Cat lived many lives through her 69 years. In this way she was like her namesake, constantly reinventing her life and pursuing something completely new.
She was an amazing and deeply committed mother. She was the best of grandmothers, or “Mimi” as her only grandchild Charlie called her. She taught him to skateboard so they could roll together and gave each of his hobbies focus and fully present attention as if they were her own.
She was a deeply caring teacher who was unafraid to break down convention and make sure every student felt understood. She had an immense knack for empowering those of her students who struggled most with school, making them feel understood and valued as she creatively catered to their individual learning styles. Many of the students at Friday Harbor Elementary School and Friday Harbor Middle School she taught fondly remember her as a pivotal influence.
Cat was mischievous and relished taking on the role of a rascal. Whether that meant getting called into the head mistress’s office on more than one occasion as a high schooler at Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough, California; jumping off the table and hiding in an attempt at tricking her radiologist into believing he’d somehow zapped her into oblivion; thwarting protocols by turning cartwheels in her doctor’s offices; rewriting a medical note Mad Magazine style and sneaking it into her medical record to play a joke on her oncologist; or successfully choosing to just not worry about many of the things in life that most people stress over.
When knitting caught her eye, it was only natural that she would break existing conventions and reinvent them. She spent almost two decades as a beloved self-publisher, teacher, and knitwear designer after releasing her first book, “Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles,” in 2001.
She always wanted to share success and had so much passion in mentoring other would-be authors, self-publishers, designers, and knitters. She happily shared her trade secrets and felt great joy in watching those around her succeed in their goals.
As her death began to feel imminent, she experienced the realization that her publishing and knitting retreats had all along offered self-reflection and spiritual growth more than fiber arts. During a brief period where she felt as though she might experience a miracle cure, she vowed to offer her future gatherings as spiritual retreats should she get healthy enough to lead them once again.
She played with creative writing throughout her life and her novel, “Treasure Forest,” was published in 2003 by Namaste Publishing and was selected as a Nautilus Award winner in 2004. She also wrote an autobiography, “Cancer, Cartwheels, & The Art of Pizza,” in 1999 that danced back and forth in time relating her difficult childhood to her two occurrences of breast cancer that took place while her daughter Jenny was not yet double digits in age. After a few rejection letters, Cat chose not to further pursue publishing, but the manuscript lives on and captures her poignantly.
Cat was very unusual in her approach to cancer. She chose to treat it as a friend she was on a journey with. She embraced its presence in her body and acknowledged it; she never judged it as bad or evil but sought synergy with it and eventually a parting of ways on separate paths. Cat had four dances with cancer in her lifetime: two occurrences of breast cancer at the ages of 38 and 41; endometrial cancer at age 62; and a metastatic cancer of uncertain origin diagnosis at the age of 68. It was this final mysterious cancer that, after first appearing curable from a winter of chemotherapy and immunotherapy, took her life on Sept. 19, 2020.
Cat’s daughter and grandson were able to work and attend school remotely to live the last two months of her life with her and care for her at home. It was Cat’s strong desire that she be able to carry out her remaining days peacefully at home. The morning of her death she passed gently. While no one else in her life felt ready to lose her vivacious and sweet spirit she herself was at peace with dying.
Cat was born on March 2, 1951 in San Francisco to Jacqueline and Waldron Gardiner. Her mother died of breast cancer on Cat’s sixth birthday. Her father committed suicide three days later. Despite this early childhood darkness Cat’s light shone so brightly in adulthood. Cat and her brother Tom and sister Diana were adopted by Glen and Helen (Goodwin) Haydon and gained three additional siblings before moving just a few months later to Germany for a year. They then settled in the Bay Area where she attended high school and earned a B.A. in Russian Language and Literature at the University of California Santa Barbara.
After college she traveled to the Soviet Union for six weeks and spent a winter on Waldron Island before marrying Louis Bordi in Woodside, California, in 1981. Her daughter Jenny was born in 1983. Cat and Louis divorced after which Cat and Jenny briefly lived in Bothell, Washington, before Cat remembered her love of the islands and settled on Orcas Island in 1987. She married Michael Schifsky in 1988; they divorced in 1991. Cat commuted to Bellingham to earn her teaching certificate at Western Washington University before moving to Friday Harbor to teach third grade beginning in 1992. Cat remained a world traveler at heart and led fiber arts excursions with her chosen brother, Jim, to Peru, Iceland, Mexico, and Scotland. A write up on Cat’s work and passing in the NY Times titled: “Cat Bordhi, Who Challenged Traditional Ways of Knitting, Dies at 69” may be accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/02/style/cat-bordhi-dead.html.
Cat is survived by her daughter Jenny Low; grandson Charlie Johnson; siblings Tom Haydon, Diana Rabbe, James Haydon, and Martha Haydon-Griggs; adoptive mother Helen Haydon; and hermano Jim Petkiewicz. She was predeceased by her birth parents, adoptive father, and brother, Fred Haydon.
To share memories of Cat, please sign the online guestbook at https://www.evanschapel.com.