Wherever Tracey goes, people keep asking her how I am doing. I’m fine. Except when I’m not.
My cat died. My beautiful Delilah died. While I admit that over the years more than one friend has told me that she would like to die and be reincarnated as one of my cats, I am not a Cat Lady. I have nearly always had a cat in the house, but usually just one. For the past twelve years there have been two, Samson and Delilah. (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?)
They are not my children, they are cats. And yet ...
One day she was there, that gorgeous little fur ball, occasional pain in the ass, kissy, pestiferous, whimsical animal … then not there. Tracey and I held her to the end and even after she was dead, she was still so soft and warm that I couldn’t take it in. I was devastated. Later that night as I started to fall asleep I reached out to where she always used to curl up next to me and she wasn’t there. I fell apart and just sobbed. And sobbed. And sobbed.
So, OK. I do know it wasn’t just the cat.
I also wept for my mother, who died last year at this time. I wept for my life turned upside down and my relationship indelibly changed by a disease that I did not even know existed 18 months ago. I wept for all the losses of the past year: my cozy, independent, homebody life; my house and my garden and my family that I miss when we travel so much; my church community that anchored me; my faith that anything in this world makes any sense at all; and I wept in that anticipatory grief well known to people facing the long goodbye of a loved one with dementia. And for the cat, too.
But the story is not all about grief. Of course I felt better after I cried it all out, and then I began to think about how the losses of the past year have also offered amazing gifts. Our new nomadic life is rich and full. We have traveled to beautiful, interesting places and along the way we have shed a lot of baggage, emotional and physical, so we travel more lightly. We have made new friendships and deepened old ones. I have copious notes and photos of gardens that I want to replicate in my own backyard someday but it’s OK that someday is not now. Time is more precious, but also more generous. Our relationship has grown much stronger and deeper. And the ones who have gone before us have left behind their beauty and laughter and life lessons that will always be with us.
I will plant Delilah’s ashes under a bush near the bird feeder. She was fond of birds. And later this spring my family will go to Buffalo and we will plant my mother’s ashes under an oak tree in the family cemetery. In both places I expect I will shed some tears and also smile when I think about the gifts they gave me and the stories I will tell them when I get to the other side of the valley.
How am I? I’m well. Thanks for asking. — Emily