Waving Goodbye

It’s kind of a rule with some, that you wave goodbye until the people leaving can’t see you anymore.

It’s 2020, the year of the pandemic and other notable events. Our “pod” as I’ve come to label it, has been decreased by four significant persons. With that comes the strangeness of loss, and of uncertainty. What is life going to be like with all these changes?

Our small community consisted of my mom, my brother Dennis and his wife, their two children, myself and the husband. It expanded when my sister-in-law’s parents moved into a newly built house down the street. My brother designed it as a retirement home for him and his wife- for “someday”. But for now it was going to be convenient for Mary Pat’s parents to be close, so she and Dennis could help them when needed.

Unfortunately, it was Mary Pat who needed the help. Breast cancer returned with a vengeance. It has been only eight months, and now she is gone. It has been a difficult last few weeks. Both sides of our families have gathered to help and to mourn. Houses have been full. Schedules have been disrupted, and it was hard. She was at home when she died and we were with her. It was a little like waving goodbye until she could no longer see us.

Our pod also included a trio of women who we call “the sisters”. They have become like family to us over the last 25 years, included in our family reunions, our weekly sabbath gatherings, and countless festive occasions. Michelle is the elder sister, being almost 94. Judith and Susan are in their 60’s now, adopted as young children from Vietnam. Retiring from their daycare business led them to buy a house in a warmer climate and they have been planning their move for months, it seems.

Our “pod” plus a few extra visiting family members.

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of stressful preparation during this last week before their trip. They left this morning, with another one of my brothers driving a Penske truck loaded with the things they needed to set up housekeeping. Moving is always a big, stressful affair, especially when you have been a long time in one place. It is safe to say that the week’s work has left us all tired and a bit emotional. We are praying they have a safe trip. We waved goodbye this morning.

I know I will recover, but right now I am somewhat disoriented. There has been so much to do in so short a time. I didn’t feel like writing even if I’d had the time, which I didn’t. I move toward simple tasks, with clear cut goals that take my mind to a different place for a period of time; organizing a closet, doing a puzzle, cleaning the kitchen, taking a walk.

Life in 2020 has not been what any of us expected, and certainly not what I expected for my family. It has been an exercise of faith, and like most exercise, it has been strenuous. It doesn’t always feel good while it is happening, but there is a sense of it being worthwhile and useful. I have felt God’s watchfulness and his care in many ways. He has listened to my questions and complaints, and received my anger, confusion and exhaustion with great patience. I have felt loved.

I hear you, Mary Pat. You weren’t afraid and I won’t be either!

This is one of my favorite pictures of Mary Pat that was handed out at her memorial. It is testimony to her faith in God’s goodness, and mine as well. When you know God is good and in charge, there is no need to be dominated by feelings of fear. The crazy weirdness of 2020 becomes opportunity to exercise faith, grow stronger in trust, and remain hopeful. That’s where I’m at. I will not be afraid, just sayin’…

Ode to Zoe

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Zoe, I always thought your name was a little unusual

but that it was suitable for a cat who was not the usual kind.

I could not determine if you were strange to me because

of your breed or because of your life experience.

Long of leg, large of body, small in head – your were not

the cat we photographed often. Your stare was unsettling.

 

 

I knew you when you belonged to your previous owners,

a beast barely tolerated by some, and you busied yourself

staying out of the way of dogs and scratching leather furniture.

When your claws were removed, and you could not defend yourself

they were afraid to let you outdoors. You were famous for

filling the litter box all too quickly, and making loud noises in the night.

 

 

You came to us when others became allergic. We took you

in for love of them and not out of love for you. I don’t

think you loved us. I knew you when you were overweight,

and your hair came out in great clumps. I knew you when

you chewed yourself bloody where the fleas congregated.

You didn’t look at us very often, you didn’t look happy.

 

 

But for all your mess, things we had to wash up, scrape off

and deodorize, for all the times when you fought the other

cat and left fur all over the room (you both were gray and we

could not tell who had won), we began to love you. You stopped

eating desperately and became slim. Your fur became soft

and easy to pet. And you watched us differently.

 

 

You learned to go through the cat door, to love the outside

and to run to the sound of your automatic feeder. Your favorite

place was on the man where he was soft and warm and you purred.

The man gave you special food and doted on you. You made loud

noises looking for him, often in the night when you were lonely.

I loved that you went outside and no longer used the litter box.

 

 

You no longer needed to look out for the other cat (she died)

and you relaxed and all the space became yours. You only ran from

the vacuum cleaner and small children. You and the man became

very much alike, with your routines and the places you camped

out as you watched television and napped. You were all the animal

we had and I guardedly say that we enjoyed you most of the time.

 

 

Today, you are gone. I am sad, but especially the man is missing you.

Feeling that you may have had a terrible fright at the end and violence.

We would not have chosen that for you but neither would have had you

be ill and lingering and miserable. As I said, you were never impressive

for your looks and not much photographed. But you were loved and

part of our family, even though your stare was still a bit unsettling.

Zoe
Zoe

Eulogy to Grey Kitty

Things change.  Back from a ten day trip, I spent the morning picking up the water bowl, the food bowl, cleaning out the litter pan, putting the towels and sheet used for bedding in the laundry, uncovering the furniture in her “sick” room.  Then I sat alone at my writing table thinking about all the times that sitting there would have guaranteed a cat in my lap within a couple minutes.  I will miss her and she was a good cat.

She came to us as a kitten, found alone by one of my daughters in a city parking lot.  She was very young, very scared and spent the first week hiding under my daughter’s bed.  We weren’t sure if she would make it.  What a way to start.  I think her memory of that contributed to her quietness, her timidity, her reclusive nature.  She grew to tolerate other cats but was never one to initiate friendship or cuddle up to any of them.  She grew to trust some people and be affectionate but that trust had to be earned. The sound of strangers in the house always made her disappear. She would come out from her hiding place when things got quiet again.

her magnificent green eyes and a pretty white bib

her magnificent green eyes and a pretty white bib

When my daughter moved away to school she left Grey Kitty with me, which was fine since I had grown fond of her.  I had inherited another cat from my second daughter and it would have been nice if they had gotten along but they didn’t.  They fought like, well, like cats.  They had both grown up being “only cats” and didn’t want to share their humans.  We had to keep them separated or there were consequences of loud cat growls and tufts of fur everywhere.  Once when we were away they were accidentally shut in the same room.  We found them sitting quietly in opposite corners pretending nothing had happened, but the room told a different story, way different.  I thought they might have gotten it out of their system and become friends, but no.

Grey Kitty was hesitant about all kinds of things.  There was the usual cat maneuver of standing in front of an open door, debating whether or not to go through.  She had the nervous tail tic.  It drove me crazy and I would sometimes pick her up and make the decision for her.  But most of the time, in deference to our friendship, I just waited until she either bolted out or sauntered in the other direction.  I think my willingness to let her be who she was made her like me as much as she did.

She had patience with me as well,  Many times she would come up on my lap and get settled for a good sleep and minutes later I would have to get up to answer the phone.  She had patience in the kitchen. She knew the sound of pans rattling and cans opening and would appear at mealtime.  After circling my feet for several minutes in an attempt to get my attention (trip me) she would sit quietly and look at me with her best stare.  The stare would continue right up through the meal until the husband would relent and give her a small bite of people food.

One day, years ago, I thought I had accidentally killed her.  She was in the garage when I closed the door automatically and turned my back to go into the house.  For some reason she waited until the last second to try leaving and got caught under the door.  When I looked again I could only see the back half of her and the door was down.  She evidently had been crouching low and hadn’t triggered the safety beam.  I slapped the control and ran to get her but she ran out faster than I could get there.  I was pretty worried about her but decided if she could move that fast she probably didn’t have a broken neck.  She was always a little leery of the garage door after that.

As she grew older, she began to be a very picky eater.  Dry cat food was not good enough.  Canned cat food was better, but only certain kinds.  She started losing weight, and her breath smelled awful.   Tests at the vet’s office showed kidney disease, so we tried various brands of special food.  She didn’t like any of them.  Finally, to keep her from starving I let her eat anything she would eat.  She was pitiful, and her soft meow changed into a more raucous sound that was disturbing and insistent.  I think she had nausea.

This story ends as you might suspect by now.  I took GK to my daughter the veterinarian and she and I, compassionately and with tears, euthanized her and laid her to rest.  She served a purpose in my life, as I believe animals were meant to do.  These awesome creatures that God made to share the earth with us make us think, make us love, make us give of ourselves and make us aware that we are not alone.

Now it’s a bit simpler at home – I don’t have to shut the doors to prevent cat fights, I don’t have to search for obscure brands of special food, I don’t have to clean up sick messes.  Simpler, but not necessarily better. I’m just sayin’, she was a good cat and I miss her.

P.S. This is not to be interpreted as a request for another cat.

I Have Wondered Why It Happened…

We were a fairly young family with two daughters, ages 8 and 5. This was our first big move, leaving friends, family and a comfortable home in the north for unknown circumstances in a state as far south as one could go. Almost everything was unfamiliar. All our belongings were packed into two trailers for the trip. My parents helped us move by towing one trailer and we pulled the other one behind our van.  I remember the end of that long trip – I was driving in the early morning on the interstate and hit an armadillo. It was our introduction to Florida.

After our first day of resting in a motel, our Realtor helped us to a temporary furnished apartment near the famous Siesta Beach with it’s wide, white sand beaches.  We found a storage facility and unloaded pretty nearly all our earthly possessions into two rented rooms to await the new house I was sure we would find within a short time.  We weren’t wealthy but we were blessed with enough. Our “things” were dear to us, having either been received as wedding gifts or handed down as heirlooms from both sides of our families.  We had only some clothing and personal items with us in the apartment.

A week and a few days later we went back to the storage facility to get something we needed.  I walked down the second story corridor to the rooms at the end and tried to figure out why the door on one of our rooms was standing open. I looked in the empty room and tried to tell myself there had been a mistake. Was I somehow in the wrong building? the wrong corridor? What could this mean? I was in a state of repressed panic. I tried to remember all the things we had put in that room but it was impossible – there was too much.  My grandmother’s china cupboard, our best (only) dishes and flatware, our few pieces of art, clothing, my precious knitting machine I had worked so hard to buy… where was it all?

As the next hour unfolded we learned the truth about what had happened that was stranger than anything I could have made up.  It took a while to figure out because, at first, the owners of the storage facility were clueless and defensive.  Gradually putting it all together, this is how it came about.  Previous to our arrival, the now empty storage room had been rented to a customer who was delinquent in paying.  The manager had put an overlock on the room and notified the person that they had X number of days to pay or the contents of their room would belong to the storage facility.  Sometime before that deadline, the customer managed to get in the facility, remove the overlock and get all their belongings out without the manager knowing about it.

I entered the story.  Having been sent up to inspect the building where I was told there were two empty rooms, I saw two rooms, adjacent to each other, empty with the doors standing open.  They looked the right size and we paid for them and filled them up.  I don’t remember even looking at the numbers on the doors.  There were actually three empty rooms off that corridor, one  that I didn’t know about. It’s door was closed and I didn’t even notice it. Unfortunately that was one of the two rooms the manager thought we had rented. The third room, now full of our things, was the one that had belonged to the deliquent customer. And now the deadline had come.

The customary action when the account for a storage room is delinquent is to offer the contents for auction, hoping to recover the delinquent payments (think Storage Wars on reality TV). Our belongings were bought, sight unseen, by a business that accumulated goods from estate sales and storage units and then held a weekly auction on a Friday night.  We learned this on the Saturday after our things had been auctioned.  We were allowed to go through their warehouse and look for anything we recognized that hadn’t been sold.   We bought back the wooden highchair that had been mine as a child.   We found our family picture albums in their trash. There was nothing else. We were devastated.  Although they knew names and addresses of those they had sold to, they would not release any of that information to us.

We felt it was a shared mistake, and attempted to collect damages from the storage company.  Because we had no receipts for the missing items and no appraisals of the furniture and antiques, we were told that legal precedent would be against us.  We would be better off to accept a small settlement rather than take the matter to court and get nothing.  Our lawyer felt so sorry for us he did not charge us for his services.  That was the only overt blessing that I’ve ever been able to recognize concerning this event.

Did life go on? Yes, of course.  But there are differences since then.  I wish I could say that I learned never to make a quick decision, always to check every transaction thoroughly – but that hasn’t always been the case.  What did change was that I hold loosely to “things”, in order that they might not get a grip on my heart.  I’ve bought very little furniture, invested very little in things that might fit into a packing box, spent more time in Goodwill, second hand shops and garage sales for the things I do need.  I’m not sure I understand why God allowed this to happen at a time when so many other difficult things were also taking place, but He did.  I think I will understand it better some time in the future.  And I’ve never given up hope that some day, in some backwoods antique shop, I might see Grandma’s china cupboard again.  I’m just sayin’ it would be kind of like God to do that…