My cousin Jay has been waiting for a heart transplant for over four years. The two of us are the same age, a goofy, young 51. Jay was born with some bad luck in the form of a relatively rare heart disease that kicked in hardcore several years ago.
Sadly, his condition drastically worsened right before his wedding day with the love of his life, Cathy Bessette. Their wedding was so important to Jay that, against Doctor’s advice, he wouldn’t postpone the magical event.
The wedding was absolutely beautiful and the reception was a hoot! Sadly, Jay ended up in the intensive care unit of the hospital that evening. Just the beginning of a rocky, rollercoaster journey of complications and more doctor appointments and hospitalizations than you could shake a stick at.
Jay’s mom, Leah, has been there for the couple; taking Jay to his appointments in Boston while Cathy worked her butt off at multiple jobs.
Despite all of Jay and Cathy’s challenges, the two of them lived a life full of humor, laughter, caring and love for each other as well as for most anyone who crossed their path. This all changed on January 11, 2020.
Catherine Jean Bessette-Kirby passed away in her sleep from a heart attack at the age of 44.
The world changed that day. Not only from the shock of losing a loved one at such a young age. But also, from losing a most spectacular soul that did nothing short of make the world a better place for others…every single day.
There is such sorrow in Cathy’s leaving us, but at the same time there is such appreciation, respect and hope in the memories of the life she lived and the legacy she leaves behind.
Cathy’s sister Krista and also Cathy’s daughters Maranda and Myra helped me out in writing this piece. Despite their grief and sorrow in losing Cathy, they felt so strongly about sharing some of the beauty and magic of her life.
Here are just a few examples of Cathy’s personality and life mission.
“Catherine knew almost all of Vermont. She was known for her beautiful smile and radiant blue eyes. She gifted her resilient attitude, forgiving love and true guidance on any type of person no matter their hardships, and this was what was special about her.”
“I loved her upbeat personality! She was outgoing and so much fun to be around. She had a contagious smile. Three words to describe Cathy.....beautiful, giving, outgoing.”
“Cathy truly was a beautiful person inside and out and I was a better person to have known her. She was so friendly and accepting of everyone. The world would be a better place if everyone was half the person she was. Cathy was always so full of life and regardless of what was going on, she remained positive.”
“She always was ready to help anyone..”
“She has a great bond with whoever she came in touch with. I will never forget her laugh and the bond she and my dad had they would pick on each other when she would play bingo.”
“Cathy’s laugh was contagious...didn’t matter how mad u were she would always get u laughing. The biggest life lesson she taught me is to never give up... compassionate, sincere, giving.”
And one of the most heartwarming and personal thoughts shared: “She’s the reason I have a relationship with my father. That she loved me so much and cared so much that she made it possible to be with my dad. She made so much of the impossible possible.”
Cathy didn’t just make the world a better place when she was with us. She has continued to do the very same even after she passed.
The night after she left us, at 1:30 a.m., Jay received a call from the hospital. The voice on the other line told Jay that a patient was there, who was in need of eye transplants. They asked if they could please have permission to use Cathy’s.
As Cathy’s sister Krista told me, “I am an organ donor myself. But when you receive a call from the hospital asking to take a part of your loved one’s body, it’s a confusing feeling.”
Personally, I had never thought of the feelings of a family in this situation, and her words did make a lot of sense. But, as Krista also said, “It was the right thing to do.”
I have to chuckle as I think about Cathy at this point. I can pretty much hear her laughing up above us saying, “Oh yeah, I like this, I can still make a difference even from here.”
Through example, Cathy showed us all the power and urgency of organ donation. In doing so, she now has created a re-energized hope for Jay in his search for a heart.
The eyes that she shared are captivating and of striking beauty. Crystal bright blue with sparkles like a prism, Cathy’s eyes danced with life. Now she’s dancing with someone else.
When I think of Cathy, I think of magic.
Magic in her ability to see the world with an unbiased, pure, empathetic beauty.
Magic that made its way into her heart and soul through her reflective eyes.
And a magic that I believe will live on through the blessed person given the miraculous gift of seeing the world through Cathy’s eyes.
Julie Gagnon Prior
Julie Gagnon Prior resides in Grand Isle with her partner Carl and their 5 dogs. Prior has been battling Lyme Disease for several years, which she