I have met many people as a member of Shomrei Emunah, and all of them have taught me so much about their lives, about myself, and about our space in the world.
I first noticed Carol Cathey from a distance. She came regularly to Shabbat morning services, and I was struck by how outgoing she was, how stylishly and yet comfortably she dressed, and how easily she navigated the synagogue with her walker.
I got to know Carol better through our interactions in a range of activities, which included Kiddush Prep on Friday mornings, her attendance at holiday and Shabbat services as well as other cultural and educational activities. She was an active woman who exercised regularly. She had strong connections to family and friends. Her family persuaded her last year to move to be closer to them, about forty-five minutes west of Montclair. Despite this, from time to time, Carol returned to Shomrei for services.
One week ago, when the pandemic gripped our lives, I received a funny posting, and so I sent it to Carol, among others whom I thought would enjoy the humor. Carol emailed me back, remarking ‘Thank you for the smile’. She added that she was quite ill and that I could share her email and news with other who might want to know. When I alerted people with whom we shared synagogue activities, they reached out to her immediately.
When the pandemic hit us, the Mensch Squad paired some of its members with older congregants to maintain regular contact throughout the pandemic. I gladly committed to being in touch with Carol. She was not up to talking on the phone, so we exchanged emails. In the first, she told me that she had heard from the members whom I had told about her illness, and she was very gratified. She also told me that her granddaughter had moved in to take care of her. I wrote back to say how reassuring it must be to have her granddaughter there. In the spirit of sharing something positive, I told her that I now have a granddaughter of my own – Ozi Ariella Felder, born on March 17 to my son Jacob and his wife Alayna. Ozi, I explained, is Hebrew for “the strength within me” or “my strength.” Carol responded with a joyful mazel tov, adding, “What a perfect name for the chaos she was born into. Hope you are continuing to stay well. “
Unfortunately, that was the last I heard from Carol. Last Thursday, I received an email from her granddaughter, telling me that Carol had died late the night before, on March 25th, due to complications of cancer.
Carol was an indomitable person who liked telling stories and being with others. She was engaged and positive in her life. She reinforced for me how meaningful it is to connect with each person in our community. Each person has a life to share and can impart to me fresh ways to view the world. She allowed me share a part of her life, even to the end.
Along with the sadness of losing her, I draw comfort that I was able to be with her in some way almost until the end, and also to extend that gift to other congregants. I hope that she, in turn, felt the warmth of her Shomrei community, even as her life slipped away.