This has been such a difficult three months for me. On the one hand, I am blessed that I am not recently mourning any of my human relatives or close friends. But two of our long-time kitties and one of our kitty grandkits have passed away–one in July, one in August, one in September. Isabella Rose, or Izzie, was my daughter’s cat, only 11 years old, and I used to babysit her alllll the time. I loved babysitting her. She would walk in as though she owned the place. She had the other cats convinced of just that. We had Felix for fifteen years, and he was such a gentle, sweet soul. He endured chronic GI problems for years, but we set up a camera over his litter box and monitored his “schedule” for two years. I didn’t mind at all because I loved him so much.
If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that the latest loss is my closest friend, my heart, Pear Blossom. She was 21 1/2, but that only makes it harder because we were together for so long. So many of my people have known her over the years. And with her kind and helpful personality, she touched so many lives. Pear and Felix were from my first group of three cats. They were very good friends–the three mousketeers. Macavity passed away in 2015. If you would like to read the story of how Mac, our first cat, came to be a part of our family–and how the gardener changed from a self-avowed cat hater–you can read this story: My Own Cat Hero or a Loss Upon a Loss
Why do kitties always take a turn for the worse on the weekend when one is least likely to find one’s vet available? Izzie passed on a Sunday, and both Felix and Pear on Saturdays. And yesterday, on Saturday, Tiger got sick!!!!! I took her to the ER after calling them and making sure. But when we were getting checked in, the vet called in sick. They sent me to another ER across town. At that one, the vet was just going into surgery and the wait would be hours. I was concerned that Tiger could have a urinary blockage as she had been running in and out of the litter box, unable to pee. By this time my vet was open (only open mornings on Saturdays) and although they were completely booked up, she let me drop off Tiger so she could be examined between patients. Luckily, Tiger turned out to have a UTI, not a blockage.
Being there at the euthanasia of three cats in three months has made me feel like the Angel of Death. I’m a benign zombie, not fully in the moment. The couch is soooo lonely without Pear next to me, even if another cat comes to me. I can only sleep at night with the little blanket Pear used in the last few weeks of her life.
Of course, life keeps on happening, right in the face of grief. But I’m trying to go easy and not push myself right now.
I had posted the following pic on Instagram in September 2019, while I was babysitting Izzie. I felt like Snow White with the 7 little cats–so happy to have them all together in my home. But now it’s easy to see the devastation.
Don’t worry: Tiger and Kana still make me work hard with all their needs. And Perry needs lots of attention because he’s grieving more than the other cats. He is at loose ends much of the time, with a sad look on his face.
I know that I am not alone in feeling a loss at hearing of the passing of our friend and blogger Pauline King from The Contented Crafter. Pauline was the wisest person I ever met. As a tribute to Pauline, go peruse her blog.
Pauline made me a beautiful light catcher 2 1/2 years ago, and I wrote about here: Rainbows Everywhere.
At the start of the pandemic, Pauline gave me some advice which I shared here: Advice from Pauline. Her advice included:
We will strive every day to look for the good things that are being done and enacted and shared – lets walk through this together and share and support and make the world a smaller, friendlier, safer place for a while. I think this will make a great deal of difference.
RIP Pauline. You were a powerful beacon in this dark world. I hope we learned enough from you. Love, Luanne
This is Dexter, but it is just one of many names he has been called. He lived his life on the streets of Phoenix for many years. He evaded every trap that kind people set for him—and who knows how many that bad people set. He was covered with scars and his ears were all screwed up, but he was still gorgeous when you looked into his soulful eyes. When he knew the end was near he sought out my friend who had given him food and soft words, asking to end his days with her. She gave him a home for the past couple of weeks while he peacefully faded away in a quiet place. She was with him, petting and consoling him, when he passed away on Saturday. Dexter was a strong cat, a brave cat. He lived life on his own terms and died that same way. RIP to a cat I will never forget.
Dexter was very sick in these photos. I couldn’t let him pass away without sharing his story because courage isn’t an attribute special to humans (when you can find it) or to dogs. Cats and other animals also can be very brave and strong, facing up to the unfairnesses thrown at them in life. I wanted us to appreciate the strength this boy had to live his life the way he lived it. And the courage he found not just to battle for that life every day on the streets, but the courage to come to my friend when he finally felt he needed her. Bless her for noticing that he needed help beyond the usual.
Dexter lived in my friend’s neighborhood and was at least 12 years old, possibly as old as 15. He was a stray, not truly feral (I’ve written before that a lot of cats are classified as feral who truly are strays–and Dexter would have been seen as feral by some, but he really was not). He trusted my friend and some others enough to get close so they could feed him and even pet him. He lived in an area where coyotes hunt cats. My friend says he “owned” her neighborhood and now he is buried there.
Dexter is not confined to the cage you see. The door was open so he could move into the room. In case you wonder, my friend is very experienced and knows quite a lot about medical and behavioral issues with cats. She decided that he would be completely freaked out by euthanasia by a vet, although she held it in her mind as an option if he didn’t pass peacefully.
So please grieve for Dexter, but also celebrate his bravery and his strength and when you have a chance to help someone, please take the opportunity. If you don’t know about the good work of Alley Cat Allies please check them out.
I can’t leave you without showing you some happy cat rescues that I have recorded with my new iPhone.
Kana, my Home Fur Good rescue princess, is in the stage light mono portrait mode.
Felix is, um, I can’t remember which portrait mode. Felix was rescued from the streets.
Perry is in stage light portrait mode. As you know, he was also rescued from the streets a la our backyard.
Last Wednesday my Uncle Frank passed away. A month or so before, he had suddenly found it difficult to walk, so he asked a neighbor to take him to the ER. Before that moment, he seemed in remarkably good physical and mental health for someone 90 years old. Although they didn’t know what was wrong, they admitted my uncle to the hospital where he fluctuated between lucidity and not. They had him on a strong dose of morphine because the pain in his back and legs was so bad.
Then they sent him to a nearby nursing home where he spent his days slumped uncomfortably in a wheelchair. That is the point where my cousin, Frank’s only living child, called me.
For a few weeks, Frank went back and forth between the hospital and the nursing home, but he was never given a diagnosis. Even without the morphine, he began to lose his lucidity. It became impossible to talk to him on the phone because he didn’t know what to do with a telephone and his words were slurred.
Although it’s a long drive, my mother and brother in Kalamazoo were able to drive to Arkansas to see him. They reported that after their initial visit he no longer recognized anyone, so I decided there was no point in flying there to visit. My brother and cousin thought he might have a couple of weeks “left,” but still nobody knew what was wrong with him. The day after the nursing home decided to get him an appointment with a blood doctor, he passed away. My cousin called me from Uncle Frank’s bedside.
We still don’t know what was wrong with him. I think the nursing home did the best they could as they are not doctors, but I have to wonder what went on at that hospital. I have no legal rights in the matter, though, so there it lies.
I am left with the memories. My father and Uncle Frank were, like many twins, very very close. Frank also had a long and happy marriage with my Aunt Dolly who passed away from leukemia less than a year and a half ago. He would have been 91 the day after Christmas, the birthday he shared with his twin brother, my father. With Frank gone, since I am the oldest of the cousins, I am now the oldest person descended from my grandmother.
The first time the gardener and I spoke with Uncle Frank after he was admitted to the nursing home, the gardener made a joke to Uncle Frank about “his scotch.” Uncle Frank enjoyed scotch and soda, and he loved to cook and to eat. He once owned a steakhouse in Chicago, although most of his career was spent as a car salesman. He was very social and had a great many friends, many of them decades younger than himself. The gardener asked what he was drinking at the nursing home. In a very cryptic comment, Frank said, “Whatever Dolly had.” This comment chilled me.
After all, Frank’s white blood count was up, and his worst symptoms were the pain from his back and the inability to walk. These are all symptoms of leukemia.
I’ve written on this blog about visiting Uncle Frank after Aunt Dolly passed away–and also attached a link about the time he escaped death by a mass murderer. You can find both links here: Links to Uncle Frank articles
I could have selected a lot of photos for this blog post, especially ones where Frank is with my father and with Dolly. Or even one of myself with my beloved uncle. Instead, I chose a photo of him in his U.S. Navy sailor uniform (he served right after WWII) and a Christmas photo from Grandma’s home in 1967. On his lap is my cousin Leah (age 7) who passed away 16 years ago.
I’ve witnessed a spin of the circle of life again.
Mourning upon mourning
My dear darling oldest cat Mac passed away yesterday morning. He had been battling a congenital heart problem, diabetes, and chronic kidney failure for a long time and suddenly he took a turn for the worse. He refused food and water, and hubby and I could see it was his time. I sang to him for awhile, mainly nursery songs like “Billy Boy,” “The Riddle Song,” and “Tumbalalaika.” Then we took him to the vet. I held him, bundled in a beach towel, in my arms while he passed over the Rainbow Bridge.
Mac had a huge personality. He put everyone he met under his hypnotic spell. I don’t know how he did it, but it was simply from the force of that dynamic and powerful personality. I am too sad to do much except clean up the house from the effects of his recent illness, but I will post a few pix, along with a story about him that I wrote a few years ago.
My friend, Barbara Tapp, a talented artist, made this picture for me of Mac:
As you probably know by now, my father passed away in May, so this is another blow.
Here is the story of how Mac came to be part of our family.
Our new house came with a stray cat, but we did not realize this until after we closed on the property. Apparently the previous owners had been feeding this predominantly white calico female in the backyard for quite some time, but when they moved, they didn’t mention the cat to us. Our new next door neighbor told us he was going to “shoot that damn cat next time it comes around here.” I wondered if he would pry that beer can out of his hand long enough to do so, but I suppose there are some people who are great shots even while drinking.
Though I came to the house for two weeks to feed her every day, one day the calico just disappeared. I felt a twinge of relief because she seemed to be half feral and would not make a house cat and then sadness welled up in me. Although it’s unlikely my neighbor actually killed her, I grew furious with him.
We needed to remodel the house before we moved in. The workers ripped off the façade of the house on the side where a new room would go. This left a large gap behind the bathtub. One day the workers were framing as we gardened, when I heard a yell from Brad, one of the workers. He told us he saw an orange and white tabby kitten pop its head out from behind the tub to look. We ran over there and found three kittens: the orange kitten, a calico, and a black and cream tabby with fur almost as long as a long haired cat. Brad explained that he had seen the kittens the other day and was sure that they no longer had a mother. The orange and white kitten, still so young he had blue eyes, walked boldly out and looked at us with curiosity. He was followed by the calico, and then the long haired tabby crept out bashfully. Those two seemed to be following the orange kitty.
My daughter was ten and had grown up with two dogs in the family. The preciousness of a furry kitten appealed to her and she began a fierce campaign to keep one of the kittens.
He said he hated cats!
Hubby said, “I hate cats.” Those big blue eyes peering out of the tiny furry face forced me to argue with him, “You just don’t know cats since you’ve never had one.” I told him how beautiful my childhood cat had been.
Finally, hubby relented and agreed that we could select one kitten, but we had to “take the rest to the shelter.”
I took the friendly orange kitty on my lap and dialed my vet’s office. I talked to Jan, the tech. Jan told me to choose the orange tabby because they are friendlier and more dog-like. As she well knew, I was very used to dogs. This viewpoint was confirmed for me because the other two cats were meeker than the orange; he was already melting into my lap as though he belonged there. Jan encouraged me to bring in the cat I was going to keep for a thorough exam and vaccinations, but she issued one caveat; under no circumstances was I to bring in the other two cats because the office already had a litter of kittens they were trying to find homes for.
DON’T BRING THOSE OTHER CATS IN HERE!
When I got off the phone my friend, a veterinarian who worked at the vet’s office, called and told me to choose a boy: “they are more outgoing and friendly.” She said she’d run over and look at them real quick on her way to an appointment, so I tried to ignore the sexism in her statement. She examined each kitten in turn and declared them all boys. Years later, I read that most calicos are girls, so I still wonder if that boy was really a girl or a rare cat.
I found one big cardboard box in the garage and put all three kittens into it on an old garage blanket which sported pieces of dried leaves clinging to it and which I covered with a clean towel. I drove the kittens immediately to my vet’s office. I know, I know. But I didn’t know what else to do with the other two kittens.
I heaved the box up onto the counter in front of Jan. She couldn’t resist the temptation and peered inside. “You brought all three; I TOLD you not to!! “ She grimaced. “Aren’t they cute though?!”
A woman and her elderly mother peered into the box. The younger woman oohed over the kittens, asking me what I was planning to do with them.
Without missing a beat, I said, “I’m keeping the orange one and taking the other two to the shelter!” My words had the desired effect of horrifying and motivating her. The woman told me she would give them a home if I liked.
Conferring with Jan in private, I discovered that the woman was there with an injured squirrel, so I figured we had a winner. I offered to pay for the neutering, but the woman told me she would take care of that herself.
My new kitten was examined and vaccinated and declared a fine, healthy specimen. I brought him home to our “old house” to meet our two dogs, Oliver and Sandy.
Before we let the dogs see the kitty, I put him in my daughter’s bedroom because it was connected to the Jack and Jill bathroom she shared with her brother and it had a little walk in closet. The room was small at 10×10 feet, but with the closet and the bathroom, it was the perfect size for such a young cat. While the kitty got used to the bedroom, my daughter and I went to PetSmart and bought supplies, including a plastic carrying kennel.
Later that night, we put the kitty in the kennel and introduced the dogs. Sandy began to growl and yip at the cage, but Oliver took one look at the tiny cat and barked a sharp order at Sandy. Sandy never bothered the cat again. I wondered if animals teach each other in the same way that people often teach one another. When our first dog Muffin was alive, Oliver was dog number two, and Sandy was not yet part of the family. On the rare occasion that Oliver would get a little testy with the children when they were quite young, Muffin would bark at him exactly the same way. It’s as if the older dog warns the younger dog to be careful of the youngsters, no matter what species the youngsters are.
Very quickly, Mac and Sandy became best friends.
Mac with Sandy
Now there was only one other family member to win over and that was hubby.
I had named our new cat Macavity, after the T.S. Eliot cat known as the “hidden paw.” I should have known better because Mac lived up to his name, hiding as many of hubby’s belongings (keys, notes, ring) as he could tote off. He didn’t try to win over the husband.
But one day I came home and Mac was curled up around hubby’s head as he lay on the couch watching TV. And from then on, they were great friends. Mac never stole another object belonging to my husband. He started a campaign to reduce my earring collection by 50% by stealing one earring from each set. All these years later, we’ve never found the earrings.
That’s how Mac-the-cat (one of his nicknames) became part of our family
Another nickname is Monkeybunnyratowlpig.
Eventually we accumulated three other cats that are still part of the family. But it was Mac who persuaded hubby that cats are pretty cool people. It’s because of Mac that we both volunteer at the shelter with the kitties. And it’s because of Mac that hubby and I have been crying.
Some (ahem) years ago, I applied to our local university’s MFA program. Imagine my surprise when I was accepted. The only downside was that my undergraduate majors were marketing and history, and I didn’t have the fundamentals of literature I needed to study writing. Actually, I had more “fundamentals” than appeared because as an undergrad I’d blown off too many classes to count, spending my time at the library reading the contemporary masters like Philip Roth, Chaim Potok, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. I probably could have gotten a degree in Jewish literature by taking a test ;). But I was sorely lacking in a lot of other areas. Shakespeare? Who?
A few years had passed since I’d graduated college, so when I went back as a grad student, I not only was going to study something I was passionate about, but my study habits had vastly improved. The department decided that to make up for not having an undergraduate major in English, I would need to take two undergrad courses in English, an American literature course and a poetry survey course. With a great deal of luck and a little “research” (OK, gossiping about which were the best professors with other students) I took the poetry course with a dynamic poetry expert, Dr. Russell Goldfarb, and the American literature course with Dr. Clare Goldfarb, who happened to be his wife. My friends and I came to call them Mr. Dr. G. and Mrs. Dr. G. Maybe not as a form of address, but when we talked about them. They were two of my best teachers.
The Goldfarbs retired not long after I moved to California and started my new California-then-Arizona life. Imagine my delight when I recently learned that Clare Goldfarb had written and published a book that is available on Amazon. The book is available only on Kindle, and you know me–I refuse to fire up a Kindle because I love paper books and because I don’t want to add yet another screen to the lot of my migrainatious eyesight. I’m resourceful, though, I will say. I asked the author if I could read a .pdf version of her novel. I’m so glad I did!
In She Blinked, the reader is caught up in the tide of Ruth Burrows’ life as she learns that her mother has had another stroke–possibly a fatal one this time. She must fly to New York City to see her mother in the hospital and to stay with her father, a difficult man and ex-physician. As Ruth re-enters the remnants of the world she grew up in and navigates hospital culture and the death watch on her mother, she first begins to examine the face of mortality. When she returns home to her husband and children and the life she has created in Michigan, she finds herself blindsided by grief. Her usual over-achieving approach to life is threatened by the emotions she wants to analyze but doesn’t know how to handle.
The story doesn’t end with an easy resolution or a one year work-through of mourning. Instead, Ruth must continue on with her life. Her grief threads through the following years and rears up again when events trigger it. She also comes to face her own mortality through the events she lives through. Grief, mortality, illness (physical and mental), and memory are all a part of Ruth’s life. An important way that Ruth learns to deal with grief and mortality is through journaling, writing entries to her therapist. I wouldn’t call Ruth’s journey one of acceptance of these aspects of life so much as her recognition that they are part of the fabric of life, that all these experiences are intertwined, universal to us all.
Ruth Burrows has written a book about Henry James, a writer characterized by his psychological insights and complex prose. In She Blinked, the psychological insights are as astute as in James, but Goldfarb’s elegant, sparse prose never calls attention to itself and, instead, the reader is welcomed into Ruth’s experience.
Head on over to Amazon: She Blinked is available for Kindle at only $.99!!!