By Sheryl Walker, PhD, CAAB, RQAP-GLP/GCP
Kay Berry was one of the first MRKH Sisters that I had met in person. At first glance, she was a delicate lady in her 60’s. But she quickly changed your opinion of her once she started talking in her Wisconsin accent and spoke her mind about any topic. She was honest, blunt, and one of the funniest people I’ve ever spent time with.
It was 2009, my very first MRKH Retreat in Indian River, Michigan. Kay was in cancer remission, and instead of handling life with a more careful view, she threw caution to the wind. She was smoking cigarettes, sitting on a picnic bench in the middle of a bunch of cabins, reading a book, and drinking wine. There were several other MRKH Sisters there of a range of ages. Kay kept up with the youngest of the group, always ready for an adventure. We eventually found ourselves tubing down the river. Kay had made sure that we rented a tube for the cooler of wine, too. We soaked up the sunshine. I saw a Bald Eagle. That trip was one of my Life’s favorite memories. Laughing until we cried, because Kay would say ordinary things in the most extraordinary ways.
A couple of years later, our annual MRKH Retreat found us in White Cloud, Michigan. I had the pleasure of being Kay’s roommate in the Amish hotel cabins that we rented. She was the last one to bed, early to rise, and ready to start the day with whatever adventures we found ourselves in. She was independent with a sense of humor.
My husband and I go camping in Point Beach, Wisconsin, every year at the end of July. Kay lived only about an hour and a half from our camp ground, so for several years in a row, we would incorporate an extra day and take a side trip to see her in Fond du Lac. We met her husband, Dan, who was in the real estate business. We met her cats and her dog, Lady. We sat on her back porch and enjoyed her beautiful green yard.
Kay and Dan were divorced shortly after that, and she made sure to tell everyone that it was a very civil separation, because one of them liked to sleep in warm temperature, and the other liked to sleep in colder temperature, “so we separated, and that solved the problem!” In typical Kay fashion, she found something witty to say about any situation that would normally warrant a sob story.
In 2017, Kay came to visit my husband and I. We were proud to show her our new Home, and of all things, she was enamored with our cat, Katy Purry. Kay was known to be a lover of cats (her house/apartments were filled with collectables of regular and white tigers. She had a love of all things cats). Well during this particular visit, Katy chose to spend the night in the Guest Room with Kay. We heard all about it the next morning, about how Katy was such a great cuddler. Kay had a cute little high-pitched baby-talk voice that she would use when talking with animals.
Her ex-husband Dan passed away a couple of years after that. Kay and I were on the planning committee for the annual Beautiful You MRKH Day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that year. During a planning meeting in December, she volunteered to facilitate one of the break-out sessions about MRKH and Relationships. In true Kay fashion, she said, “And after I talk about relationships, I can teach people how to bury their spouses, too!” It caught me so off-guard that I ended up belly laughing and crying.
Kay then moved to an apartment complex, where she was on the first floor, and her son, Eric, would come by every Sunday and take care of anything she needed – groceries, vacuuming, etc. She liked her neighbors, and she was SO proud that the apartment Manager chose her to tend to all of the flowers outside of her building. She took my husband and me on a tour one year of the outside flowers, and told us about each one, how she watered them, and talked to them, and told them encouraging words.
My husband and I visited her July 2021, and we had a lovely visit. She was starting to show her age physically, but mentally, she was same old Kay. Toward the end of our visit, she mentioned that her cancer was back and she wouldn’t make it to the end of the year. It caught me by surprise, and I ended up crying for an hour and a half while my husband drove us to our campsite. It was cool, though, to see Kay with such a powerful, peaceful relationship with death. She completely accepted death was inevitable, and she was “ready to go to Heaven” whenever her time was. She told us that she had lived a very full life, and she was at peace.
I vowed to not lose sight of her or our friendship, but sometimes Life happens. By the end of 2021, she was on my mind a lot. Then Spring 2022 came, and she was on my mind A LOT, with a hint of guilt that I hadn’t reached out to her sooner. She wasn’t answering her texts or Facebook messages, and I called the two phone numbers that I had for her with no luck. I reached out to her daughter, on a whim, and she said that Kay had fallen a few times in her apartment, so she moved to an Assisted Living facility. I got an updated phone number for her, and low and behold, in April 2022, I got to hear that Wisconsin accent “oh, yah, I just got up from a nap.” I cried – it was so good to hear her voice again.
I sent her a few “thinking of you” packages/cards over the next few months, and called her in July to see if she was up for a visitor. “Oh, yah, of course.” So my husband and I saw her again. This time was different. There was something different in the air – an energy I knew that it was going to be the last time that I would see her. She had lost a lot of weight, and looked frail. She walked with a walker, but was still quite independent. We brought her some summer sausage and chocolates, and enjoyed the snacks at her small side table. She tired easily, so she requested that we move to her bedroom, where she got herself comfortable on her bed. We talked about Life, and I gave her updates. I read her messages that the MRKH community had written on Facebook. She reminisced about the stories that others had written, and she smiled. Her cat, Sunshine, even made a guest appearance from underneath the bed.
My husband left the room for a few minutes, and I leaned toward her, and just started bawling. I said, “I’m going to miss you so much.” Again, in typical Kay fashion, with a sparkle in her eye she said, “oh, I’m not going anywhere. In fact, you have to promise me that you’re going to come back next year and see me.” We both knew that it was code for “it’s going to be my time soon, and I’m ok”. She grabbed my hand, and we held hands for several minutes while I cried, and she smiled with that sparkle in her eye. We then spent the rest of the time together watching animal videos on her tablet. That was her favorite way to pass time, was to watch wildlife shows, baby animals, bears, cats, etc. We sat in silence and it was so incredibly special.
Kay was stingy with her “I Love You”s – some years I would say “I Love You” when we hugged goodbye, and she wouldn’t say it back. But I knew she loved me. In earlier years, she said it every now and then. During our last visit with her, I hugged her. Then she said it, and she said it first. “I Love You.” I cried again. I hugged her so tight. I told her that I loved her, too. I said it probably 10 times before forcing myself to leave her apartment in Assisted Living. We walked to the car, where our camping gear was waiting for us. Before we got in the car, my husband hinted that I should take a couple of rocks from the front of the building, as tokens. I don’t know how he knew, but it was such a thoughtful hint. I grabbed two sparkly, white stones near a tree in the parking lot. He knew, too, that this was our last visit with Kay.
This morning, Kay’s daughter messaged me and told me that Kay had passed away. I thanked her for letting me know. I told my husband, then I told Amy. There’s a sort of solace that comes from knowing such a dear friend and genuine, fun-loving soul is no longer amongst us in physical form. A bittersweet, unfair, peaceful solace. Kay discontinued cancer treatments earlier this year, and her only request from her medical team was that she not be in pain. So she was on continued morphine, and her pain management plan worked just fine for her. She also continued vaping. It made her happy. It was kind of her “F You” to cancer, in a way. So she spent her days happily watching animal videos, vaping, and enjoying being pain-free with morphine. She had a healthy relationship with death. It was so incredibly healing for me to see that she was at peace. I admired it, really. So when I found out this morning that Kay had passed, I wasn’t shocked. I was at peace with it. Just like Kay was.
I drove around town running errands today. As I approached the main road that leads to my neighborhood, a song came on the radio. A song that described Kay to a T. Titanium, by David Guetta (featuring Sia). Kay sure was bulletproof. Whatever Life threw at her, she accepted it. She never tried to dodge it, even if it was a curve ball. She went wherever Life took her, with ease. And nothing could stop her.
Last Thoughts: Make those phone calls. Tell people you love them. Take the trip to see your friends, even if it’s out of the way. And hold dearly onto those memories that make you belly laugh to the point of crying.
I will miss you, Kay. Thank you for the years of memories, wonderful hugs, belly laughs, tears, Wisconsin “oh, yah”s, and eye sparkles. I Love you.