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Kat Jordahl


Photo of reading at celebration

The Tiny Woman Who Was a Giant in Our Lives

Mary knew that she would die young.
A letter was read at her funeral. 
I was not surprised.  
This spiritual woman had known.
Had felt.
She would leave us far too early.

“You girls better paddle to this dock right now! Kat doesn’t know how to swim!” Ironically, I was the only one of us four who had actually taken formal swimming lessons. We were all sent home that night as a punishment.

The summer before college.
I was told that she had cancer.
Brain cancer.
The details emerged.
They washed over me like waves of an ocean.
Powerful and unending.
Six to twelve months.
Probably six.
She was only 46 years old.

“And what movies did you watch at the party?” John Candy movies. Uncle Buck. The Great Outdoors. Katie knew her mom would ask detailed questions about the party so she had prepared us well for the interrogation.

The tears didn’t come
As I had expected.
They were stuck and stunned.
Much like myself.

“Come over here. I need to tell you something,” as she pulled us into a corner, farted, and then laughed until tears streamed down her face. We always fell for this or, more often, we knew what she was doing and indulged her humor.

Cancer progressed.
She disintegrated.
Doctor’s appointments.
Medication management.
Roles of mother and daughter reversing. 

“Put me down,” she screamed as her loving husband twice her size picked her up and spun her around. “I’m going to pee and you will be sorry,” she squealed between laughter and when she was finally set down there was a sizable wet spot on the shoulder of her husband’s shirt.

The first visit she had lost her hair.
The next visit she wasn’t walking on her own.
The last visit she couldn’t speak.

“Get me some new pants from the box in back. I laughed too hard, leaked a little, and now I need a clean pair.” She lived and laughed in her KFC uniform. The shirts were always more like dresses on her and the pants were always bunched up at her shoes. It didn’t matter if it was our basketball game or prom pictures, Mary was there in her uniform.

Our final conversation
Contained only words from me.
Nods and tears from her.
She looked at me.
Reached for my hand.
Tears ran down her face.

“Be sure to take out my cookies before you put in the 6 trays of biscuits.” Making cookies in the giant, commercial sized mixer was her favorite past time on Sunday mornings. She rarely shared them with customers because they were a treat just for her workers.

I know, Mary.
I know you love me.

“How about a gas station coffee before work? I have some biscotti in the backseat.” She was a dedicated member of Sam’s Club and always bought biscotti in bulk. They tasted terrible. We ate them anyway.

I love you.
I will watch out for Katie.

“It’s good for your cuticles,” she used to say to us girls, attempting to convince us, as we were forced to remove the chicken from the bones leaving our fingers and hands covered in cold grease and chicken bits.

I will miss you.

“Maybe your talent is your loving nature,” she would tell me as I admired Lindsey’s singing and Kelly’s athletic ability.

You are going home to your God.

“Sometimes people are more prone to sadness than others. It doesn’t mean anyone is stronger than you. It actually means you are stronger than most,” she would tell me when I explained the frustration with my feelings that I did not yet understand: depression.

I know.

“These were leftover. Would you guys take these off my hands?” She was an active member of her church and I am not sure how she knew which families were hungry. We would stop with buckets of chicken and leftover pot pies.

As I sat in that church,
Saying my final goodbye,
I wondered about the days and years ahead.
I thought about what she would miss:
Graduations, weddings, grandkids.
About the words she wouldn’t say.
But then I realized that Mary and her words
Will always be with me.
She was the tiny woman. 
Who was a giant in my life.