was a resident of Indialantic for 48 years.
Survivors include her son, John Joseph McCarthy; daughters, Kathleen Jolly and Sheila Sieusankar; as well as eight grandchildren, and eight great grandchildren, including, Sheila Hipp, Kayden Renea Hipp, and Kyler Dan Hip.
Calling hours are 5 to 7pm, Sunday, August 2, at Brownlie Maxwell Funeral Home in Melbourne. A Mass will be celebrated at 1pm Monday, at the Holy Name of Jesus Church in Indialantic with internment to follow at Florida Memorial Gardens, Rockledge. Afterwards, there will be an informal gathering at Friendly’s on Eau Gallie Blvd (one of Kitty’s favorite restaurants). For a glimpse into her wonderful life, visit https://brownliemaxwell.com/obituaries/.
Email: [email protected]
In lieu of flowers the family is appreciative of donations to help offset burial costs.