Unfortunately rumors of my sister-in-law’s passing are not exaggerated. Neither is the sorrow or the depth of grief. I find it mind numbing and I cannot speak about it. What can one say about “gone?” I read the Obituary of Kathryn M Fialkowski and I think how can I describe her life? Her meaning to me? It leaves me ruminating. Reaching back and replaying old memories — such small etherial things. Moments. A life comes down to little fleeting moments that someone recalls.
I can’t really remember a time before Kathy. She and my brother dated before he went to Viet Nam, in ~67. They got married when he came home, around 70. I was 6 years old. When I was in elementary school I would spend long summer days with Kathy in their apartment. Some people thought I was their first child. After all our names were the same… same spelling… and surely I look genetically tied to my brother.
I was a klutz when I was little. Falling down all the time. At their apartment, Kathy let me help her paint some wood furniture. I accidentally fell onto the freshly painted furniture. I was devastated. But Kathy just laughed and got out the paint brushes, handed me one and said “lets get to work.” “Projects” might just define the last 50 years. I would come to the house and say, what have you been working on? We’d walk around together and look at her latest project: refinishing a piece of furniture, decorating a room, renovating the basement. I guess the American Warriors Watch Coalition was her biggest project — touching so many lives.
About 40 years ago, I remember a rocking chair she was working on — Kathy was getting ready for her first baby. Kathy would hold the baby (Danielle) in her arms and sing Put Your Head on My Shoulder – she sang it better than Paul Anka. Her voice was strong and pure and she had perfect pitch. Later I learned that Kathy’s mother had been an singer. Clearly the voice was gifted to Kathy as well. When I think about her, I hear music. She had music in the house, the car, singing to her grandchildren. I think of the various songs she sang. And happily, I recall the operas we saw together at the Met. Kathy introduced me to Turandot. Beautiful memories I have of her — all with voices soaring to the Heavens.
Kathy was an adventurer. I was so surprised to learn that. Many years later I was at their home for a celebration — their baby daughter Jeanine’s beautiful wedding. We were sitting around shooting the breeze and I was describing my apartment in Paris. Kathy said that she would love to see it. I said, “come on” and she said “okay.” I thought “yeah right” but that very night Kathy started planning her trip to Paris! One morning, I remember coming into my living room in Paris. Kathy was having a petite cafe, standing at the french windows… the windows open, the curtains and her silk dressing gown gently blowing in the breeze, her head leaning back and she was grinning ear to ear. She was in her element. It was the first of many trips together. New York, London, Paris, and various spots in Italy. Kathy loved the planning, loved the trips, and loved bringing them home. In Italy there was one suitcase that weighed about 300 pounds full of “bringing a little something home.” I have so many visual memories of those days. The cafes. The Cathedrals. The Piazzas. But if you look around her home there is only one tiny 3×5 picture of her in her travels, by the Arc d’Triomphe.
Words that remind me of Kathy: La Dolce Vita. A La Famiglia. And Joie de Vivre.
There are many people we meet in the world who are limited by something in themselves — their past, their roots, their upbringing, something .. and then there are those extraordinary few who acknowledge who they are and also find the courage to soar above all the noise to become themselves — uniquely themselves. Kathy was just such a person.
May we learn from my sister, Kathy… may we all have the courage to soar.