gone is our sister


gone is our sister

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My sister, Catherine, your beloved mainsheetgirl, died last night, April 5, 2012 at 8:21 p.m. local time. Like a sneak-thief, cancer stole her life right before our very eyes. About two weeks before her death, when she entered hospice care, she was almost terrified of death. In an effort to help her to find some peace with what we knew was coming, and to help me to accept that my little sister would soon be gone, I created the story that follows for Catherine, and told it to her for the first time during the night of March 24. She really did cry during my telling of the story and said, as it is written, "This is the story of our separation." About a week after that, and with many other conversations and revelations in between, she looked at me one morning and said, "I’m not afraid of dying anymore."

Yesterday, while washing each of her hands as she lay in bed, something that she enjoyed, I told the story to her again. She fell asleep soon after, and did not awaken. Several hours later, as our parents and I held her close, she smiled with her last breath, and left this world. I sat by her side after she was gone, and wrote down the story of The Two Sisters. I like to think it helped her to find peace with where she was going.

Spending this time with my sister will always be precious. I had always thought that I would get to spend the rest of my life with her, but as that was not meant to be, I made sure that she was able to spend the rest of her life with me.


Once there were two sisters who went walking.

The one sister said, "There is a place in my imagination to explore, and I’ve been waiting so you could come with me. Will you come?"

"Yes, I’d like that," the other sister told her.

And so the two sisters joined hands, left their shoes in the grass behind them, and set out into the one sister’s imagination.

They came to a mossy stone path; both warm from the sun and cool underfoot. The two sisters followed the path to the top of a quiet hill. There, they lingered, looking ahead at the beauty in front of them, and then walked on, letting the stones lead them forward.

The path meandered on through the grass. Past placid sheep tending fresh lambs. Past whimsical window-boxed cottages, bordered by yellow daffodils, nodding their heads as the two sisters happened by. On either side, they saw a pony grazing here and there, with low stone walls and tidy fences to keep them from wandering. Shady trees were scattered all around.

Soon the two sisters came to a grove of trees, tall and noble, growing out of the grass. They walked until the trees became a forest, with patches of sunlight breaking through the breezy leaves and onto the ground. On and on they walked, and the path led them through the coolness of the forest, the songs of birds sweetening the air.

And then through the trees, they caught glimpses of different places. On one side, was the sea, with tips of sparkling waves and sails full in the breeze. On the other side, a cool stream danced down the mountain, its pebble-bottomed pools edged with ferns. The mossy stone path became two, one went to the sea, and the other went to the mountain.

"Which way shall we go from here?" the one sister asked.

The other sister said, "I’m going to the sea."

The one sister said, "But I’m going to follow the stream up the mountain."

Realizing this, the other sister, her face crumpling into tears, said, "This is the story of our separation."

"Yes." the one sister said.

Then the other sister really began to cry, so the one sister said, "Should I tell you the rest of the story?"

The other sister said, "Yes."

"First, I’ll tell my story of going up the mountain, so you can know what I’ll find there," said the one sister, "and then I’ll tell the story of you and the sea."

And so the two sisters kissed each other and parted, each one going her own way on the path that was meant for her.

The one sister started up the mountain beside the stream. As she climbed up, the cool water splashed down into pebbly bright pools. The mountain forest rose under her feet. Birds flashed through the trees, and violets watched as she passed by. As she walked higher, the pebbles became stones, and the stones became boulders. The stream soon disappeared into the muddy grass. The one sister then found herself above all of the trees, on the smooth gray rocks at the top of the mountain.

She gazed all around at the world before her. She looked far away to the place where she and her sister had begun the journey on the mossy stones, to the peaceful forest where the other sister had gone on without her. If she squinted off into the sun, she could see the sparkling ocean in the distance. And so she watched as the path of the other sister unfolded before her.

The other sister walked out from under the trees, alone, and stepped into the warm sand. She was glad that she had already left her shoes behind. Toward the water she went, and then onto the long, weathered boards that had appeared there, rising from the sand. The boards, smooth under her feet, led her out over the clear water.

On she walked; turning around once to look for the mountain that she knew the one sister had climbed without her. Once she found it in the distance, the other sister turned away, and continued toward the deep sea. As she walked closer and closer to the end of the pier, the boat moored there took her gaze and held it fast.

"Madrona! It’s you, and I’m here," the other sister whispered to her beloved boat. The other sister then took the wide rope in her hands and the knot joining Madrona to the pier fell away. She climbed aboard her, and the wind led them away together.

The one sister, from the top of the mountain, watched as the other sister went from her, on her lovely Madrona.

Her voice told the wind, "Our time here is different, but when we get there, we will get there at the same time."

The other sister, turning to the mountain, said back to the wind, "I am on my way, and when we get there, we will get there at the same time."


Catherine Mary Connolly sailed away from this Earth on the evening of April 5, 2012, surrounded by her family and wrapped in all of her quilts. Her 42 years were filled with innumerable adventures, far more than most others would ever hope to enjoy.

Catherine had an incredible spirit, and each day she would awaken to impulsively choose the best that life had to offer. She loved to sleep late and never once met an alarm clock that she liked.

For more than four decades, she smiled, wrote poetry, traveled, drank, smoked, sailed, and spent every dime she ever earned. Catherine was generous, compassionate, and kind to all, except for people who ticked her off, and was well loved by scores of family members, friends and co-workers. She had a spontaneous wit, which was largely unedited, and would poke fun at anyone and anything. To say that she was irreverent is a huge understatement.

Catherine was a graduate of Clayton A. Bouton Junior-Senior High School in Voorheesville, New York. She then took seven years to earn a four-year degree in English and Women’s Studies from the University at Albany.

Catherine was a world traveler, having lived in England, where she worked on an archaeological dig. She lived in the Pacific Northwest and Corpus Christi, Texas, aboard her beloved boat, Madrona. She also lived in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; Beaufort, North Carolina; and New York City, before returning to her hometown of Voorheesville, New York.

Catherine had countless friends all over the world, including the insane crew on Sailing Anarchy, many of whom she had never met in person. Her last wish was that people would remember her for her poetry, her compassion and kindness, and her humor.

She is survived by her parents, Kenneth J. and Diane Connolly, of Voorheesville, her sister, Christine Tolbert and brother-in-law, Doug, and nieces Molly and Audrey, and nephew, Alan of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania; her brother, Kevin Connolly, and sister-in-law, Megan, nephews, Zachary and Ethan, of Altamont; nephew Carson Adams, of Clifton Park; and niece Cloe Leininger, nephew-in-law Anthony, and great-niece Olivia, of Fort Lewis, Washington.

Catherine was fearless, and her final act while on this Earth was to smile before taking her last breath. Whatever she saw coming her way must have been absolutely wonderful. Look for her when you get there, she’ll be the one having a really good time.

As an avid reader and writer, it would have given great joy to Catherine to know that anyone who wishes honor her love of the written word would please give to the Voorheesville Public Library at 51 School Street, Voorheesville, New York, 12186.

As a thrill-seeking sailor, Catherine also found pleasure in sharing the joy of the wind and water with others, and anyone who wishes to honor her spirit of adventure would please give to the Spike Perry Memorial Scholarship Fund.org. The fund will provide scholarship money for deserving students from the Perry’s hometown waters to learn more about sailing, seamanship and the region’s rich maritime traditions.

A gathering of family and friends will be held on Saturday, April 14, 2012, from 2:00 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the American Legion Post 1493, at 31 Voorheesville Avenue, Voorheesville, New York. All are invited to join us to celebrate Catherine’s brief but remarkable life.