“Who you are, what your values are, what you stand for they are your anchor, your north star. You won’t find them in a book. You’ll find them in your soul.” – Anne M. Mulcahy
Just ask Cathy Pope how she wants to be viewed and how she wants to be remembered and she’ll tell you without hesitation, “I was always helping somebody.” If you know Cathy’s story – and you are about to – you will understand just how deep her helping resonates; grounded in faith, powered by service and in the comeback of her life.
There’s power in clarity when your values are clear your decisions are easy. Cathy knows she is here for a reason, in the work she does and the people she loves, and fortunately for the company where she hangs her “star”, the two are intertwined. Cathy serves as a Customer Service Agent Liason for USHEALTH Advisors. It’s a long title which is part of the shorter, concise mission for the company, HOPE: Helping Other People Everyday. As Cathy explains it, “the agents are good at selling, but we are there to help them help the customer. I’m the go-between to service the customer and the agent. I have a lot of empathy, I listen and I tell the truth. I love helping people, and I personally love the phrase I live by, sharing is caring.”
Cathy grew up and still lives in Fort Worth, Texas and has been with USHA for more than four years, in the industry for a quarter-of-a-century and she’s never loved it more than she does today. And why not? Since every day is a gift when you love what you do. “Most people don’t like going to work,” Cathy says. “But I have my coffee, then I get to work and I love it. It’s all about what you do…and you have to give back. I’m making it a point to touch the lives of every single agent in our company.”
When you are true to yourself you can’t help but be who you are. Cathy has been touching lives because she was shown examples of how to live by her own parents. “My dad was a sheet metal worker, my mom was a nurse,” says Cathy. “She was a stay-at-home mom until I was nine-or-ten years old. I always remember I never had store-bought clothes, my mom made all my clothes, and all were handmade dresses. I didn’t wear pants until I was ten. I was raised in a very strict religious environment where my dad was a Mason, my mom was an Eastern Star. Mom passed away when I was only 14 from a massive brain aneurysm, so my dad pretty much raised myself and my brothers.”
Married at 17, and a mother at 18, Cathy eventually spent much of her time raising four children – three biological, and eventually an adopted son, a boy she rescued on her own.
“My two boys are close in age and went to high school together,” says Cathy. “I started noticing my youngest son, Rowdy, was taking extra money for lunch, extra snacks and extra clothes in his backpack. It was my oldest son William, who told me we needed to talk about something and revealed that Rowdy’s friend Daniel was living in an abandoned trailer home. It was the middle of winter when I went to find him. There was no food, no water, no electricity; he was basically homeless with this trailer as his only shelter. His parents had abandoned him. I left him a note first, but then brought him home, cleaned him up and he shared a room with my boys. I didn’t legally adopt him at the time because we couldn’t find his parents, but I raised him. My boys and my daughter treated him like one of their own, like their brother. From the time he was 14 until he was 19, he lived a totally different life than the one he had known, he wanted to make something of himself, show he was worth something. I got him through school and watched him graduate. After graduation, he ended up enlisting in the Marines, served in two wars and when he got out he went to school to become a culinary chef.”
It’s a recipe of kindness and giving that speaks to the core of Cathy’s heart. If all you ever knew about her was her work mission, and what she considers her greatest accomplishment – successfully raising four children, as Cathy explains, “to have moral standards, respect for life, caring, loving one another and taking life one day at a time,” then that might be enough.
But there’s more.
For what comes with the power and responsibility of motherhood is a vulnerability of the heart that no other earthly being can experience to the depths of her soul. A mother’s heart which is broken is a valley so dark and cavernous it’s hard to imagine a return to the light.
One of the greatest blessings of Cathy’s life is not only the children she raised, and the ones for whom she is a step-mom, but the twelve grandchildren who call her “Naenae.” A grandchild in-and-of himself is the definition of a blessing, a legacy for life.
But 0n New Year’s Day 2017 Cathy says her life and her legacy, changed forever.
At the time, Cathy’s 18-year-old granddaughter Kaitlynn was living with her and husband Klint. “Kaitlynn graduated from high school, had started college, but was scared to live in the dorm by herself, so she was staying with us,” says Cathy. “She was studying to be a surgical nurse. She was a very wonderful individual – caring, loving, would give you the shirt off her back and she was never about material things – she was gung-ho about her education, but what we didn’t know was she was suffering from major depression. She hid it very well, even though we were best buds, as I was with my other children and grandchildren. On that New Year’s Eve, Kaitlynn was staying with us and her sister was spending the night as well.”
“Just after midnight, everyone called to wish us a Happy New Year. About 12:15 am Kaitlynn and I kissed and she went to bed. I checked in on her and she was asleep, but I was woken up suddenly at 2 am by her fiance, who was banging on my door. I didn’t understand what he was saying, he was frantic. Her fiance had been driving to the house and talking to Kaitlynn the entire way and when he didn’t hear from her anymore that’s when he started knocking on my door. After three minutes of looking through the house for Kaitlynn, my daughter called me and told me Kaitlynn was in the garage. To this day it’s the worst feeling of my life.”
When Cathy opened the door she saw Kaitlynn, who had hung herself from the ceiling.
“My life ended at that moment,” says Cathy. “At least what my life was. My life ended and I had to start over.” But it wasn’t over, not yet. Cathy knew CPR and managed to resuscitate her granddaughter until the ambulance got there. “I got a heartbeat,” she says. “It wasn’t until about six hours later I was able to see her, but she had only 10-percent brain function and about 15 hours later it was down to three percent. She was kept on life support until all the family could be contacted. My daughter got in touch with Kaitlynn’s biological father and they decided to turn off the machines. I was the first to hold her while she took her first breath and the last to give her breath, that will forever be with me.”
What is also now part of Cathy’s forever mission, just a year and a half after life’s greatest tragedy, is the comeback and the focus on not only continuing to serve and to give but to share as a lesson for us all.
Cathy says the investigation into Kaitlynn’s decision to end her life leaves a host of learning opportunities and warnings. Her granddaughter used Google to learn how to turn an extension cord into a noose, she videotaped much of how she did it and left a two-minute message saying how sorry she was and how all she wanted to do was to be loved. The investigator into the case eventually ruled it an accidental suicide, because signs point to Kaitlynn trying to change her mind at the last second, but it was too late.
“The word suicide is just a word,” says Cathy. “Until you deal with it, it’s horrible. It’s way too much of an easy way out for other teens Kaitlynn’s age. She had a close-knit group of other kids and I mentor them and have talked to two kids who also wanted to commit suicide. I want to help people for me, for Kaitlynn, that’s who I am, I give back whatever I’ve been given and I teach my kids and grandkids as well. I’ve been through counseling, so has Kaitlynn’s sister who was here and had to witness it – my whole family has been through counseling. It was so bad I had a choice to be hypnotized and forget it ever happened, but also risk a chance of losing her memory, or deal with it through counseling. I never want to lose Kaitlynn’s memory. I respect people who have been through this and I’m about helping people not just for Kaitlynn’s sake, but I support suicide awareness in her honor and I’m working to try and stop it from happening to others. I collect donations and we are doing a walk which is a tradition now, every one of my grandkids is participating in the walk.”
Cathy says she is not here to judge anyone and she takes solace in the fact she, “will one day see Kaitlynn again.” She also credits her husband Klint as her key to survival. “Klint is the reason I’m here today,” says Cathy. “He is very strong and he’s been my backbone, my best friend, my mentor. For both of us, this was devastating. Klint also comes from a very religious background and we prayed hard. It’s the prayer and my kids support, my very close friends and the company I work for who have been there for me. I do what I do today for HOPE. Christi Simpkins was there for me, I have great support and great leaders in Patty Lewis and Dana Bailey and I have known our CEO Troy McQuagge for 25 years. I believe in him, not just as a motivational speaker, but as a leader, he makes us who we are today. My goal is to help and to love and I love this company, it’s wonderful and I’m grateful every day.”
Cathy also wanted to make sure she talked about her other inspirations in life, her three “babies.” Sugar Baby, a four-pound Yorkie, a Corkie named Tootsie and Annabelle, a one-and-a-half pound Yorkie. Cathy says her dogs go everywhere with her and Klint, they wear costumes for the holidays, go on vacation and provide her life with unconditional love.
The law of the universe is like attracts like. Cathy receives the love from her “babies”, from her family and from her extended family, the agents, and leaders at USHealth Advisors, because of the light and love she gives off as a North Star for so many in her life.
“Connecting with people who are meant to be part of your own North Star is more important than any aspect of a business. It’s the essence of happiness, the full realization of your potential for joy.” – Martha Beck
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.