As per usual, Cathy gets the final wordI lost one of my best friends last week. Cathy Seipp was 49, born precisely a month after me, and someone with whom I'd shared a bond for 25 years (or slightly more than half of our lives). Her death on March 21 came after a lengthy and tremendously painful illness, the culmination of a nearly five-year battle with lung cancer. And no, she never smoked. Not a single cigarette.
Cathy, too, was a journalist, the snarkiest, smartest and most wily I've ever known. We met after she was hired as a fashion writer at the L.A. Daily News, where I was writing features and, later, entertainment. I immediately dismissed Cathy as a snob. Yet I was intrigued because she was able to back up the snooty with such personal style and panache.
Cathy was a better writer than I: more biting, more crusading, more lyrical and focused. I both loved and hated her for it. She grew even more skilled as the years went on while writing for the now-defunct Buzz magazine, for Forbes and for many others (most recently a column for National Review Online).
But as I mourn Cathy's death, it isn't from that maudlin place of our having lost an angel or anything like that. Hers was a prickly personality, often smug and condescending, cranky and argumentative. And the advance of her disease had no notable chilling-out effect on her. Cathy liked to say that "having cancer hasn't made me a better person."
She was right. It hadn't. Of equal importance, however, was the fact it hadn't made her a different person. There was none of that going gently stuff for Cathy. She fought her illness as she would a bureaucracy, firing chemo and radiation slugs at it until both barrels were spent.
Why did I love this woman? Because she was brilliant. And honest. And generous with her time and possessions. And ever-challenging. And positively fearless. Cathy didn't weigh the potential impact on her career of rendering an unpopular view or taking to task an influential publication or colleague. She was able to make a sharp right turn politically and still keep her liberal-minded friends. She mercilessly slammed the L.A. Times monthly while at Buzz and was later accepted as a guest columnist on its op/ed page.
This isn't to say that Cathy didn't make her share of enemies. But it didn't stop her from growing into a literary icon during her last years with her insightful, colorful, personal blog, Cathy's World (http://cathyseipp.journalspace.com/). A devoted community sprung around the blog, one so vast it wasn't unusual to see 300 or 400 message responses to any given post.
But the true mark of Cathy's impact could be seen in those who rallied to her side as the cancer began to take all but her dignity. A large contingent of friends (myself included) banded together to form Team Cathy, replete with a Google planning calendar to schedule rides to doctors' appointments or simply afternoons of hand-holding. We all decided that she would never be alone again. And she never was.
The outpouring seemed to somewhat overwhelm Cathy, who asked me in the car about three weeks before her death, "Why is everybody doing this for me? It's not like I'm some sweet person or something."
"I know," I agreed. "I'm only doing it because it's Drive a Nasty Bitch to Her Doctor's Appointment Week."
Cathy smiled. "Oh good," she said. "I wouldn't want it to be because you felt sorry for me."
The truth, of course, is that Cathy was doing me the favor.