I just learned this morning that my dear friend, Cathy Grawin, passed away early Friday morning from ovarian cancer.
I loved Cathy. I adored her. She was a role model to me in many ways. She was a woman who loved her life, who loved her work. She was an amazing plein air painter.
We met in probably 1998 or ’99 when she worked as a graphic designer for Competitor magazine. Competitor and Road Runner Sports, the company I worked for, were partnering to produce Fitness Runner magazine for RRS, the magazine for its VIP club members. Cathy was assigned to work on the design of the magazine and as the representative for RRS, I would go up to the Competitor offices in Solana Beach and help with editorial etc. There was an editor for the magazine from Competitor, and they also sold all the advertising and helped us find writers, stories, etc. That was in the first year or so of the publication.
After that time, I was named editor and Cathy was the sole designer. She had left Competitor by then and was working freelance out of her home. I was in charge of everything except advertising. I found writers, I shaped each issue with main articles, supplemental articles, and our regular features. I managed the budget. And I worked closely with Cathy on the design. We had many meetings at her lovely house in Solana Beach, going over layouts, rearranging the ‘dummy’, doing photo shoots in the studio she built upstairs. And becoming great friends. I don’t even know how old she was, but I think she was about 15 or 16 years older than me, maybe more. To me she was ageless.
She was a wonderful listener. She heard the ups & downs of my love life, gave me advice, encouraged me to take risks and chances, understood my sensitivities. We took walks and then we’d nap. She fed me. I’d snuggle her dogs, first Peanut (a chihuahua that was taken by a coyote we think), then Ginger and Maude, little rescued chihuahuas that were so sweet). We’d go out for happy hour at Las Olas or the Fish Market. She came to poetry readings with me and concerts. I found respite in her home. She had such a peaceful vibe, loved to travel and paint. In turn, I heard her stories. About her former husbands, her daughter, the men she dated. Ultimately, she was alone but extremely happy. Very much like I see myself. She helped me understand that that was a fine way to live.
After Fitness Runner came to its end, our working relationship ended, but not our friendship. About a year after the end of the magazine, I left RRS for my current company. We didn’t see each other much, but we would keep in touch a bit.
Maybe 3 or 4 years ago, I got a Christmas card from her that indicated things weren’t going so well, but she never really said that. It was something very innocuous. Shortly after that, I got in touch with her and learned about the cancer. She went through treatment, chemotherapy, the whole bit. She was in remission for a while. She went on living her full life. By this time, she supported herself with her painting. She taught several classes. Some out of her home studio, some with UCSD extension, some out of the Athenaeum in La Jolla. Her work is currently on exhibit at the La Jolla Library in a show called “Fresh Paint: Impressions of California: Land & Sea.” I’ll have to go check it out. I’d go to some of her other shows, I remember one time, I drove out to Santa Ysabel where she often had exhibits.
She visited me in nearly every place I lived from the original Meeting Grace house to this downtown wonderland. I saw her a handful of times this year. Usually on Friday evenings on my way to LA to see my parents or Sundays on my way back from LA.
I visited her in March or April. She was doing well, but I knew that the cancer was back and that she was not getting any more treatment. She thought having chemo was almost worse than having cancer. She was strict with her diet, eating paleo and juicing, supplementing with medicinal marijuana, exercising. We got on the topic of her paintings, and I told her I would like to buy one. She told me she’d give me one. We went into her garage where she had a bunch of smaller paintings. I was looking for one to give to my dad for his birthday. I happened across an old tractor she had painted, and I thought it was perfect. Then I saw one of an old typewriter and one of a sea of clouds. She gave them all to me. She even put the typewriter one in a frame. I gave the tractor painting to my dad for his 77th birthday. He had a frame for it, and I put it in. I think he liked it.
I saw her in June. I had gone up to visit Cathryn at Heritage Ranch in Encinitas then swung by Cathy’s on the way home. She was hanging out in her recliner with her dogs. I took my usual seat on the chaise and we talked a while. I think she fixed me a salad with some tuna and we ate and chatted about Savannah, politics, her work. The usual stuff.
The next time I saw her was in late August about a month after Jeffrey Joe had passed. Again I had gone to Cathryn’s first. She was having a craft day at the Ranch, so I painted a little pot, was given a few small succulents to plant in the pot. I gave it to Cathy when I got there. She was so thrilled by it. She was a fantastic gardener. We hung out in her bedroom, and she told me that back in May she had been given 2-3 weeks to live. This had all been true when I had seen her last, but she hadn’t told me about the May diagnosis. In that 2 weeks she had been given, she got her affairs in order, a will, a trust whatever else she needed to make sure her daughter was set up, that the house would be okay. The house. It was where she had lived with her parents. She was one of those rare native San Diegans. She had some years ago sectioned off part of the upper floor into an apartment that she rented out to the same tenant for the whole time. She told me that in her last documents she left something to that loyal tenant.
That afternoon and evening was very special. We talked a lot, holding hands while we lay in her bed in opposite directions. There was a gorgeous painting she had done by her bed, huge, almost floor to ceiling that was just one bright star in a dusky sky with clouds. I mentioned how much I loved that painting, and she said, “That’s where I’m going.” I started to cry but quickly pulled myself together. We ended up going out for Thai food. She felt like having some soup. By this time, her stomach was swollen – liquid accumulating in her abdomen to protect itself against the tumors. She would have it drained every week, on Tuesdays. Hospice workers came to her house every few days to drain, give her meds, check her vitals. They said to her, aside from the cancer, you’re doing great!
We went to a Thai restaurant. I’m not a big fan of Thai food, but I wasn’t about to complain. She had a coconut soup, and I had something that wasn’t bad, lots of veggies and cashews. We had some spring rolls too, and she had a very sweet juice drink. She told me about her husbands, how they met, how they were together. It was a very pleasant evening out. I dropped her off and told her I’d see her again.
I texted her a couple times between then and when I next saw her. She didn’t text back so I was worried. The last time I went to my parents’ house, I dropped by her place. It was October 15. I got there around 4 pm. She was sitting in her living room with some of her art students. She had gotten a guest teacher to come teach her class because she was unable to climb the stairs. She told me she was tired. I hung around while everyone got their stuff together and said their farewells. She paid the guest teacher who had come down from LA. He seemed like a nice guy. I met her daughter finally. After all those years of knowing Cathy, I had never met Erika. She lived in LA or at her dad’s or at a boyfriend’s house. It was great to meet her and she said the same to me, having heard my name a thousand times from her mom. That warmed my heart to know that Cathy spoke of me to her family.
After everyone had left, Cathy & I went to her bedroom so she could lay down to rest. She told me that the stomach drainings were happening every couple days now and she just didn’t see how that could be sustained. She told me she was ready to go. We talked a little bit. I filled her in on my vacation to Outer Banks. I noticed that the painting of the star wasn’t in her room anymore. It was in a show, and her daughter had priced it for $10K. I said it was worth it. I didn’t stay too long. I could tell she was very tired. I told her I loved her and she told me the same. I left her home wondering if that would be the last time I saw her.
I texted her last Thursday. A simple message asking how she was and letting her know I was thinking about her. I didn’t get a response. Today, I went out for breakfast, then walked to Little Italy and back home along the streets that were closed to traffic for CiclosdiasSD. It was so great to be on the roads where usually there are cars. Instead, it was cyclists, people on skateboards and roller skates, and walkers like me. Shortly after I got home, I got a call from Cathy’s phone, and I just knew. The call disconnected almost immediately, and another number came up. My building, as great as it is, is made of concrete and not conducive to cell phone reception. I can’t use my balcony at the moment so I hurried to the elevator to go down to the lobby.
I called back Cathy’s number and her sister answered. Their voices are so similar. Carolyn told me that Cathy passed early Friday morning around 6:40 am while the sun was coming up. There was fog in the valley, and she left very peacefully surrounded by her daughter, her sister, and one of her best friends, Melody. I couldn’t help but cry even though I knew it was coming. Carolyn said that we are never really prepared. We talked for a bit. I’ve never met her either, though of course I knew about her through my conversations with Cathy and the same was true for her. She told me that I was very dear to Cathy and that she loved me very much. She told me that the last 48 hours have been a blur but that she wanted to let me know because she had seen the sweet texts I had sent. She said they would plan a celebration of life, and I said to let me know if I could help in any way. Now that I think about it, I may not even be here for it since I’m going to Austin next week. But something tells me Cathy would be okay with me going to Austin, to see my friends, to hear them play music, to live my life fully.
updated to add: I decided to go to the La Jolla Library to see her work. I arrived around 4pm, about an hour before it closed. The exhibit was right off the main door in a lecture hall type room. There were paintings on all the walls. And then I saw it. The painting that had been hanging in her bedroom. It’s her only piece in the exhibit. I sat in front of the painting for close to an hour, until the final notice was announced that the library was closing for the day. I wept. I spoke to it. I thought back on times with her. How it’s so weird that there won’t be any more moments. My friend Lindsay’s song about her mother’s death kept playing in my head, “Everything’s different with the lights out.” I hope she is there with that star (Venus). It’s appropriate because Venus is the goddess of love, so I hope she’s bathed in love forevermore.