It was three months before I could bring myself to consider bringing new love into my life. Whenever I imagined adopting, the first thoughts that came to mind were those of suffering and sorrow. But one day, it happened. I thought about having a new furry companion, and the fear did not come. I posted that awareness on facebook, and got an immediate reply. A friend had two cats that needed rescue. They were not littermates, but had grown up together, two strays adopted by an elderly couple who could no longer care for them. I saw the photos and learned about their story. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but as I drove to the grocery store, I imagined that I would change their names to Morgan and Arthur, in honor of one of my favorite tales of ancient Camelot. Driving home, I was arguing with myself about the prospect, and when I settled in to watch the next episode of a series I was watching, the episode that played featured a character that believed he was King Arthur. Then, that same evening, while scrolling through my facebook newsfeed, I saw a painting that my friend had posted… it was Morgan Le Fey bearing Arthur back to Avalon with his mortal wound. And so it was… I went to meet Morgan and Arthur, and there the three of us fell in love. Released from their protective cages, he circled around me and stepped into the nest of my ‘easy pose’ crossed legs and curled up, closed his eyes and purred. She walked around me and gave me a ‘wap-wap’, which is what I came to call her hip-bump gesture that is like a love nip, but gentler. The carriers were on the floor and open, and she walked right into hers. So, we closed the door, and placed Arthur into his carrier, and we were off! They were both pretty skittish for a while, but they warmed up to their new home pretty quickly. Within a couple of days, we were family… though it would take some time for Morgan to remain out in the open whenever an outsider would enter her domain. If there was a knock on the door, she would run into the bedroom and hide under the bed. That really didn’t change until Arthur was gone. You see, Arthur was madly, possessively in love with me. We had a morning ritual, and he would sit in my lap as I did my hair and makeup before work. Whenever I was seated, he was there. He had this way of curling into my lap or on my chest, if I was reclining, and he would look up at me with these eyes that are so difficult to describe. Perhaps people who have had that deep kind of soul-love would recognize my meaning… but I had never felt so loved and adored as I did through his eyes. I often wondered if he had come into my life to show me how it would feel when it arrived, and not to settle for anything less. My new babies were already six years old when they came to live with me. Morgan was extremely laid back, and very passive, while Arthur was the opposite. He was much like the Winnie the Pooh character, Tigger. He had springs in his toes, and he had boundless energy. He would be lounging in my lap and then suddenly dart across the room, with my belly as his springboard. If Morgan was ever on my lap when he arrived, she would quickly get the message and move out of the way. I hated the way she was so submissive to him, but she wouldn’t go far. He would be close to my heart, and she would be right by my side. Then one day… everything changed. It was February in Florida, and the weather was beautiful. I had carefully stepped out the front door to get the mail from the box, and as I stepped back in, closing the door behind me, I announced to Arthur that I was going to open the window. We called it cat tv, because the sound of it rising would bring both of them immediately to the window for their inspection of the external world. Always. I mean that Arthur would NEVER not come to the sound of the window being lifted… until this day. It took only a minute for me to feel that something was terribly wrong, and my brain went completely fuzzy. I think of it like the old days of television, when you would flip channels and there would be those that were empty, and only grey and black dots would appear, and the sound of white noise would ring out through the speaker. That’s what happened to my brain when Arthur did not take his place at the open window. Morgan didn’t come either, but she was asleep in the window seat in the library, where she is at this moment of writing. I ran through the house looking for him, because it was absolutely impossible that he could have gotten out of the house. I literally looked into the refrigerator three times. Seriously… static and white noise. I posted my panic on facebook: “I CANNOT FIND ARTHUR AND I AM TOTALLY FREAKING OUT!” My parents were buying a house up the street from me, but at the time they still lived 45 minutes away. I called my mother in tears, as I walked up the street calling his name. She asked if she should come, and I told her it would be okay. The weird thing about my exploration outside of the house was that, although there were several stray cats on my block, not a single one of them was about. I did not find Arthur. As I was walking back to the house, my massage therapist was arriving for a previously scheduled appointment. She offered to help me look for him, but I felt so sure (still fuzzy) that when I climbed onto the table, Arthur would appear at my feet, as he always did, to purr through my healing session. But he didn’t. A missed phone call and a knock on the door while I was on the table, revealed my knight in shining armor, Jim. He saw my post, and put his nearly blind mother into his truck, and drove to my house to help look for Arthur. He knocked on the door and said, he thought he might be in the side yard, and I dressed and stepped out to look. There was a grey tabby cat in my side yard, and he looked quite panicked. I called his name, but I think that what was happening to me must have been happening to him, as well. I looked at him, never having seen him outside before, and my brain could not definitively be sure that this cat was mine. The static just grew louder. As I slowly tried to approach, his eyes grew wider, and he turned and dashed through a hole beneath the fence that is between my side yard and the elevated highway that runs beyond it. The highway is a story above my land, so he was not in any danger, but there was no way to go after him, because there was no gate. Jim had driven around to confirm, and then returned to my yard. He was in my backyard when he saw Arthur, crouched down as if in a hole, his head peeking out, and panting. Then he jumped and dashed. As I was sending off my massage therapist, Jim came to the door and told me he thought he could see him, and led me to the side yard fence. There, just on the other side of the fence at the base of a tree, was Arthur. He was very close to a hole in the fence, as if considering to come back through, but he was no longer breathing. He was dead. I screamed and wailed the anguish of one whose heart has been yanked from her body. Two hours had passed since he mysteriously escaped and the weird static moved into my head. He was never in danger of being hit by a car, but he was gone. I called my parents, but my mother was en route to my house, and my father had to listen to my cries for help. I asked him to call his brother, Uncle Mike and to have him come with wire cutters. I couldn’t get to the other side of the fence, and I had to get to him! I tried calling Uncle Mike, but he did not answer. Then, as I had reached my hand through the hole in the fence, I realized that I could touch his hind legs… therefore, I could pull him through to me. And that’s what I did. I tugged his hind legs, and I pulled the lifeless body of my sweet boy, the most profound and pure love I had ever experienced in my life, through the hole in the fence and lifted his body onto my breathless chest. My whole body heaved with my sorrow. None of this made any sense. Jim and his sweet Mama endured my sobs, as they drove me to the place where we could take my beloved for cremation. Eula had run her own funeral home for decades, and Jim had grown up knowing how to care for those who were grieving. It’s as if exactly the right caregivers were delivered to me at my most dire time of need. I was numb by the time we returned to the house, and I was grateful that my mother was there to greet us. Morgan was safely inside, and I’m unsure of her awareness of her brother’s departure at that time. Over the days that would follow, though, she began to blossom in the absence of Arthur’s oppression. And though I loved him dearly, I was glad for the opportunity to see the side of Morgan that he would never let shine. I was heartbroken for the loss of his love, but she and I came to fall in love deeply over the weeks and months ahead. She eventually took his place next to my face at bedtime, when previously she had been relegated to sleep by my feet. He was such a bully to her. Without his presence, she became even more courageous upon the arrival of friends, and now she doesn’t hide for anyone. We have our own morning rituals now, though they are different from the ones he and I shared. Morgan climbs into bed, and next to my face, where she proceeds to give me my morning facial. Then she climbs over me, to the back of my neck, and presses one paw against my skin, poking me like Simon’s cat (a popular animated character) until I give in and get up to feed her, be it 4am or 7am.
It took me quite some time to recover from the shock and horror of that awful day. We were in a very uncomfortable era at work, as my beloved boss had stepped down after the takeover of our board of directors. My new boss did not have empathy in her top strengths. I cried as she unfeelingly expressed the death of her own family dog, and I knew she would have no patience for my inner turmoil that still plagued me three months after Arthur’s death. So, I engaged a therapist who specializes in EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) to overcome my trauma. After two sessions I was able to recount the story of Arthur’s loss without bursting into uncontrollable sobs, and I was finally able to fall asleep without my mind going to that place at the side of my house, where his body lay lifeless and my heart was ripped from my being. Remembering one of the ‘signs’ I received two years before this moment, I searched for the image I had seen when I was talking myself through fear of illness and loss. It was the painting of Morgan Le Fey directing the boat that would carry her wounded brother back to Avalon… where the mists would heal and protect the once and future king.
To comfort my grief, I spent the weeks following Arthur’s death doing meaningful retail therapy. I had a ring engraved with “Arthur – King of My Heart”, and I ordered another ring with a pink stone called Morganite, that was coincidentally a stone for healing trauma, though I bought it for her namesake. I already had a ring that I had made when Nightshade died, that had her name next to Gwydion’s. And finally, I had each of their portraits printed on canvas and hung them in a place where they would be viewed by all who visit this sacred space… and it will always be known that THEY are my ‘happy’.
Upon mention of my need to write about these important losses, a friend affirmed that the loss of her cats were a far greater blow to her soul than those of her parents. We both agree that there is something to the daily commitment, the unconditional love, the complete responsibility we have to our pets, and the inability to communicate with them to clearly understand their wants, their needs, and their suffering. Without this ability to know for sure, we may make the mistake of selfishly holding onto them longer than is morally correct. I definitely felt that way about Gwydion’s ending… I kept him too long. It strongly effected how I dealt with Nightshade’s end of life, as she had not stopped eating when I chose to let her go, but she was waking soaked in urine fairly regularly, and it seemed beneath her great dignity. Some would say that it may have been Arthur’s time to die, as many cats will leave their humans, to die alone – away from their sorrowful view. But he was so young and energetic, I have not yet let go of the awareness that he would likely still be with me today, if he had not stared out that window for two years, thinking how AMAZING it all appeared from that safe and limiting place he was perched, only to find out that it was vast and terrifying to be on the other side of the window. I feel that his heart couldn’t take the expanse, and I own some of that responsibility to this day. As my fifth and only surviving cat, Morgan is probably the best cared for of them all. I have learned a great deal about what to do, right and wrong, for their care. I only wish I’d known twenty-five years ago what I know today. Each furry soul has touched my heart in a special way… they are never far from reach. Nightshade, especially, shows up in my dreams on a regular basis.
As I wrap up this chapter of loss, Morgan is standing before me, at the edge of my computer, awaiting my undivided attention. Time to move forward…
(oil painting by Sandra Bierman)