We had Cass’s memorial on Saturday. Unfortunately the audio feed from our video recording failed. What we do have to share are pictures from those who chose to share, pulled from the video feed, and the notes from the opening words Dan shared to start the sharing. They are not verbatim from what was shared, but they are close.
Also, instead of a moment of silence we had a moment of Tool, listening to The Pot in silence and reflecting on the slideshow of her pictures. Pictures from other friends will be shared throughout this transcript but unfortunately we don’t have any of the words other than Dan’s.
Thank you for coming.
I’d like to recognize a few people who came in from out of town to be here. Her brother Chad, with Tracy, who flew in from New Jersey. Dana, up from Santa Fe. Amy and Roger who are visiting from Portland.
We’re glad to have her partner, Zain, here today. Cass is survived by her brothers Chad and Kirk, her mom Sharon, and her cat Figgis.
Cass loved Beaker. If you want to express support for something you can clap, or cheer, or hoot, or holler… or you can meep. Meep like Cass meeping like Beaker. You don’t have to meep, but wherever she is, she would smile at that.
On the projector all night, and right now, we have seen pictures of Cass. These are pictures of joy, pictures of life. This is the Cass we all fell in love with. However this was not her past five or six years
Ten years ago I met her in what, in retrospect, was an upswing, a hypomanic episode. We didn’t know what this was at the time. This was the start of us being together for 5.5 years, and another couple years after that as housemates, and another couple years as friends. At the start everything was fun, Cass was in full Cass mode.
It turned out that she had been fighting endometriosis for 20 years. While still on health insurance with Skate America she opted to have a hysterectomy to address this once and for all. During this procedure they removed one of her ovaries. Her body had had some struggles before, but messing with her natural body chemistry ramped that up big time.
After this took place she tried bio identical hormone replacement therapy. Despite her efforts to make good decisions, this was not correctly prescribed and she was given a prescription that was identical to someone who had both ovaries removed. This extra estrogen caused her to gain weight and, no joke, crave pickles. It was like her body thought she was with child. I’m trying to recreate ten years from memory so the timeline is a bit of a blur, but it will be accurate to paint her picture.
Back around that time she also tried Zoloft for depression, and at one point switched to Wellbutrin.
At one point a psychiatrist put her on Effexor. Later she was switched to something else. The uneducated choice to cold-quit Effexor resulted in a prolonged period of brain zaps and paranoia. At some point, perhaps a year later, she got really down and spent four days in bed without eating.
Desperate, I took her to Castle Pines for an emergency meeting with a psychiatrist. I don’t know how I convinced her to leave her room, her bed, but we got there. For years she had lamented the way many doctors work. Get a few symptoms, write a prescription, off ya go. This doctor spent an hour and a half talking to her, getting backstory, learning about what happened before in her life. At the end of this hour and a half she told us a surprise diagnosis, that Cass was very likely bipolar, probably type 2.
Cass didn’t like this diagnosis, nobody wants to have something like that when they could just have normal depression, and we went home. The doctor gave me a book, the Bipolor Disorder Survival Guide. I read it cover to cover. Shortly after that, Cass did too. Her tune changed as she stoically told me “this explains my life”.
She started on lithium and soon after added lamictal. One mood stabilizer to complement an antidepressant of some kind. Lamictal carried a warning though. If she developed a rash then we had to quit, as some few people get Stevens Johnson syndrome, and that’s a horrible disease that’s about as bad as it gets.
A while later she started going to a bipolar peer support group. It was run for and by people with bipolar. A few months in the leader of the group stopped coming. A couple weeks later one of the members found out he’d taken his life. Faced with the option of having someone dealing with an unpredictable mental health condition attempting to be the group organizer, but not sure of how they would be on any given day, I offered to facilitate the group and that happened for a while.
It was a good group. Cass could talk to people that we feeling things she felt, who had had life experiences somewhat similar to her own. It was good, but it was hard. There were tales of mild success but there was a lot of talk of loss and suffering. We started a new thing at the meetings where every meeting ended with everyone saying something good from the past week. This changed the departing feeling from one that often had been dark and heavy into a feeling of hope, that good things can still happen.
A few months later Cass got a rash and i took her to the ER. They put her on an IV and gave her something to treat it, and eventually it subsidded. We asked about her quitting lamictal due to the Stevens Jonhson risk but they said she didn’t have to, although they recommeneded it. The lithium/lamictal combination had been working well, after so much didn’t, and she wanted to continue it. Two days later she had friends over from the support group to watch a movie. Over the course of the movie her hives returned and became a single gigantic hive over her entire body. I took her to the ER again. This time she quit lamictal.
For the next two days she hallucinated that she was dying. Psych med withdrawal is a bitch.
I don’t recall what was next on the list but we got her stabilized soon after that. One of the group members spoke favorably of the treatment he was receiving at the Mental Health Center of Denver. This was the sort of treatment she wanted, but she couldn’t get it because we had health insurance and they only worked with people who had no insurance, or who had Medicaid. We made the scary decision to take her off health insurance so she could get into the one facility that had promise. For $10 per month she got multiple weekly appointments along with classes on DBT and CBT. Prescriptions were $4 if I recall. MHCD was what we needed and she kept going there for several years.
During that time there was the med cocktail shuffle. What started with lithium and lamiital turned into trying every combination of drugs that had any kind of promise. Klonopin, Xanax, Ativan, experimental drugs like Abilify or Latuda, different meds like Seroquel and so many others. One of her friends went through ECT, electroconvulsive therapy, where they attach electrodes directly into your brain and sort of mini-fry it, in an attempt to somewhat reboot it. It works for some people whose brains otherwise resist treatment, but it’s really rough to go through. Each treatment left the patient incoherent and out of sorts for days, and after seeing this Cass vowed that she wouldn’t ever do it. I couldn’t blame her.
Time passed, her life consisted of staying in bed in her room. Some days I didn’t see her other than to feed her. She had good days and bad days. On the bad days she wanted to shield me from her lack of control, days where she was lost in tears and frustration.
She spent a lot of time researching her options. All of her time was spent researching ways to improve her life, and sometimes how to end it. She played World of Warcraft, or later Rift, and this was her distraction and often the extent of her outside human contact. I did my best to keep her alive and generally succeeded, but it was hard. One day she asked me to help her build a helium chamber, one of the preferred ways of humane self-termination. I refused. She felt so very alone.
For years she felt like she might need to end her life and nobody understood or supported this. A few months later, after much reflection and soul-searching, I told her I understood, and that if she ever decided to go to Dignitas in Switzerland, a place where it could happen legally and compassionately, then I would go with her. Having someone to talk to that didn’t reject her outright gave her hope, and it renewed her resolve to keep trying. A bit of a weird effect but it made sense and I took it.
Around that time she also told me something I’ll never forget, that if she wanted to die then she would, and there wasn’t anything I could to do stop her. I had spent years on edge, knowing that any day I could come home and she’d be gone. After she voiced this truth I had to embrace that reality. Any day could be her last, but I was still determined to try to make each day worth living. I knew with certainty that having her committed would sacrifice anything i had with her, and that she’d find a way to do what she wanted, either inside or after she got out. That wasn’t an option we could really choose.
A few months later something happened.
I was driving home from work and she called me, happy. She pretty much never called me, so I was confused, but I was thrilled to hear her happy. After we hung up something just seemed off. Then it clicked. She was happy because she’d decided to end her life that day. I didn’t know this for sure but this is what the feelings running through me said. I called her back and she didn’t answer. I raced home and she was gone. I called and called, and waited, and eventually went to bed, waiting for a fateful knock on my door that never came. The next morning, still nothing. Then finally a text the next day around noon.
She had left home to die, but for some reason had checked her email one more time and ended up on a first date in Fort Collins. Enter Zain.
The next three years were Zain’s story, but the big picture is that she was on high doses of Klonopin, Xanax, Seroquel, and her physical condition was deteriorating. Zain was a saint for her. All of the stuff I had done for her, he was now doing. Her sense of taste changed. Imaginary bugs crawled on her skin, and this was complicated by her apartment building having an actual bed bug problem. She found a group called Benzo Buddies and learned about Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome, and that she wasn’t alone in this, and about all the other things that were happening to her brain and body. She feared organ failure, and continued her daily quest of learning everything she could. She didn’t like what she found.
Slowly weaning herself off benzos, but not slowly enough, she quit benzos and started dealing with Benzo Withdrawl Syndrome. Her life was limited to her bed, her room, and occasionally a bathroom break. Her companions devolved to Zain and Figgis, and rare visitors. I kept in touch, but Fort Collins wasn’t close or convenient. She dropped off Facebook and started to isolate herself from everyone. She still mattered to people, but the reality of today’s world is that out of sight, and off Facebook, often means out of mind and complete isolation. She tried to engage, sometimes, when people reached out to her, but it was hard for people to keep this up, or often Cass cut them off and retreated. She was going downhill.
A few friends went up to visit, but her days were bleak and empty, and sick. Nancy and I tried to get up to Fort Collins three or four times a month, and we saw her pain growing. All this effort she was putting into things, nothing working, each day a physical struggle to do anything and everything.
She didn’t get to Switzerland, that journey, stress, and expense wasn’t something she could do. I wish she had been able to, with at least me and Zain and Chad there with her. One day, three weeks ago, the pain was too much, the outlook was bleak and unchanging, and she made the choice to stop her own suffering.
I am thankful people are not asking why she made the choice she made. The words she left behind were her gift to us. We don’t have to wonder what she was thinking, and she wanted us to know what she had experienced. She wanted her experience to benefit others and to not have us asking why. She had two messages that she left behind for us, and I have two I need to add of my own.
1. Benzodiazepines in this country, and in this world, are over-prescribed, and medical practitioners on the whole are uneducated about the physical and mental side effects of stopping them, or switching between them. The Ashton method is the best way to wean, and few know it. This needs to change.
2. This country is more compassionate to sick pets than it is to suffering humans. We live in a country where many states offer right to die treatments, but only if you are within six months of your expected passing. For people living with chronic physical or mental pain that isn’t considered terminal there are no choices other than to suffer. You wouldn’t make your pet suffer to 15 years, why would you make a human you cared about suffer? Cass asked us to be a voice for humans to be able to choose the conditions of their own death. She wanted to pass with peace, surrounded by loved ones, and she didn’t get to have that.
3. People who are suffering and alone often don’t have it in them to reach out. They drop off social media, and that’s what we all use these days to interact with people, and to be reminded of the people who aren’t in the forefront of our minds. If you haven’t heard from someone you care about in a while, and you know they struggle with depression, please reach out. And when you get pushed away you might have to persist and try to break through their barriers again, and again. They don’t want to be alone, but they don’t have the energy to reach out. And they don’t have the capacity for casual banter that feels like a waste of their time. They don’t have have tolerance for people hitting them up with unsolicited advice, or obvious things that they have already tried. To get through to a depressed friend means making a lot of effort and not giving up on them. it’s a lot of work but that’s what it’s going to take sometimes, and you might save a life.
4. Drawing on the day that Cass met Zain, and words a friend shared this week… When people go from depressed to happy, all of a sudden, that can actually be a bigger warning sign than them being depressed. Often it means that a decision has been made and the happiness is because the weight of the world has been lifted. If someone goes from depressed to light and happy, please check on them. This feels like it’s a good thing but it might be the last warning sign they have to give.
That’s the heavy stuff. Now let’s celebrate the life that Cass did have, and the memories she gave us.
She brought the joy of Figgis into my life. I thought I was allergic to cats and it turns out I’m only allergic to half of all cats, and not Figgis.
She kept sharing her experiences and views to the point where I went from well-meaning and somewhat uneducated on certain matters, to being a feminist.
She challenged racial inequality and gender inequality. She wasn’t afraid to make a statement. She carried a cross, topless, down the street in Rochester to protest patriarchal societal norms.
She stood up against injustice every time there was injustice. She did or said what she needed to do or say to fight injustice, without regard for what might happen to her. You couldn’t ignore her presence, and we were the better for it.
She motivated people to be strong in themselves, and to make art, and to be weird.
She meowed lyrics at Rock Band or karaoke. Tool, System of a Down, imagine that as sung by a melodious cat.
She loved Abbott’s Frozen custard and the fact that the only location they had outside New York State was in Thornton. Sadly, it’s since closed.
She whole heartedly supported her LBGTQ friends, and the community as a whole.
Years ago, she worked on a suicide hotline, to help people. She gave presentations at schools about sex ed, boundaries, and safety.
She was an ear and a heart that people would open up to, when they wouldn’t or couldn’t open up to anyone else.
She did a mean Beaker impression, and loved making people smile. She was goofy, yet intelligent. Liberal, yet fierce in standing up for what she believed in.
The years I spent with her took a toll on me, but they also changed me for the better in many ways. It wasn’t easy, but anytime I felt like giving up on the relationship I told myself that the world needed Cass in it, and I needed to help make that happen. Being with her was the hardest thing I’ve had to do, but i have no regrets.
Zain, Chad, friends of old and new, thank you being here and celebrating the life of our favorite liberal feminist alien. From this day forth we are declaring Sept 15th to be Cass day, as we remember her life, her passion, and her message.