Category Archives: tributes

Kathy O’Keefe Linger.

The name Kathy used to be the cool girl’s name.

This meant that, if you were named Kathy, you’d be born among your contemporaries into a sort of automatic class, like Jen or Ashley, who were just a few years ahead of the Carries, Caras, Carlies. You get it.

Only those of us named strangely felt this. The Frannies. The Ruth Anns.

Kathy.

Each of the Sweet girls, four sisters, daughters of Mae and Henry produced their brood post-WWII; and, the third born, Frances, absconding from the Plymouth Brethren to put down roots in radical Parma, Ohio, would be blessed late in life with Kathleen, the last of the grands, circa 1962.

And, our Kathy embodied cool like nobody.

Oh, not because she was a social follower. Kathy O’Keefe was anything but.

The Sweet genes, formidable enough, bestowed their lion’s share upon the daughters of their daughters. And, Kathy, the only “carrot top” in the bunch, was not to be overlorded or overshadowed by any of them.

From her earliest days, sending her signal through the whole extended family like a current, we would learn that Kathy had been born with a life threatening abnormality. Before anyone could comprehend “transplant”, some cutting edge surgeon from the trending Cleveland Clinic installed a replacement porcine aortic valve into her heart muscle.

Kathy wouldn’t just live. She would thrive, with a pig valve, for many years. Naturally energetic, loving the outdoors and as much physical activity as her teeming mind would allow she threw herself, headlong and whole heartedly, into everything – camping; hiking; and, especially, water skiing on Lake Chautauqua. She could water ski before the rest of us had learned to swim.

Heading toward college, equally determined to use her frontal lobe to its fullest, Kathy became a math teacher. And, not just a math teacher, she was a mathematics and economics whiz, rising to the top of those respected among her ilk. Inheriting the shrewd, critical thinking intellect of her mother, a strong work ethic its corollary, she made highly organized productivity into a lifestyle.

We among the family would get to see her at Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings, when the O’Keefe clan would make the extra effort to tool east to meet the rest of us at Mammy and Pappy’s on East 29th. Her intensity was always palpable ( and, audible – talking is what the Sweets did ) – from the moment she burst into the room until the final, equally driven departure. Kathy was purposeful; there was always a motive to act, because there was a reason for everything. When it was time to go, it was time to leave. On to the next thing, the next reason to keep on living.

Her second heart valve surgery came around age 21*. The pork valve may have had its own shelf life, but she did not. However, this replacement was man made, mechanical, and bore with it a lifelong ticking clock which could be both heard and, mostly, felt. Kathy would now live by that clock, the ever present reminder that, to her, each moment was the gift.

Childbirth is toil for any woman but, for Kathy, the reality would prove confrontational; right as she approached the date of her own daughter Kristen’s arrival (yes; she was married) that valve would signal its own, looming demise. The CC team of surgeons gathered, obstetrics and cardiology; Kathy would give birth, naturally, even as her second aortic valve was about to die, and receive the third and final prosthetic in the months following.

For me, when the cousins married they slowly retreated from my view; I was the last to tie that knot, and the first to let it slip loose. But, when Kathy’d met Rob, they were bound forever. Theirs was the deep, abiding friendship built on common outlook, interests, and activities that makes marriage true. Part of a family whose society was determined by close proximity and faith-centered commitment to each other, they lived out their own place therein in the finest of form.

But, the baby of any family has a special spot to occupy. Kathy’s relationship with her Dad, a Baptist minister, was both admirable and endearing. She regarded him with absolute, Godly respect, and he toward her with complete encouragement and acceptance. As he aged, enduring heart health challenges of his own only to survive them against unheard of odds (massive coronary, age 80? subsequent infection, triple bypass surgery, and still living to age 98?), Kathy would come to expect that indomitability was both inherited and learned.

Maybe this indomitability both informed and drove the decisions she would be forced to make when, just a couple years ago, her symptoms finally led to the sobering diagnosis of a cancer which carried with it erratic statistics; multiple myeloma was “manageable”, treatable, potentially less than life curtailing. Kathy of all people could most definitely fight and win against this level of foe. All she had to do was, well, be Kathy O’Keefe.

Enter the silent enemy, the ever-wielding unknown. Powers, those that both were and those that aspired to be, dictating the courses of treatment. Everything distilling down to the perceived sources of trust and trustworthiness, and those who embodied each. Like her mother before her Kathy would make clear to everyone and all; decision making was her domain. Her devoted husband, perhaps he only, fully understood this. At every point, juncture, even apparent impasse, Kathy would ready herself to choose.

The latest news had rendered a sort of last gasp euphoria, in recent weeks. Inexplicably, after struggling to sustain the stem cell replacement therapy which had been effective for so many, she’d survived the only remaining chemo protocol, including an infected gall bladder; now, the latest, most “promising” treatment regimen, just FDA approved, was finally in her hands. The Cleveland Clinic had the whole thing ready, and her body seemed equally prepared.

We’d all watched, through the lens of social media, as she took her first, second, third dose, only to marvel at the ever present grin and thumbs up outcome of each tentative step. Suddenly, it was Christmastime and, discharged from the Seidman Center, Kathy and Rob and Kristen were allowed to go home. This news, alone, was an extra special reason to celebrate the joy of the season.

Silence was less familiar, to the Sweets. To us, when you didn’t talk, something wasn’t right. And, this time, something wasn’t. Kathy had been full of life, playing (and, winning) board games, running at her familiar nearly frantic pace; but, just beyond the fully decorated Christmas tree, a quiet cloaked the scene.

The promise of a final protocol which was heralded as life sustaining had failed. Kathy’s body curled up, giving its spirit over to the God who had governed the O’Keefe clan from go and its soul into the arms of her father, Pastor George, who welcomed her with transcending relief. The woman who had run so hot, her body cooled by death, was ever the embodiment of a life lived on terms that would challenge even the most arrogant women and men. Kathy had withstood; she had persisted; she had run a course most would merely observe, and that with awe.

Kathy O’Keefe Linger. Not just another Kathy. Loved by so many. Admired by more. In a class, by herself.

*precise chronology on these surgeries still in edit/awaiting clarification.

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Copyright 1/4/23. Ruth Ann Scanzillo All rights those of the author, whose story is hers, and whose name appears above this line. Please respect the family. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com

Amber Heard.

When Katrina died, I hit my first writer’s block.

Having read about this affliction, I would smirk at the thought; how could a true writer find no words?

In my case, there was little warning; I’d typed her name, in the title of what was to be another of many tribute pieces, only to find myself staring at the white screen. I could not begin.

But, after spending several hours this weekend viewing reruns of the Depp/Heard defamation hearings, I woke up this morning thinking of Katrina.

We’d first met when she was a piano student of Sam Rotman at Mercyhurst College, myself on staff playing for the students of vocal and instrumental performance. Forty years old, I was teeming with climaxing hormonal energy, overjoyed to be in such close proximity to fresh, anticipating youth. Katrina was a bubbling post-adolescent with residual acne and raw authenticity. Bearing a gift for theater show tunes, she brought cheerful joy into the room and loved everyone she met.

The tenor, to whom I’d been assigned, was her boyfriend. I played his senior recital, and we became well acquainted. At the time, he called Katrina his good friend and it wouldn’t be until I happened to catch them in the library after the recital exchanging a quick kiss on the lips that her actual status would emerge. I would learn, years later, that many men often categorized the women in their lives differently than the women who regarded such men.

Katrina was generous with praise. She was specific, for example, in acknowledging the thumb technique required in the piano accompaniment for the Britten after that recital. Vivid, to me, was the smile on her face and the light in her eyes. Knowing the part, she showed genuine collegiality and deference toward me, an act of humility.

Years passed. I would next see Katrina at a music faculty meeting, within the district. Myself having been at the high schools, I’d bid down to primary level and she appeared as a newest hire among them.

Katrina had changed. Now, she sat silently, her deference manifesting minus the characteristic extroversion, watchful and attentive. Her skin was smoothe and clear, her countenance thoughtful.

But, her reputation as a music teacher and theater pit pianist had spread quickly. The kids loved her. The staff loved her. The casts adored her. Everywhere she went, she still brought the light of her spirit and a selfless enthusiasm devoted to the successes of her charges. Silent at faculty meetings, Katrina conserved her energy for use where it mattered most.

Amber Heard sits in court, silence enforced. Her presentation is physically flawless. Perfectly tailored clothing, expertly fit; hair professionally set; complexion that of painted porcelain. Structurally, her face is enviably beautiful, its profile completely balanced, its angles bearing not a single weakness. One can marvel looking at her as if viewing one of the Creator’s most outstanding moments.

But, like the many masterworks of Rodin or Michelangelo, she appears as any stone sculpture. One searches to find the soul in her eyes. One notes the fleeting curl at the left corner of a petulant lip. One, as a member of her audience, contemplates what if any nourishing life might be found there.

Among contrasts this, the most stark, I think of Katrina. Cancer ravaged her neck and throat, seizing her ability to swallow. Still, she smiled, directing whatever ounce of remaining energy she had toward her daughter, Amelia, and her husband, Mark. To the end, she was ever focused on the needs of those to whom she was devoted, almost as sacrifice. Their world without her is a gaping and grasping testament to being loved entirely.

What the price of a selfish life?

To what end?

About that, I have no more words to say.

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© 5/1/22 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in part or whole (including translation) permitted without direct, written, signed permission of the author. Thank you for being the better person.

littlebarefeetblog.com

“Even If We Cry.”

I met Kelly after a show, in 2015. She’d been in so many others, our meeting rendered me utterly fan girl helpless. Everything you’d ever want to experience, from a consummate dramatic talent, Kelly was impeccably, comically hilarious; deeply, even darkly introspective; and, visually dazzling.

What struck me most, in real world terms, was Kelly’s warmth. This girl wrapped her arms around a person, gathering you in like a grandmama in a much younger woman’s body. Her soul was so open. She really, genuinely, cared about other people and, even with an ever burgeoning audience of admirers, still able to take us one at a time. Perhaps it was a kind of timing, on my part, but I found her affection much needed nourishment to the heart.

I, being about ten years behind the social curve, had to catch up on this local gem. Turns out she was mother to three dear boys, two of them twins, and shared their parenting with a young man, Jeff, who would stun me with his own, equally gargantuan talent, versatility, and depth. Both together and separately, Kelly and Jeff easily displaced every celebrated actor whose characterizations I’d ever venerated. Not only were they both world class, to Kelly their relationship was special; I can remember her telling me, wide eyes glowing: “I’ve never loved anybody so much in my life.” Given that she had produced multiple lives at once (the twins, within a minute of each other), it was no wonder she had love that big – plus, enough for the rest of us, too.

As the years unfolded, we would continue to cross paths, more recently finding ourselves together in my home preparing a musical revue in rehearsal. I found her to be easily relaxed in ensemble, then earnest, intensely focused on her own skill building at closer range, as if not realizing how she’d long since already arrived beyond fully prepared. I was so honored with the opportunity to work directly with this magnificently gifted woman, even taking her interior home layout advice regarding my insistent red rug as coming from a natural set designer. After she left solo session I, who never let anybody tell me how to do anything, moved that rug into the next room just as she’d suggested.

As time and life events would change us all, so they’d altered Kelly and Jeff’s landscape. Discreetly, they’d become coparents in separate living situations, but continuing to thrive as performing professionals and enjoying their growing family. Via social media, I would observe as she and her boys interacted with a newly acquired pup, grieve with her after one of our last rehearsals when this dog had escaped the yard to be fatally struck on the road, then vicariously celebrate the next pet who came to comfort them. Through it all, I could clearly see; Kelly the grandmama spirit loved her house full of boys with the same, open, giving, heart we all had come to both feel and try to return.

The pandemic scourge was particularly hardest on these most gifted stage performers. They treasured their privacy, but thrived in live character; how to make life work, day to day, in such enforced proximity was new and almost formidable. Managing in home virtual learning scenes was a far cry from a sitz probe. Understanding young, tender boys entering adolescence even more daunting.

This is where the curtain rightfully closes. None of us from the outside looking on can know the challenges of another during this universally imposed condition reduced at times to mere existence. Life has become both momentarily exultant and cruel. Just the night before last, Kelly’s entire, rapidly blending family had celebrated her mother’s birthday and, the following morning, the unthinkable; one of her dear boys born within the same minute had breathed his last, reasons known only to the God we’d hoped would be there.

The obituary appeared just hours ago, written in bursts of expressive color, each detail tumbling over the next as if enough could not be said about this boy named Kris whose emerging dreams lay just before him. Primal screams with no outlet swell our chests. Arms whose reach we cannot even extend grasp the air for the feel of another’s beating heart. Kelly, Jeff, and Mark and the boys remain to endure. From Kelly: “Please be a good friend and a good brother in his honor…… talk to us about him when you see us, even if we cry.”

Kelly, I vow to grant this request. We’ll be bringing our tears, too.

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© 10/4/21 Ruth Ann Scanzillo.

https://www.goerie.com/obituaries/psom0075544