We had a memorial for Carolyn today, just a few friends and family at our house. I was honored to have Shannon with us (with her daughter) - consider her as your representative from CareCure. I'd like to share the following with you, which I wrote about Carolyn's life, and which was read today. There are some simplifications about SCI and it's pretty long - please give me leeway on that.
Catherine Carolyn Cunningham was born on Dec 11, 1941 to Edrey “Bee” and Cicero “Johnny” Cunningham in Centralia, Illinois. They called her “Susie.” Bee had divorced her first husband, leaving him and their children, to marry Johnny, who ran trucks in the oil fields. When Carolyn/Susie was about 7 years old, Johnny died in a car wreck. From then on, Bee brooded over that, considering it a punishment from God.
Carolyn was raised by Bee and her grandmother. While in her teens, she worked in her mother’s restaurant. For the rest of her life she hated washing dishes, especially silverware. They later moved to Texas, where Carolyn attended Abilene Christian College. She was the editor of their yearbook during her senior year. Dedication to that effort, together with healing from neck injuries sustained in an auto accident, resulted in academics falling by the wayside, so that she never actually graduated.
As soon as she felt able, she left home and went to Ottawa, where she worked for a time as a proofreader. Then she went to New York City with a group of 10 they called “Faith Corps.” They rented four apartments in a tenement in Brooklyn, sharing a communal kitchen and chores. When Freda Baker, one of the others, read a draft of this, she wrote back “When you told of Carolyn's experience working in her mother's restaurant … I had to chuckle, because it finally explains why, when it was Carolyn's turn to do the dishes in our communal kitchen, we would always find a huge pile of unwashed silverware in the bottom of the sink!” Freda also writes that “I remember Carolyn as a independent soul. Sometimes, she would venture out alone, even at night. She was smart, serious and soft-spoken. And boy, did she love to read.”
Holly Brannon, a later member of Faith Corps, writes “Carolyn was one of my sponsors who gave me money each month. She visited me several times when I was in the Brooklyn "ghetto" group.” She also writes “Another memory of New York days - Carolyn perhaps thought that I was being my usual hypochondriac self when I called her to come help me. Regardless, she brought me flowers, groceries and fashion magazines, and exclaimed the second she walked in my apartment, "You really are sick!"
Around this time, Carolyn realized that religion was not for her.
Carolyn then worked as a secretary at the school for social work at Columbia University. While there, she thought she would like to do something exciting, so she took skydiving lessons. She quit after the second jump, as she couldn’t manage the terrified feeling at the step out of the airplane. But she said that it was beautiful and peaceful once the canopy opened.
Jeanne, a girlfriend of hers, asked if she would like to go caving in West Virginia with 2 friends one weekend. One of the friends was Richard Berthelsdorf, a graduate student in physics at Columbia. Carolyn liked to say later that “we met under a rock!” About a year and a half later they were married.
They lived in England for 8 years – first in the villages of Ewhurst and Cranleigh, then they bought a small house in Guildford. Carolyn worked part-time for the Surrey District Council. She had her first baby, Siegfried, in Guildford, where the hospital had been built as the infirmary for a workhouse for the poor in 1838.
Although they were happy in England and loved the English countryside, they wanted to raise their children in the United States. So they moved to Oregon while she was pregnant with Friederich, and stayed with Richard’s parents while he looked for a job, then for a house. From the beginning, Carolyn said that she wanted to live in an old farmhouse in the country, and after 6 months of searching, they found her dream.
Carolyn loved decorating and reading decorating magazines (and murder mysteries!). They had brought some antique furniture with them from England, most of which fit well into their house. After Amalia was born, they extended the house, and Carolyn was able to turn one bedroom into a library for her many books.
She raised chickens and milked her goats morning and evening, and always had lots of plans for gardening, both vegetables and flowers. She volunteered at her children’s elementary school, and was especially proud of initiating their Christmas sharing tree. She was of course enthusiastic about everything regarding her children, particularly their intelligence and beauty, but also enjoyed taking them to their soccer games and other activities. They were the priority of her life.
In 2002, she contracted aplastic anemia, an ill-understood disease that prevented her bone marrow from producing platelets. Although chemotherapy eventually saved her life from that threat, a hospital-acquired infection lodged in her spine, ultimately resulting in her paralysis in 2005.
Carolyn was sad at not being able to again go upstairs into her beautiful bedroom – she again slept in the library. She missed walking on the beach at the seaside. She was distressed and embarrassed at the many limitations and indignities that come with spinal cord injury. And she was in pain - terrible at first, but later made tolerable with the help of a wonderful and sympathetic pain specialist.
Nevertheless, Carolyn still enjoyed life. She especially enjoyed two cruises to Alaska. She had a very pleasant last Christmas holiday time, high points of which were having her best friends over for dinner, baking and icing the cookies to decorate her own kind of traditional tree, having friends and neighbors over for her annual party, gathering with family for Christmas, and most importantly, having her children with her.
She left us unexpectedly following a brief respiratory illness. Being unable to cough is one of the curses of spinal cord injury, so what to everyone else is a nuisance was to her a swift killer. Some day soon a cure will be developed. We hope that people will consider a donation in Carolyn’s memory to the Spinal Cord Injury Project at Rutgers University. Although it’s now too late for Carolyn, hopefully others can be spared in the future.
Carolyn is deeply, deeply missed.