One year ago today, Cathy Cairns departed this life with her best friend at her side and the comfort of knowing her final wishes had been filled. Among those wishes was a desire to be buried with her parents – a wish you helped to fulfill with thousands of dollars in donations.
As we wound our way through snow-covered roads to pay our respect that cold January weekend, I was lost in thought about her legacy. I’m glad she could let go of her worry about what would become of her when she was no longer able to actively take care of herself. I’m glad she knew that people from her past, colleagues, and total strangers were there to support her. But my last viewing of Cathy didn’t resonate with the life filled dynamo I had known over the years.
So I approached Pittsburgh’s Gay and Lesbian Community Center with an idea – could we establish a personal care closet to distribute items to those in need and name it after Cathy? They agree so I set about crowdfunding once again, this time to create a living memorial – a source of comfort and solace and support.
Cathy’s Closet now encompasses clothing, winter gear, and personal care items. Dozens of community groups hold collections. A partner organization donated shelving. It has had to relocate inside the GLCC twice because it grew so quickly. The term Cathy’s Closet evokes the assurance that someone – a neighbor, a friend – does care and will try to help. It is a drag show dedicated to providing hats and gloves for homeless youth. It is the online donors sending toothpaste and soap in bulk. It is the holiday volunteers learning that some youth REALLY do want socks, deodorant and a toothbrush for Christmas and rushing to purchase those items.
Even just a year later, only a few people actually know who Cathy was. But they know her spirit of generosity, her fierce determination to pursue justice and her graceful acceptance of help when it was offered. Those things live on in Cathy’s Closet and echo throughout the lives of every person touched by that project, touched by the legacy of Cathy Cairns.
Together, we helped Cathy rest in peace and together, we assure that she perpetually rises in a power to support the most vulnerable members of our community. That is the legacy of friendship, love and being a good neighbor.