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Fourteen Years


Katherine and JM.JPGKatherine died fourteen years ago today. An acquaintance once told me, in response to our story, that at least young children do not understand death. “They do when they are dying themselves,” I replied. At least Katherine did, as much as any of us ever do. Imagine having to face that kind of existential agony at age eight. As much as we hoped for more time for her, and as much as she struggled for every minute, I often wish she had died three weeks earlier, before her imminent death had become so clear to her, tormenting her with her own end, all the things she had left undone. She could have died at the very beginning of her final illness. Delirious with lack of sleep, I accidentally overdosed her on morphine, using the red-capped syringe to flush her port instead of the white. Immediately, she crumpled into herself and sunk into respiratory depression, her breathing labored and slow. We thought she would die. It was hours before I realized what had happened. The distraught young paramedics came and dosed her with an anti-narcotic. Riding in the ambulance, I was struck with how beautiful the sunrise was, how for everyone else on the road that early morning, it was just another day, while my world was ending. Carrying her into the hospital, she woke in my arms, after I thought I would never hear her voice again: “Mommy, where are we?” I comforted her, and the inquiry was mercifully short. She was her own little self again, her brain uninjured.

Where am I going with this? I scarcely know. But this respite she had was both all too brief and too torturously long. She would wake in the morning after a night of struggling for breath, near death, and sigh, “Mommy, I survived the night.” The morphine barely covered her bone pain. A fan blowing in her face helped her feel less the struggle to breathe. Great blue bruises accumulated as her circulation slowed and her platelets diminished. Her urine turned brown as her kidneys failed, and she lost the ability to swallow her medicine, however much she tried to comply. She mourned all she could not do on a beautiful June day and all she would never do again. She lamented all the years of life she would miss, which she would have enjoyed to the fullest, as she always did. She told me she loved me, in an ardent and anguished tone I will never forget. She had me record her last words to her brother and everyone else she loved. I suppose I hope to impress on you all that although deaths from childhood cancer rarely make headlines, although they seem somehow silent and inevitable, they are both horribly violent and completely avoidable. Every day we do not rein in the chemical industry’s business as usual, we are complicit in many more such deaths. And all the corporate profits and perfect lawns in the world cannot be worth my one darling Katherine.

Today, President Obama signed into law the Lautenberg Act, which puts some constraints on chemical production and use in the U.S. The Act is a start, but far from complete. And one can hardly expect those of us with children already dead to rejoice. But we can perhaps be soberly glad to think that with further regulation, maybe someday, no other parent will have to so needlessly bury a beloved child as a result of environmental chemicals.

To celebrate Katherine’s memory, please do something to remedy this grave injustice: read more about the Lautenberg Act on the EDF website, work to eliminate pesticides and other chemicals, and, most important, vote the environment so that we can pass more such life-saving legislation.




  1. So sorry your pain and loss. Please know that I am on your side trying to educate the public about pesticides through my business and volunteer work, and hearing your story makes me want to work harder. I believe we are making progress, although it has been glacial at times due to money interests, ignorance and folks who think pesticides are the solution to everything. Please dont give up either and thank you for your all your efforts. – Denise

  2. jkauth says:

    Thank you, Denise.

  3. Manu says:

    So sorry for your pain and loss Jean Marie.

  4. Heartbreaking; I wish I could hold you and comfort you at least in knowing Katherine is beloved and she came to leave us all so many lessons. I am writing a book about the toxins in our water, soil and air; I live in a house that used to be the neighborhood’s dumping lot, and at another point in time, a boat repair shop, and even before that, native american’s beloved land, I know because of all the stone tools and arrow heads I find, and I can see them if I look with my souls’ eyes. There is also the Enchanted Forest, the setting of our stories, replete with creatures of all sort, but the amount of metal debris, garbage, old oil cans, fuses and trash of unimaginable kinds I have found has confirmed what the magical creatures in our Fairy Village, called Wise Waters, had been whispering to us all along; Nothing that humans ever discard really goes away, it finds its way into our food, our water, the very soil that feeds our children, the air we breathe. We are poisoning ourselves, and by writing this book, I am hoping the next generations will do a better job at being the Forest Keepers, the stewards of our Planet. Please let me know if I can share Katherine’s story, or if you’d like to correspond or collaborate with this awareness campaign.
    much love and admiration,

    • jkauth says:

      Of course, you should feel free to share Katherine’s story. Katherine had a special affection for fairies, particularly as imagine by Mary Cicely Barker.

  5. Bonnie Kauth says:

    The pain that never goes away……..your dear Katherine was bright, brave, beautiful and always in our hearts. You….and she….faced the torments of hell …..with courage and a fierce determination to make every moment of her life as full as possible ~ Mom

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