Sunday, June 09, 2013

If Money Had Been No Object

On this date last year my sister, Cassie died.  At that time, I was tasked with the responsibility and the privilege to write her obituary.  Because of space and financial considerations (you have to pay the newspaper for extra words), I was limited in what I could publish.  If I'd had unlimited funds, this is the obituary I would have written.  And this is the obituary she deserved.

Mary Catherine (Cassie) Best Kraus King died in her sleep on June 9, 2012 at her home in Odessa, Texas.  She was born on August 15, 1956 - a Wednesday.  "Wednesday's child is full of woe..." and Cassie had her share of woe.  But on that day in 1956 her parents, John Edward and Jean Shirley Hammerton Best, greeted her with joy and much love.

She was named Mary because August 15 is a Catholic Holy Day - the Feast of the Assumption  of Mary.  Her middle name Catherine was after her paternal grandmother, Catherine Carney Best.  The name Cassie came about because her sister Jean (Jean Wright) couldn't pronounce Cathy.  Her parents called her Cassie Assie, but because she wasn't allowed to say "ass" she referred to herself as "Cassie Bum Bum".

She was the third of four children - Bruce Best, Jean Wright and Barbara Best.  In addition to her father and siblings, she is survived by her son Steven Michael (Julie) Kraus and two grandchildren, Damian and Skylar.

Family was important to her and so she would have liked to include all her aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, great nieces and nephews, steps-, friends who were as close as family, etc in this list. And she could have named every one, along with their birthdays and anniversaries!

She attended St Lawrence O'Toole Elementary School, Ursuline Academy, and for a time, Clarion State University.  She graduated from Allegheny County Vo-Tech with a degree in Practical Nursing and was a Licensed Practical Nurse.

As a young teen Cassie had thyroid problems that were possibly thought to be cancerous.  She was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis and had to have her thyroid surgically removed.  It was serious surgery for it's time and a cause of great worry for her parents.  The surgery was successful and the experience may have fueled her nurturing skills.

From an early age, Cassie demonstrated great nursing skills.  She often tended to her siblings and parents when they were sick or hospitalized.  Highly intelligent, she understood medical science, but her best professional skill was her compassion and desire to ease people's pain.  Prior to her nursing career she worked at a church bingo refreshment stand, as a Laundromat attendant, a hospital food service worker  and a waitress, always serving people.  She was an advocate for her patients and any downtrodden she thought were being disrespected and ignored.  You would not want to be the Customer Service representative who was rude to a hapless customer!  Cassie would have had no problem coming from the back of the line to dress down said representative for the sake of a total stranger.  And if the customer happened to be rude to the person behind the counter, she'd take them on as well.

Cassie had a variety of interests.  Her musical taste ranged from Elvis to Elton John to... (gasp) Barry Manilow.  She loved to read - anything from Best Sellers to gossip rags.  It was the latter that made her a killer Trivial Pursuit player, especially in the Arts & Entertainment category.

Her taste in food was far from refined.  Cassie's favorite Italian meal was Chef Boyardee Spaghetti-O's.  She liked Potato Buds over homemade mashed potatoes and LaChoy over any Chinese restaurant.  However, she was quite particular about stuffing.  It had to be homemade - her mother's recipe; StoveTop was no substitute.  Cassie's culinary skills were not top-notch, either; but she WAS able to duplicate Mommy's stuffing (for which there is no written recipe, it's totally by "feel & taste") like no one else in the family.

 Her greatest love was for her son, Steven - her "Bunny Boy", and his family.  She adored her granddaughter, Skylar or, as she referred to her "Skylab".  She wanted for Steven every experience, every advantage.  She scraped together money for him to take a few flying lessons, and took him on a trip to New York City.  And there were also the numerous trips to Cedar Point...  Steve inherited his love of roller coasters from her.  Though she enjoyed coasters, she would still try to protect Steve and any one who was riding next to her, by putting her arm up in front of them to stop them from falling out - again, sometimes total strangers.

It would be easy to ignore or gloss over the "full of woe" portion of Cassie's life, but it was part of what made her - and she would be angry if I didn't acknowledge it.  Throughout most of her life, Cassie struggled with substance abuse and suffered the physical, emotional, social and legal ramifications.  It may have been what killed her, we don't know.  At the very least, it contributed to her way too early death.

I don't know what caused her addictions.  I wonder if maybe it was her great compassion and empathy; her ability to feel others' pain.  Perhaps Cassie was so sensitive to everyone's hurt that she was overwhelmed by it and sought relief in drugs and alcohol.  I don't know.  Nobody does.

In January, 2012 I read the book "A Praying Life" by Paul Miller and was struck by the need to pray for my sister in a regular and very concerted way.  The verse that came to mind when I prayed for her was Matthew 11:28 - "Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."  I did this quite often over the next few months.  After she died, I was sorting through the prayer cards I kept for various people and thought to myself wryly, "Well, I don't need this one anymore". 

(Yes, it's a sick joke; but Cassie would have liked it.  She would have laughed at it...hard.  Her only complaint would have been that I'd said it before she did.)

Thinking about my prayers, I realized God had answered this prayer.  This wasn't the rest I'd expected Him to give her, but Cassie is at rest.  As a teenager, she'd made a commitment to Christ; she knew that her own good works were not enough to please God; she couldn't do enough of them to earn salvation.  And at that time, she'd done quite a few good works.  To look at her life afterwards - the stints in rehab, the times in jail, and all the other ugly acts - it didn't look like she was "living for Jesus".  But pull back the curtains that cover our lives and our selfishness, greed, anger, malice, impatience and pride (to name a few) would be revealed for all to see. We all fall short; which is why we need Jesus in the first place.

So, Cassie is at rest; she is in heaven with God, healed of her addictions.  She is not in hell because of her addictions and crimes any more than she is in heaven because of her good acts.  For all of us, our sinful acts and attitudes far outnumber our "saintly" ones.  Cassie is living in heaven because Jesus took the punishment she (and we all) deserved and she accepted His free gift of eternal life.

On this, the first anniversary of her death, I say with confidence in God, who answered my prayers that Cassie is Resting in Peace.