Remembering Catherine Young, 21 July 1952 – 11 September 2001

Today is a day to remember those who died on September 11, 2001.  I began to get the bulletins on my computer about the World Trade Towers in New York and ran to the T. V. to see what was going on.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and my first thought went to my own daughter who was sleeping safely in the next room to me.  She had been a theatre student in New York just a year before and I could imagine how worried I would have been if she had been in New York that day.  My thoughts are with all those who had loved ones who died or were injured on that terrible day.

There was a death that day that didn’t hit the headlines.  It was a quiet end to the too short life of a very special woman:  Catherine Young, founder and editor of Compleat Mother Magazine.  Catherine died of cancer at the age of 49.  This is a letter that I sent to her children on the day of her funeral. 

To Amanda, Rebecca and Zachary,

I know how much pain the three of you are in today and I want to tell you what I know about the death of one’s mother, from my own experience.  It just hurts like hell for months and the tears come at very unpredictable times and over things that you wouldn’t guess. The pain, fear and loneliness you feel today will get better in time.  Your Mom is close by right now and, if you listen, pay attention and ask her she will come to you in dreams, strange signs and through others still in the body.  This will not frighten you, it will give you comfort and make you less afraid of dying yourself.  The rawness of the pain will lessen in a few months and then you will think you see her across the street and realize that it’s some other woman about the same age and
same “style” of dress as your Mom and you will wonder if that woman’s family really knows how precious she is.  You’ll wish you could go to the family and tell them “Hold on tight to your Mom, sniff in her essence, saturate yourself with her smell, listen to her recite recipes to you and give you advice—you will hurt like hell when she’s gone and you don’t have it anymore.”  You will find that the three of you become closer and stronger as a unit of siblings and your Mom would want that.

You will be the ones that your friends turn to when their parents die and you will have a deep compassion for those who grieve.  When you have your own children, you will tell them what Catherine’s favourite flower was, your favourite dish she cooked, and the crazy times you had with her.  She would want that.

Your Mom was not meant to be just your Mother.  She became the mother of thousands of new mothers who she encouraged to breastfeed and to nurture their babies.  This probably cost you three a lot in terms of hot meals, stories and attention.  I want you to know that all of those women are available to give back to you now and your Mom would want that.  She gave us so much.  She truly understood the maxim “Mother the mother and she will mother the baby.”  Even though it cost a lot in terms of her own family, her life in service to other families was time well spent.
She was very powerful with her pen and, as we know, it was mightier than a sword.  The power she had was to make others more powerful around her.  She was a great storyteller and fearless in her authenticity.  I think, more than anything else, that was what I was awed by.  In each issue of the magazine, we got a true recounting of the intimate life of Catherine and her gang. Personally, I am so much more secretive and committed to my own “looking good” and Catherine set an example of openness and refreshing humanity.  She never seemed to have it “together”, never pretended to, and produced amazing results anyway.

I began attending births in 1981.  In May of l985, a baby died at a homebirth that my midwifery partner and I attended here in Vancouver. Your mom was approached to help us raise the $50,000 that we would need to defend ourselves against the physicians, state and public opinion. Catherine supported us all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada where we were acquitted in l991.  I will never forget that.  She understood bullying and oppression and had no patience with it.  She spoke up and went to bat for the underdog, the voiceless, and the downtrodden.  I feel like her magazine was started in l985, right at the time I needed her support so badly, because someone up above wanted me to have a guardian angel.  Her wingspan as an angel was coast to coast.

Those of us who love her and got to know her through her writing will miss her funny, caustic “take” on events. In one line of an editorial she would be railing on like a sailor on the dockside and in the next she would be waxing poetic about God.  She loved a good joke, pretty poetry, animals, raspberry leaves, men who danced, brave women, dripping breasts and country life.  Most of all she loved you three beautiful babies of hers madly.  You completed her life and she was so incredibly proud of all of you.  I remember when Amanda produced the video “Birth Joy and Raspberry Leaves” —what a proud producer of the producer she was.

Thank you, Amanda, for all the work you put into that.  Thank you, Rebecca, for taking on the magazine and thank you, Zachary, for being her email wizard.  Thank you a million times for being great kids for her.  You’ll understand someday that giving birth to you was her best accomplishment and what fueled everything else.

My deepest sympathy to your grandparents and your Dad–thank you to them for the gift of Catherine.

She would often talk to me, even before the cancer, about knowing that she was “on the right road home”.  I found that such a beautiful turn of phrase and I know she has reached home.  We are poorer for her death. There will never be another quite like her.  I am so glad I knew her and I miss her terribly.  My heart is with you today and if you need a Mom to talk to, I’ll do my best to stand in for her.  I love you.

Gloria Lemay, Vancouver, BC
Sept 13, 2001

Infact Canada has a history of Catherine’s life and accomplishments on their website.

13 thoughts on “Remembering Catherine Young, 21 July 1952 – 11 September 2001

  1. Thank you for remembering Catherine Young today. I was touched by her forthrightness and taking a stand for Mothers,Children and healthy attachment; producing healthy individuals. She was funny, witty, and seemingly tireless. Her contribution to us and our families will always be so valuable, and to be remembered.

  2. What a touching rememberance of Catherine Young. Compleat Mother has changed many lives – I’ve seen firsthand. You are blessed to have known her, and we are blessed that her legacy continues to live on.

  3. I was just recently looking at some of my old Compleat Mother magazines. Thanks for taking this time to remember Catherine and all the good work she did.

  4. Dearest Gloria,
    When your email came in, I was out of town visiting our new grandbaby and I am now catching up.
    I would like to use your tribute to Catherine in the next issue of Compleat Mother. Would that be ok?

    On Sept 11, 2001 I was in Montana with our youngest daughter. She had gone to work and called shortly after to tell us something was happening in New York and that we should turn on the tv.
    During the endless repetition of film footage I became unaware of the passing of time. The phone rang again. It was Rebecca. She told me her mother died that morning, at the same time the towers were collapsing.

    Thank you for your tender heart at such a difficult time. It is hard to believe it has been 8 years now. She still feels so close. When I come upon a scrap of paper with Catherine’s handwriting on it, I savor her brevity and her tenacity.
    I think of Catherine daily. Would she use this story? (usually Yes, especially if it was short.) How would she deal with this request? (send a quick note and a handful of Compleat Mothers.) Why does it take me so much longer to do this than it took her? (because she knew how to cut corners.)

    I remember when she got kicked out of a MANA conference in Boston, I think it was… or Philadelphia in the early 1990’s. She threw a fit because Nasty Nestle’s Nestea was being served to the midwives during their refreshment breaks and they either didn’t know any better (for shame) or didn’t care (double shame). I wasn’t there for the ‘show’, but I heard about it. Evidently Catherine gave the midwife conference organizers a quick update on the Nestle boycott and she got the boot. In one version security was called and she was escorted from the premises. I am confident she did not go quietly. I continued sitting at the Compleat Mother exhibit table for the rest of the weekend, selling few subscriptions. Some midwives are not that comfortable with rebellion or outrage or being taken away by men in uniforms.

    Catherine knew and respected words and she used them with great economy. I still have so much to learn from her.
    Most Gratefully,

  5. Thanks so much for all your comments. Jody, it’s so true, she’s still teaching me, too. I have handouts from Compleat Mother that I give to my clients and I won’t part with my back issues.

    Thank you so much, Jody, for carrying on the torch so well for her. Gloria

  6. Gloria, yours is a truly powerful letter. Thank you for posting it. Catherine is definitely a woman I would love to have known. Her legacy is mirrored in you and all she has touched. She is immortalized by the good she has done. You both are awesome women!

  7. I remember that day like yesterday, and hearing the news of Catherine too. What a challenge to fill her shoes Jody, and as Jeanine would say, Blessed Be, Blessed Do – so many women helped me follow and learn my parenting curve for my sons – Catherine, Mary, Jeanine, Peggy, Marilyn, Jody & so many more. My boys are more thankful than me at times. I strive to educate others too. Thank you! Lori

  8. Friendly, Funny, Fearless, and Fiesty – that’s what Catherine was. I left her magazines everywhere I thought young women might find them, in hopes they would learn something new and wonderful within the pages of the Compleat Mother.
    I miss her.

  9. Catherine! I never met Catherine, but I miss her mind and heart and all that she lovingly shared, and I appreciated the opportunity her effort and action provided parents to grow childbirthWise. We will always remember her spirit, her humorous and determined spunk, her spout of truth. Her generosity.

    I shared her beautiful magazine through hill and hollow and still do today.

    A thank you to Catherine’s children, for all you have done. And a thank you to Jody, for all you have done.

  10. Pingback: It’s Your Turn to Make Doula History | Doulaing The Doula

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *