Thursday, April 19, 2012

Memories and Pain

DoG but this has been a rough few days. Last Friday (Yeah, Friday the 13th.) I looked up and there were two Tampa cops at my door. Now, I live in Ruskin, FL along the shores of the mighty Little Manatee River which is about 30 miles south of Tampa so they were just a bit out of their jurisdiction. They told me I needed to call the Manchester, NH police department then the sergeant said, "There really is not a good way to say this, your sister has died."

Let the nightmare commence.

I called the number I was given. The person I spoke with took my number and passed it on to the policeman at the scene who called me back. We talked for a bit though he did not have much information at the time then he passed the phone to Cissy's friend Kathie who had started the chain of actions that found her. Kathie told me what she had done and why and identified the people she had called. Fortunately, most of the names were familiar to me as I had met many of the people over the years at her annual Kentucky Derby Party. She was friends with many New Hampshire police and fire fighters through her years of reporting for the Union-Leader and I knew that they would treat with respect.

Once I finished the call, I was obviously in a bit of shock trying to figure out what to do next. I found my brother's number and called him. I found the numbers of a couple of cousins and called them to start the notification process of all the many cousins on both sides of the family. At this point you don't think, you just do something to avoid thinking for as long as you can. After I had started the notification chain, I decided to post an announcement on Facebook to the world of Cissy's death. This is one of the wonders of social media as it allowed me to get information out quickly to her friends all over the country. It was heartening to see the almost immediate outpouring of grief from her friends although all were as shocked at the news as I had been.

I got to Manchester on Monday afternoon. Cissy's friends who had found her on Friday had come back on Saturday to clean up a bit and at my request had searched her papers for her will, which they found and left for me. Her rescue greyhound Bebe was being cared for by a neighbor. Bebe had been with Cissy for over 4 days with no food but was otherwise alright.

People had checked and Cissy's last Facebook post had been on Easter Sunday night. She had spent the early part of the day with a friend and his family and this friend had been one of the first in the house to find her. He came over after I got to Manchester and described what he had seen. He had found her at the bottom of the stairs, face down, with her head turned. The one thing I latched on to was when he said there was very little blood. Like many people, I have watched far too many police procedural shows on TV so little blood means that maybe the heart was not beating for long to pump out the blood.

An autopsy was conducted on Monday and I spoke with the Medical Examiner on Tuesday evening. The results are still pending toxicology reports but the perversely good news is she apparently had a heart attack/arrhythmia and was probably dead before she hit the floor from her fall. I know that the one fear that I had (and many others as well) was that she had been aware after the fall and lingered for some period of time but the ME stated that even if someone had been standing right there at the time of the fall Cissy's survival odds were low single digits. Maybe if there had been a defibrilator available but even that would have been sketchy.

My guess is that at least a contributing factor was her breast cancer chemotherapy. A quick check of der Google shows a lot of related articles connecting the two.

Cissy has been a constant in my life as far back as I can remember. We fought as brothers and sisters do when we were younger but soon enough, she became my protector. When my brother set his mattress on fire with a cigarette when I was 10 or 11, she gave me her bed that night and wound up sleeping in a chair in the sun room where Mom found her the next morning (Mom had slept through all the commotion.) I was actually home sick as it turned out I had strep throat.

The first time I got drunk and came home and got sick, she brought me aspirin and water to help me avoid the hangover. That was on a Friday night. When I got up Saturday morning, everyone was gone so I cleaned up and went downtown. I ran into my mother coming out of the grocery store and she asked me how I felt and I said I was fine since Cissy had given me the aspirin the night before. Mom's reply? "Damn Cissy. I wanted you to have a hangover as a lesson"

I have spent my life marveling at the force of nature that was Cissy. Her passion for reporting. She knew from about the age of 10 that she wanted to write and be a reporter and she did so. Her compassion and empathy allowed her to reach out to everyone. She was "Auntie Cissy" to the children of friends and family. If there was a holiday and she was not going out of town for family, she would have an "Orphans Holiday Dinner" for all of her friends who were away from their families. She loved to go camping in northern New Hampshire with her friends. This blog post from her friend Kathie describes a scene from one of those camping trips

She embraced adventure. The husband of a friend got a university fellowship to the University of Arusha in Tanzania so she took an African trip including a photo safari in the Serenghetti, capped off by a stay in London at a "Miss Marple" style hotel. She spent a few weeks one year covering a New Hampshire trade delegation to Poland and the Czech Republic.

Over her career she covered politicians as well as crime and fire stories. She preferred the crime and fire because even though the stories were often heartrending, it was "cleaner" than politics. Yet she did enjoy politics as well.

These past few days, I find myself looking around her condo wondering what in the hell I am going to do. I catch myself making mental notes to ask her something then realize I will never be able to ask her about anything ever again.

I love you Cissy. R.I.P.


  1. Very touching, Richard. Though I was a teacher when Cissy was a student at Harrison County, we became friends. Through the years we lost contact, but I continued to read email from her and her postings on Facebook. The news of her death shocked and dismayed me. What I'm writing is disjointed, but it's sincere. You and your brother have my sympathy. You will miss your sister, but so will I. Take care. ~Bill Caywood

  2. Thank you for this, Richard. I cannot imagine the void that has entered your life and the lives of the rest of your family, yet I am so thankful to know that Cissy's passing occurred quickly. May she rest in Peace. I, too, will miss her on FB. Peggy (Laytart) Carter

  3. Keep those mental notes, have faith, you will be able to ask her about everything again. My heart goes out to you. Vickie W. Gardner

  4. Thank you so much for this. I remember Cissy as Peggy, when you all lived in Berry. She used to go to church with us and spent many nights with us before you all moved to Cynthiana. We really enjoyed spending time with her. Brenda Howard Wagner

  5. I remember Cissy from high school. She was a bundle of energy and always had a smile on her face and usually something witty to say. Sadly, I lost touch with her through the years. I'm pleased that she lived her life to the fullest. My sympathy to you and your family.

  6. I, too, remember Cissy fondly. I remember all the great nights we, lingy, connie, annie, and I spent at your house having slumber parties and giggling all night long; tormenting one of your "perverted neighbors"; lighting the gaseous diffusion that was emitted from our bodies and laughing insantely. I remember the Youth Center and all the great times we had at Frishes circling the establishment hundreds of times thinking things would change. She was fun-loving, humorous, loving and so much more. We used to call her "Olive Oil" and she would laugh and make some "popeye joke". She was an inspiration to many in New Hampshire, as I read the comments, and you should be very proud of her accomplishments. She was a woman of social conscience and committed to her convictions. Her passing is untimely and confusing. They say the "good die young" and I guess that is true. She passed way before she should have and will be missed by so many. God Bless you and your brother Wynn. May you find peace and solice in knowing that Cissy lived her life as she wished and accomplished so much for so many. Kathie Prahl Todd

  7. Richard, where would one start.... The Taylor King reunions, the pool, Boy Scouts, general hanging out at "Taylor youth center"? Cissy, always around, being patient with her little brother and his goofy little friends (cousin). Great memories. She'd be the first though, to tell you to "Keep Smiling/Loving/Laughing!", I'm pretty sure. You're in my thoughts. Steve

  8. I worked with Cissy at the Union Leader, where she was a legend. Attended a number of Derby parties and learned what a mint julep really was. Grew up in Virginia, so Cissy and I had the "Southern thing" in common. On a lovely late-spring night in 2002 (it could have been 2001!) she invited me and two other "Union Leader Southerners" (Drew Cline and David Lazar) to her condo for a down-home dinner. I brought sausage-jalapeno cornbread. Cissy made her incredible fried chicken. Your sister knew how to party, and to connect with people. My sincerest sympathy to you and yours.
    Sherry Wood