One Year Ago

One year ago today, my mother died. To describe that day and the 365 that followed is an impossible task for me to undertake right now, but I do feel I should honor my mother in some way on the anniversary of her passing. I have decided to post in this space the obituary I wrote and the tribute I read at her funeral.


My mom and me on my wedding day in 2011


Obituary of Kathleen Anne McDermott

Kathleen Anne McDermott of Anacortes, WA, died unexpectedly on May 30, 2017, on her way home from Maui, Hawaii, at the age of 68.

Kathy was born September 11, 1948, in Aberdeen, SD, to Leo G. and Margaret (Coyne) McDermott. She grew up the oldest of four sisters in Aberdeen, SD, and Missoula, MT. Her fondest childhood memories were of playing with her family at her grandfather’s cabin on Richmond Lake in Aberdeen.

In 1963, Kathy moved with her family to Bellevue, WA, and graduated from Bellevue High School in 1966. She attended college for two years before moving to Honolulu, HI, where she worked for the U.S. Coast Guard. She lived briefly in New Hampshire before moving back to Washington.

Kathy gave birth to her only child, Caitlin, in 1982, before studying to become a medical records technician. In 1987, she moved to Anacortes to work at Island Hospital. She later became Director of Medical Records and retired in April 2014 after 27 years of service. In 2007, she moved to La Conner before moving back to Anacortes in 2016.

Children were the joy of Kathy’s life. While raising her daughter, she helped raise both her niece, Megan, and nephew, Patrick. The neighborhood kids would often congregate at her house to play. In recent years, she took great pleasure in caring for her seven year-old grandniece, Layla, and her 6 month-old granddaughter, Fiona. Their joy and laughter were a constant source of happiness in Kathy’s life.

Kathy thoroughly enjoyed retirement. She was a member of the La Conner Soroptomist and volunteered at their shop, Vintage La Conner. She met regularly with her friends from work and her swimming class. She loved everything dachshund and always read her newspapers cover to cover. A highlight of any week was watching a family member participate in a sporting event. She enjoyed visiting local thrift stores and buying items for her family as her special way of showing she cared.

Travel was an important part of Kathy’s life. She always found a way for her family to experience new places. Kathy had a special place in her heart for Hawaii and traveled there frequently. She relished soaking up the sunshine and giving and receiving the aloha spirit.

Kathy was predeceased by her parents and brother, Michael.

She is survived by her daughter Caitlin (Kevin) Follstad of Anacortes; granddaughter Fiona Follstad of Anacortes; sisters Coleen McDermott of Carnation, Sue McDermott of Anacortes, and Lee Anne McDermott of Sammamish; niece Megan Wylie of Anacortes; nephew Patrick Dougherty of Anacortes; grandnieces Ashley Wylie and Layla King of Anacortes; grandnephew Mark Wylie of Enterprise, AL; and former sister-in-law Lynette LaPierre and her daughter Kate of Plymouth, NH.


Tribute for Kathy McDermott

I’m Caitlin Follstad, Kathy’s daughter. I want to first thank everyone again for coming to celebrate the life of my mother and the love she brought into our lives. My mom was born September 11, 1948, in Aberdeen, South Dakota, to my grandparents, Micky and Margaret McDermott. She was the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter, a tradition of female strength that she passed on to me as the eldest (and only) daughter, and that I will pass on to her grandchild, my eldest daughter, Fiona.

My mom grew up in Aberdeen, SD, and Missoula, MT, before moving to Bellevue, WA, at the start of high school. She attended college at WSU and UW before moving to Honolulu, HI, and working for the Coast Guard. There she met her ex-husband and moved back near his family in New Hampshire. While the marriage ultimately didn’t work out, she gained a lifelong sister in her her sister-in-law, TIllie. Back in Washington, she loved helping take care of my cousin, Megan, and continued to think of her like a daughter throughout her life. At the age of 33, she found herself wanting a child, so she took the bold move to become a single mother by choice. My mom had me in 1982, and then became a medical records technician. We moved to Anacortes with my grandmother in 1987 and my mom began working at Island Hospital. The next thirteen years consisted of the happy routines of family life: work, children’s extracurriculars, tending to home and garden, vacations. During this time, both of my cousins lived with us at separate times. After I graduated from college, she moved to Shelter Bay in La Conner, where she joined the La Conner Soroptomist. She retired from Island Hospital in 2014 and began helping take care of her grandniece, Layla, forging a special relationship that she cherished dearly. Last year, she moved back to Anacortes, and my husband and I moved in with her prior to the birth of her first grandchild. She was returning from a visit to her beloved Hawaii when she passed away.

This rough outline of my mom’s life does little to enumerate what a remarkable woman she was. Throughout her life, my mom displayed independence, a self-sacrificing nature, and endless love for her family.

My mom was a very independent person and followed the rules as long as they suited her, but said to hell with them when they got in the way of something she wanted. For instance, about twenty years ago, we were in Kirkland and my mom wanted to go to Costco. She realized she needed to turn around and go the other way. We were waiting in a very long line at a red light that was taking forever to turn green. She just wanted to turn around in a parking lot about twenty feet ahead of us, so instead of waiting for the longest light in the world to change, she drove her car on the sidewalk until she reached the parking lot. Of course, as an adolescent, I was mortified and yelled at my mom that she couldn’t just drive on the sidewalk. My mom’s attitude was, “Just watch me”. And that seemed to be how she lived her life. Her sister, Coleen, recently remarked that she accomplished everything she set her mind to do. When she wanted to be a mom but found herself unmarried, she partook in a new technology called in vitro fertilization and had a baby on her own. She went to school to become a medical records technician. She moved to a new town to start her career, and eventually became the director of her department. She bought and sold multiple houses. She traveled the world. She accomplished any goal she set for herself. She lived life on her own terms and didn’t let pesky societal expectations get in the way of achieving her dreams.

Despite her indifference to rules she didn’t like, Mom grew up the oldest of four sisters, a fact that ultimately fashioned her into the responsible, stable, and secure leader of our family. She was the quiet force behind everything we did, the producer of our family show. I think of her now as The Great Encourager. Her niece and nephew, grandniece, and I could count on seeing her sitting in the stands at all our games, cheering us on. She complimented her sisters on their creative talents in needlework, gardening, and glassblowing. She told me that I was doing a good job as a new mom, even when I felt like a complete failure. She worked steadily behind the scenes to ensure that the conditions necessary for her family to thrive were in place. Whatever we wanted to accomplish, she worked hard to make sure we achieved our goals, whether it be opening her house for us stay in, watching our children for a few hours or a few years, providing financial support, or just lending a sympathetic ear. She truly believed in our abilities to overcome the obstacles in our lives, and I now realize it was because she was able to jump all the hurdles she encountered in her younger years. She saw within us the same grit she used to turn the coal she mined into diamonds.  So, as the producer of her family, she made the time and she made the sacrifices necessary for us to succeed, because there was nothing she loved more than to see her family shining in the spotlight.

Last Christmas, I cross-stitched a Hawaiian proverb for my mom that I thought fit her well: “Ua ola loko i ke aloha”, which means “Love gives life within”. Her love for her family was what sustained her over her lifetime. Beginning at a very young age, pictures of my mother consistently show her holding the children and babies in our family. She empathized with children in an uncommon way, able understand their feelings and soothe or comfort them. In a 6th grade project, she describes the first night her brother Michael came home from the hospital. Michael had cerebral palsy and only lived to be about 11 months old. My mom wrote that “he cried and cried and so did I”. Even at such a young age, she was able to sympathize with the pain her brother was expressing. As time went on, she helped care for her mother, her sisters, her sister-in-law, her niece and nephew, and her grandnieces and grandnephew, in addition to being my full-time mom. Everyone in our family knew there would be a safe and loving place waiting for them at my mom’s house.

As her daughter, I can only try to express to you how lucky I was to have her for a mother. She was simply the very best. My childhood, in retrospect, was magical. I have incredible memories of reading stories with her at bedtime, singing along to oldies on the radio in the car, and stopping on the side of the road with a van full of girls to do our family’s “Moon Dance”. Her humor was incredibly dry and, since she was a Virgo, we called her jokes “Virgo jokes”. After telling a Virgo joke, she would cackle, “Waka! waka! waka!” like Fonzie Bear. She often broke out into song in response to situations currently happening in our household, such as George Jones’ “The Race is On” in regard to someone’s ego taking a dip.  Like most adolescents, I was simultaneously embarrassed by my mom and so happy to have her by my side. As I grew up, I realized that in many ways I am just like her, for which I am truly grateful. She taught me how to cope with the various bumps and bruises I would encounter in adulthood. I learned from her that you have to grow your seeds in the soil you are given. Usually what blooms is even better than what you imagined was possible.

My mom was an exceptional woman, and she inspired the people in her life to be exceptional, too. Because of her, I am learning to go after my dreams no matter the roadblocks, to do everything I can to help others succeed, and to accept family as they are and love them without condition. I hope to model these values for my daughter so that my mother’s legacy will continue to live on in the hearts of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Thank you so much, Mom, for everything. Our lives won’t be the same without you, but they will always be wonderful because we had you in them.

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