This “wasn’t our first rodeo” as they say, I was on child number four and Caitlin made six. The girls were born months apart and grew up a half a block away from each other. I remember Caity as a happy child, loved without limit by her family and all that knew her.
Five short years later we moved home to the desert.
We kept in touch, her mother and I, each time we would talk the years seemed to just melt away. Each fall I would receive an envelope filled with colorful leaves, a reminder of a visit I had once made.ecc It narrowed the distance and it always felt like a warm hug from my friend Sue. Time flew by and soon our daughters were young women.
Out of nowhere came the sad news that Caitlin was in the hospital not expected to make it, and her family was asking for prayers. When one of her brothers called to later update me he also shared the heartbreaking detail that Caity had tried to take her own life.
I was overwhelmed, shocked, and confused. As a mother myself, I could not imagine the agony my friend was going through along with each member of her family. My heart was crushed, the tears flowed soaking my rosary beads as my prayers went into overdrive. Along with countless others, we were praying for a miracle.
At the end of the first week, after all the test results were in, the news was not good. The bedside vigil continued and by week two it was time for heart-wrenching decisions to be made. Based on all the data, Caity wasn’t going to be coming back from this. After consulting their priest the decision was made to remove Caitlin from life support. Another week would pass before she breathed her last.
We arrived days before the funeral so that we might be of some assistance and support to the family. What does one say at a moment of such devastation? What comfort can possibly be offered other than our presence and love? For us it was a blessed honor to be there with them, to share in part their great grief, and unfathomable sorrow.
Picture collages of Caitlin and her artwork filled the room during the wake revealing the story of the vibrant, joyful young woman. She was electric energy, bottomless smiles, artistry in motion, contagious joy… The impact she had on every person she encountered was laudable. Anyone Caitlin touched was forever changed for the good. She didn’t just practice her Catholic faith; she appeared to have perfected it. Caitlin’s life seemed to be a living Gospel of sorts.
I’ll be the first to admit that I previously assumed in cases of suicide, that the person must have come from a dysfunctional family or lacked any kind of deep relationship with God. In Caitlin’s case all those erroneous thoughts were dispelled. This family loved her like no other I have known. Her faith was alive, deep, transcendent and transforming.
The question that went unanswered was “how could a soul so filled with life, love, and joy unbounded, extinguish itself?” How could one who possessed such an apparent deep understanding of the nature of God, and knowledge of Catholic teaching harm herself?
At her funeral the presider, Fr. Bob, recognized the need to address these unanswered questions and gently guided us towards recognizing the mystery that surrounds suicide and mental illness. This disease can be hidden behind locked doors, spoken in hushed tones, or completely ignored altogether. There is so much we don’t know. We may wrongly assume that something was wanting or that the person just didn’t try hard enough; and we would be wrong.
Her brother stated it most accurately, “If this can happen to Caitlin, it can happen to anyone.”
In a book that belonged to Caity called, Love Poems from God by Daniel Ladinsky, you could see her animated scribbles, drawings and notes dancing on the pages which literally came alive with her doodles and thoughts. She wrote on one page, “If you could paint the heart of God, what would it look like?”
Surrounded with colorful swirls was the poem, Christ’s Breath, (p153), “I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through-listen to this music.” This small sentence captures the essence of Caitlin’s life. Her life may have been short lived and torturous near the end, but it was a beautiful testimony to Love Himself, her Creator and friend.