The Cat Eulogies

Vanna (1999-2016)

When we lost Scamper last spring, we were already in the process of losing Vanna, too. Vanna had been diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma two years earlier, and, after thriving for longer than expected under the excellent care of her veterinarian, she was beginning to lose ground.

Vanna had been my mother’s cat, which undoubtedly contributed to the depth of my attachment. She was a living link to an unrecoverable past.

What’s more, she flourished in Virginia. In Tennessee, among Mother’s four cats, Vanna had been the neurotic one. The reclusive, skittish one, rarely glimpsed by visitors.

In Virginia, she became the dominant personality in our household.

When the cancer finally overwhelmed her, almost exactly a month after we said goodbye to Scamper, I stumbled into another depression.

Our lively household of three cats had been reduced, in a month’s time, to a quiet household of one. I couldn’t write about Vanna’s death. Could barely talk about it.

Within a year we were losing Sabrina, too.

Sabrina (2001-2017)

Sabrina was the sweetest, gentlest cat I’ve ever owned. Perhaps the sweetest and gentlest cat I’ve ever met.

She and Scamper had been rescued, at only a few weeks of age, from a construction site.

She suffered a serious injury at about twelve weeks old, losing one of her eyes and undergoing multiple surgeries to salvage the vision in her other eye. She lived the rest of her life with a slowly advancing cataract, but didn’t seem bothered by her limited vision.

She played and romped through adolescence, survived an episode of liver failure in early middle-age, and settled into her senior years with the same calm serenity she had shown from kittenhood.

I had hoped, of course, that we might have a few more years with her, after losing Scamper and Vanna in such close succession. But in November Sabrina began showing signs of discomfort while defecating, our first hint of the rectal tumor that, while repeatedly testing benign on biopsy, was likely malignant at its core.

By March she was too uncomfortable to continue. So I made yet another last trip to our wonderful vet and said yet another goodbye.

How many goodbyes, now? Four, since starting this blog. Indigo. Scamper. Vanna and Sabrina. Before them, Spice.

Spice (?-2008)

Spice’s years as a feral cat ended in 1994, the moment I saw her huddled in the back of a cage with a vast, scabbed wound covering her neck and shoulders. She nosed forward to sniff my hand, speaking in unmistakable cat-language. My name is Spice, and I’ve been waiting for you.

Spice was my constant companion for fifteen years. We shared a dorm, an apartment, a duplex (with my future husband), and, in her final years, a house in the suburbs.

She taught Sabrina and Scamper how to be cats, and they kept her young longer than time should have allowed.

Losing her closed a door on my twenties and thirties. I would never be twenty or thirty again, and I would never have another cat like Spice.

All those that came before

Before Spice? The list is long, stretching through memory into the hazy nostalgia of childhood. Mischief and Jackson. Diana. Gizmo and Annie. Morgan and Shere Khan. Sadie and Daisy. Sheena and Poppy. (This list is far from complete, and includes none of the dogs. I’ll save dogs for a later post.)

Many of our cats were named for characters in books and movies. Some came to us already named, relinquished by owners who could no longer keep them, owners who were happy to let an eager young vet assistant adopt the cats they were losing to eviction, a family illness, or one of life’s other jarring turns.

Some of the cats materialized out of thin air, simply showing up in the yard. Others were dumped on the driveway, plucked from parking lots, and chased down in ditches by a trio of sisters who found it biologically impossible to just keep driving. Mother simply sighed and made room for them all, a tide of cats drifting in and out of our lives, in and out of the house each morning and night.

They were never all in the house at the same time, thankfully. Most preferred the yard, sheds, and pasture, most of the time.

 

Cats have been one of the few constants in my life. They’ve shared all of my memories, every place I’ve ever called home, and almost every job I’ve ever had. I don’t know how to be without cats. In the end, loving cats is part of how I love myself. So…

Meet Duchess and Marie

Cat Team 7 is a local rescue group who work primarily with cats living at Naval Station Norfolk. The majority of their mission involves a Trap-Neuter-Relocate program, but they sometimes have adoptable kittens.

Duchess and Marie (two of a group named for the Aristocats) were trapped in a warehouse in early June, along with two male kittens about the same age. I saw their photo on social media, contacted Cat Team 7, and the rest is happy history.

They were quite shy, in their first weeks here.

Duchess (or Dutch, because sometimes she’s more Killjoy than Aristocat)

Marie (just Marie, because it fits)

It didn’t take them long to settle in. They have plenty of windows, soft beds, toys, and treats.

They are closely bonded, more dependent on each other than Sabrina and Scamper were. They’re rarely apart.

(Except when Marie plays fetch. Dutch, who has no interest in fetching, stalks the action until she can tempt Marie into a thunderous, romping game of chase.)

And me? I’m sharing my life with cats again. That’s enough for now.

 


Recommended reading about topics that are more urgent and more important than my cat memories:


Finally, here are three of my favorite recently-read books. Have you read them? What did you think?

Poetry: Who’s Afraid of Black Indians? by Shonda Buchanan

Fiction: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Non-fiction: NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman (I haven’t finished this one yet, but it’s already one of the best books I’ve ever read)

The Nostalgia Shelves

The Nostalgia Shelves started with three bins of old books and a stack of tired posters. Many were as old as I am, and the wear showed. They were, literally, loved to pieces. Torn, faded, and stained, none of the items could be saved intact. So I dug out my scissors and bought some Mod Podge.

Shelf 1 July 5

Shelf 1 July 6

Shelf 1 July 6

All of my old favorites found new purpose in the Nostalgia Shelves. Their stories are alive again.

Shelf 2 July 8 Complete

Shelf 2 July 8 Detail

Shelf 2 July 8 Detail

Shelf 2 July 8 Detail

Shelf 2 July 8 Detail

What’s more, the horses have a new home.

Shelf 2 July 31

I don’t have a “before” photo, but the “after” is definitely lighter and brighter.

Shelves July 31

And the unhoarding continues…

Lost Time

Squirrel May 2

Every so often, time slips sideways. One week it’s May, and the next week July scrolls into August. I have photos and bills to prove that June actually happened, but it happened in a blur of travel, home repairs, and unhoarding.

Rabbit May 11

My unhoarding saga began after Mother died, when the extent of her hoarding (and mine) could no longer be overlooked.

Eggs May 14

Mother’s hoard was generational. Parts of it accreted as she raised five children, other parts were passed down from two much-loved grandmothers, a formidable mother, a pair of admired aunts, and a somewhat difficult mother-in-law. With each obituary and burial came new photos, letters, books, furniture, glassware, doilies, and quilts.

Hoverfly May 14

The women who raised Mother had filled their homes with small treasures, and, because each of them had very real memories of hard, empty years, they treasured everything. Everything held a story, and all of the stories were passed to Mother (who had no siblings) for safe-keeping.

Ladybug July 15

Fighting her own memories of hard, empty years, Mother made room for everything, stuffing her house to the eaves with family history. She made room in her heart, too, and genuinely loved this patchwork collection of heirlooms.

Dragonfly July 15

She loved it, that is, until it overwhelmed her.

Swallow May 26

The hoard took over Mother’s house, just as my hoard was taking over mine. In her house, as in mine, cabinets were jammed full, drawers wouldn’t close, shelves bowed under their burdens, one entire room was given over to storage.

Ducks May 11

In the wake of Mother’s car accident and death, as I helped my siblings sort and pack five generations of Mother’s belongings, I resolved to make a change. I didn’t want to carry on this tradition, the death ritual of dividing the hoard. Treasures or not, I no longer needed or wanted most of the stuff I had been hoarding.

Robin May 24

Resolve is one thing, doing is another. And unhoarding is ridiculously hard work. It got even harder after I scraped off the easiest layers — books I was never going to read, clothes I was never going to wear, dishes I was never going to use. Then came the emotional stuff. Tattered childhood books. Scarred toys and threadbare stuffed animals. Memory-laden trinkets and gifts that warmed my hoarder’s heart.

Bee July 16

I spent hours and days and weeks putting off decisions, moving containers from one room to another, painting around them as I dithered. Some days I was tempted to ship them all off to thrift stores, unopened and unsorted. Other days I fought an urge to unpack everything, to binge on dusty memories.

Skipper July 8

But I don’t want to live in a box of memory. To be owned by the past. So this summer I’ve been cleaning and repairing toys and stuffed animals. Some few will stay with me, others will go to thrift stores. What can’t be salvaged will be recycled or sent to the landfill. (After being photographed, of course.) I’ve also been cutting up old books, calendars, and posters for use in current and future art projects.

Clearwing Moth July 16

Some memories I’m voluntarily discarding, others have been lost in the commotion. But the house gets lighter and brighter with each newly emptied container, with each completed project.

Carpenter Bee July 16

And it feels like an even exchange — memories for light. Time for time.

Tiger Swallowtail July 9

I think Mother would approve. I think all of them would approve.

Scamper, 2001-2016

BOTH CATS DEN

In 2001 we moved from a small duplex to a house with a garage and yard. We had one cat and one dog, and soon added a pair of orphaned kittens.

BOTH CATS

One of the kittens (on the left in the above photos) was sweet and gentle, and the name “Sabrina” seemed just right for her. The other kitten was fierce and playful and somewhat neurotic, and she defied naming. Nothing quite fit. She became “Scamper” on her medical chart, because I had to put something on her chart, but at home she changed names as often as she changed moods. She was The Scamperer. Thing 2. Her Neediness. The Bad Cat. The Wee Baby Kitty. Supercat.

SCAMPER 1

She was The Bird Watcher. (When it was too cold for open doors and windows, birds on television were better than no birds at all.)

CAT TV 3

Cats May 15

Cat March 26

In her middle years, she grew overweight and lazy. None of her kitten names fit anymore, if they ever had. She was still Scamper when she went to the vet, but at home she was Herself.

Scamper 2014

Cats Aug 24

In many ways, she was the essence of what I love about cats — neuroses and all.

Scamper 2008

In her later years she liked blankets and patches of sunlight and, every so often, an afternoon nap on the couch with me.

Scamper Jan 2011

Health problems came with age. There were medicines and special diets, all of which helped for a time, but as 2015 progressed her condition declined steadily. She lost weight faster than medicine, food, and love could counter. The calendar turned and she lost more weight. Then, in early February, she stopped eating altogether.

So I made one last trip to the vet with our cat of many names. I stayed with her through the euthanasia process, which was gentle and peaceful, and drove home to a house that is achingly incomplete. There’s an empty spot near her favorite upstairs window, one that can never be filled.

Cat Nov 9

Note: Most of the photos in this post were taken by my husband.

Sleep, eat, read… blog

Yard December 30

When I didn’t put together a blog post in late October, I resolved to make up for it in November. After November passed without a post, I planned something for December. And when January loomed with the blog still silent, I finally admitted that I had been neglecting more than the blog. I wasn’t procrastinating. I was depressed. Again.

Yard December 30

My inertia started with procrastination, but, as the days grew shorter and shorter, depression took over. In retrospect, I knew this all along. I tried to ignore the symptoms, but in mid-October I had quit doing most of the things I enjoy. The blog was just my most public absence.

Flowers Nov 9

By November, the yard and I were weather-worn and brittle.

Flowers Nov 9

Flowers Nov 9

Off and on in November I picked up my camera, took a few photos, and thought vaguely of how I would describe them in a blog post. Each time I decided to pay bills or clean out the closet instead. (More often than not, I then decided to put off the bills and the closet, too.) So this photo of spider eggs never posted:

Eggs November 24

Nor this exquisite moth:

Moth Sept 17

I woke briefly in mid-November, when the Yellow-rumped Warblers arrived, but soon drifted back into my sleep-eat-read-sleep routine.

Warbler Nov 16

Squirrel Nov 9

Rabbit Nov 9

As December counted down, I told myself lies about how busy I was with holiday preparations.

Ornaments Dec 26 2015

I told others these lies, too, because they were easier than admitting to everyone that the holidays made me feel sad and lonely. That, despite my love for festive decorations, much of my nostalgia is tinged with grief.

Ornaments Dec 26 2015

During my lost months, I watched flocks of birds gather and move on, feeling each time as if I had missed an important message.

Flock Nov 20

Birds Nov 9

Crow Nov 9

Then, one bright and unseasonably warm afternoon, a pair of vultures paused over the yard, basking in the sun. These beautiful, under-appreciated birds sent me scrambling for my camera, something I had not done in weeks.

Vulture Dec 10

Vulture Dec 10

Vulture Dec 10

And on Christmas Eve, despite dreary clouds and a threat of storms, I enjoyed an afternoon in the yard with my camera.

Starling Dec 24

This time I felt closer to getting the message.

Birds Dec 24

In the after-Christmas lull, I slept and ate and read and slept, but there was a spark of something different in the routine. A current of ambition to do more than sleep and eat and read. As I put away our decorations, I noticed a pot of pansies that I had never planted. And all the empty bird feeders.

Muscovy Jan 3

On the first Sunday of 2016, I took a walk with my old camera. As I photographed ducks and geese and seagulls, my internal dialogue became a patter of possible captions for the photos. That evening I edited the images with extra care, eager to post them. But I couldn’t decide how to post them. The blog had been silent for so long. Now that I was ready to post again, how should I explain my absence? Should I simply resume posting? Gloss over two months fogged by recurring depression?

Merganser Jan 3

If I tried to explain, would I be able to describe depression without being depressing? (I don’t believe I’ve succeeded, but I decided to post this anyway. Too many people avoid talking about depression for too many reasons, which makes it that much lonelier.)

Heron Jan 3

I’ve lived with depression (and its frequent companion–anxiety) for a very long time. Longer than I’ll usually admit. Compared to past experience, this bout was mild and short-lived. Now I’m making changes that should help speed my recovery. Over the weekend I stocked the kitchen with healthier food, started exercising, and spent more time outside with my camera. These are, I’ve learned, my best defenses.

Seagull Jan 3

So as January progresses, along with a more mindful schedule of sleeping and eating and reading, I’ll be walking and writing and blogging. (And renewing my efforts to learn meditation. More on this later.)

Mallard Jan 3

And as the days get longer and longer, I’ll start looking forward to spring. Because spring will come. It always does.

Mallard Jan 3