I’ve endured the weather of this cold, icy, snowy winter with few complaints, other than joining in the general conversation. The wood stove, 2nd floor office (where I benefit from the rising of heated air), electric blanket, down coat, and bounteous collection of warm knitted clothing have kept me warm.
What has been more difficult has been enduring loss, and grief.
First we lost Patches, our 17 year old calico cat. She developed a severe urinary tract infection in December. We treated her, but the infection returned in January. A bunch of tests didn’t turn up an underlying condition, so she had a second round of treatment. This cat hated being doctored, but somehow we managed to administer three weeks of medication, and she seemed to rally for a few days. Right about the time we were to take her back for a checkup, she began to fail. In early February we took Patches to the vet for the last time.
Almost immediately after Patches’ death, our cat Mewah’s long, slow decline accelerated. She was more than 20 years old and was already thin. Suddenly she began to look gaunt, to smell faintly of urine even after a bath, and to lose her interest in food. Some research on the Internet led us to conclude that her kidneys were failing. We did our best to find food she would eat but nothing worked past a few days. Meanwhile, she was on the move constantly, and we realized that she was uncomfortable. On her last day, however, she spent quiet time in each of her favorite spots in the house: sleeping in a sunbeam on the futon in the guest room, curled up by the pillow on our daughter’s bed, on her favorite down-filled comforter in the living room, and on the warm sandstone that tops our wood stove enclosure. That night, she climbed up the steps to our room and meowed by the bed. She slept between our pillows for a few hours, until it was time to wake up. When we brought her downstairs, she was no longer able to drink water, and we knew it was time to release her indomitable spirit from her aged body.
Her death was calm, peaceful, and painless. It happened almost exactly two weeks from when we said goodbye to Patches.
I’ve cried so much for this cat, as she failed, and after her death. She was a special part of our daughter’s childhood, her beloved companion. Saying farewell to her ended a chapter in our lives. Ana wasn’t able to be here to be with Mewah at the end, so we had the vet take clay paw prints for her. As for us, we have a drawing on a shelf fungus that Ana made many years ago, serving as a tangible reminder of a little girl and a little cat.
And then, a week ago we learned that our dear friend Vivian had died in her sleep.
Vivian served on the town board with Robert during a troubled time in our town, and we became friends. You learn a lot about a person in adversity. I learned that she was a person with a huge heart and the capacity, as her son said, to take a lemon and make five gallons of lemonade. Her daughter-in-law talked about staying at Vivian’s house for several days during the 1998 ice storm, and said she had never laughed so much in her life.
We were far from her only close friends. At the evening calling hours, we waited for an hour and a half to talk with her family, and the afternoon calling hours had been as crowded. It was standing room only the next day at her funeral. Vivian was not rich in worldly goods, but she may have been the richest person I’ve ever known in people who loved her.
We would all have loved her to stay with us longer, but no one can deny that she left us in the best way possible. On Saturday night, she was at a large, happy party with her extended family, hugging, kissing and laughing with friends and family. Then she went home and went to bed, and died peacefully in her sleep.
Several days ago, as I drove to work, I said out loud, “I am in mourning,” and experienced a shock of realization. It has been a long time since I’ve mourned, and it’s a state that few of us are prepared to weather gracefully. I don’t think that mourning is a selfish state. As I explore what it means, however, it seems to be more about what I have lost than what those three loved ones lost when they died. This is food for my meditations, as I touch the edge of the mysteries of the finiteness of life and the nature of suffering. I can feel some joy and gratitude through my tears, that we share our lives and care with other creatures, and that I was fortunate enough to know Vivian.
I end with an image of Mewah and Patches sharing Robert’s lap.