May 30, 2001

My cousin Jeff sent me e-mail yesterday saying that our cousin Kathy -- like us, one of 13 grandchildren of the late William Godbey Jasper and Grace Ewell Baker Jasper -- had passed away last week. She was 53.

Kathy is the first of our generation to pass away. (Her sister, Sharon, five or six years older than Kathy, is the oldest of us; my brother Peter, who turned 40 in December, is the youngest.) And her story is eerily similar to that of our nextdoor neighbor, Debbie, who died just a couple of weeks ago.

In Debbie's case, we got the heads up that something was amiss when her psychiatrist stopped by to ask if anyone had seen her in a couple of days. We called our landlord who called the police who called the fire department who came out with the paramedics. They found her on her back at the foot of her bed; we later found out that the cause of death was acute peritonitis with colonic rupture. Horrible, upsetting, disappointing.

It was nearly the same with Kathy. Apparently her current husband (number 5? number 6? she was married to at least one person on multiple occasions) is a long-distance trucker. He came home to find that she'd been dead for a couple of days, presumably of natural causes. She had some of the same problems Debbie had (including difficulty managing prescription pain medications) and some others (e.g., chronic emphysema) as well.

In addition to her husband, she's survived by her daughter Rachel (child of husband number 3?), married and living in Kentucky, and a son Karl (child of husband number 1), who inherited many of his mother's problems and whose current whereabouts are unknown apparently.

Kathy was the youngest daughter of my Aunt Doris, my father's oldest sister. In a lot of ways, Kathy, Doris and my dad had more in common with each other than with any of their other siblings, offspring, nieces and nephews. They were all highstrung to the point of being dysfunctional. They were also all incredibly smart and incredibly talented, extremely knowledgeable and very well-read given the limits of their formal (nothing past high school) education.

It was also the case that my dad and Kathy tended to be natural allies, at least when Dad was younger. He was the youngest of five siblings (Doris, Joyce, Joan, Roy and Paul) and Kathy was the youngest of three (Sharon, Shelly and Kathy). Dad was 10 years younger than Doris, 10 years older than Shelly, and only 15-16 when Kathy was born. Dad had to deal with my grandfather, who was wildly overbearing. Kathy had to deal with her mother, who much as she disliked her own father was similarly wildly overbearing.

My dad was, from what she ever told me, far and away Kathy's favorite family member and I think that she was very much his favorite niece, although it was very much a strained relationship after Kathy grew up and started making such a royal mess of her life.

My grandfather, whose overbearing personality distorted the lives of everyone around him, died in 1984 at age 87. Less than two years later, in 1986, Doris passed away at age 62. Dad followed in 1989 at age 57.

And now Kathy, the first of us grandkids, at age 53.

If there's a heaven, it must be a noisy place these days.


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