It happened again just as it always has. 6:00 am, I have just fallen back asleep after getting up and there’s Mercy, your friend, walking into a room where I am sitting and looking down at me with a big smile and a warm hello.
She asks about you and I tell her you have died. Slowly it occurs to me that she has died before you so technically, both of you are in heaven.
I walk downstairs and find myself in a hospital where I have once worked and there you are, with a strange hand held pad thingy in your hand telling me you’re trying to find your appointment. “It’s at 9:00am,” you say.
“It’s 11:00”, I tell you, sadly realizing that again, we have missed an appointment and I’m angry at myself for scheduling it too early because you always told me that you preferred all of your appointments to be scheduled at 11:00am. “We won’t have to rush in the morning, then we can stop for lunch and I can be home in time for my nap”, you said.
It made perfect sense. But unfortunately, there were those few times that no appointments were available at 11:00 so we had to adjust for the appointment with the financial planner at 10:00 am or the outpatient surgery on a Friday afternoon at 2:00pm.
Seriously, who does surgery on a Friday afternoon at 2:00pm? End of the week, everyone’s tired; why?
The surgeon struggles to stitch your skin but it breaks and you keep bleeding. He tries again and again and again before he finally gets it. You are in pain. Normally you’re one heck of a brave trooper but not this time. “Ow!” you say, loudly. I can’t even look at all the blood but as he cleans and covers your wound with bandages and talks to you about infections, debridement, and wound care, I look back at your leg and see it braced against the cushion on the seat below you as we are sailing close-hauled to Martha’s Vineyard on a beautiful sunny day so many years ago.
“I’m paying for all that fun we had out in the sun and on the water,” you tell us. I don’t know that our young surgeon understands the joy of sailing to the Vineyard as he continues to stitch your skin.
I feel your hand on mine as we look at the pad you have with the appointment time on it. I can’t believe I have screwed this up again by scheduling it at 9. But you say “it’s okay we’ll reschedule” which often meant you didn’t really want to go to it anyway. You were done with the surgeries and the pain with the subsequent bruising and scars.
And then I realize that you’re in heaven with your friend, Mercy, and I don’t know why you’ve come to visit me in this 6:00am dream I am having…in New Hampshire, still under a year since you have died.
This is Nate. He’s my guy, named after the author Nathaniel Hawthorne. For the last threeish years, Nate and I had been living with my mom in Florida and taking care of her. She had two cats of her own, Trey and Callie (pictured below). Trey is the oldest, a Maine Coon cat who thinks he owns the world, Callie is a little diva (who’s a year younger than Nate) and then Nate, who sort of has a personality of his own and is probably one of the most affectionate cats you will ever meet. He is a master at headbonking.
Mom and I had made a deal that if I found a new career endeavor in New England, she would move back with me as she wanted to see her friends and watch the leaves change in the Fall. Hearing her discuss this made my job search more focused as I wanted this wish to come true for her.
A few months later, I was hired and we made plans to move. Initially, she wanted to live with me but then decided that it would be better for her to be in an assisted living place closer to her friends in our hometown. I decided I would stay in the town where my new job was and then commute back and forth to visit her on the weekends.
Originally, because it was only a few days, I left Nate at home to guard the fort on the weekends I would visit her. But as mom became iller and I was spending more time with her, I decided to keep Nate with me. Together, we would drive to and from Mom’s normally listening to books on tape or podcasts along the way. He seemed to be a lot more relaxed everytime we listened to “This American Life” so it became a thing.
From our visits and conversations during the week, I thought mom was getting better. This thought was short lived however as, on a Friday when I spoke with her, I heard her coughing and realized this wasn’t the case and that the pneumonia she had developed was still present. I decided that Nate and I would head out earlier than we usually do the next morning and also called the staff and asked them to check on her that Friday night.
Early on Saturday morning, her nurse called to tell me that when she had arrived to give mom her medications, she had died.
It was news I never hoped (and wasn’t ready) to hear.
After making calls and asking for help from a friend, Nate and I got in the car and headed south to mom’s.
The next month was a foggy blur as I emptied out mom’s apartment while taking time to have a few big ugly cries as I wasn’t ready for her to leave. And while Nate and I spent time getting things together, Callie and Trey were definitely struggling.
Callie is a rescue cat (her story is here). A beautiful and also very affectionate little girl who had a tendency to sleep with mom on her pillow above her head. Mom would go to bed and she would tell me “the next thing I know, Callie’s on the pillow kneading before settling down and purring while finding her comfortable spot to spend the night”.
And because she was a girl, every time one of the guys got close to her, she would growl wanting to make sure she had her space and her “mom time”.
Trey was the master of the house. He was “mom’s cat” and had been part of our family for several years. Even before they settled in Florida full time, Trey had traveled with them back and forth to Rhode Island. At one point, during one of their flights, she had opened his carrier to pet him during a layover at Dulles International when he decided to push by her hand and take a nice long walk along the concourse.
Mom, not wanting to scare him, followed him from behind until she could finally get close enough to grab him. Hearing her tell the story was hilarious and Trey had many events like this but usually did really well between living in Florida during the winters and on their boat with them during the summer.
But when mom died, he was lost. And while I knew that cats grieve when their owners die, I never realized how bad this grief process could be until I watched Trey for several days after her death.
The morning I arrived, mom had died but was still in her bed. What was reassuring to me was that she looked the way she always had whenever I arrived early in the morning; resting quietly looking content.
Trey was lying across the doorway to her room. It almost seemed like he didn’t want anyone to enter and didn’t want her to leave. And he didn’t move – as the nurse, and subsequently, the funeral home director went into and out of the room, he stayed exactly where he was – lying fully sprawled out, blocking the doorway, watching everything.
When the funeral home director came back with the gurney, I picked Trey up and took him to mom’s chair in the living room. I think he liked that he could still smell her presence so he stayed there… watching everything like a hawk with those big Maine Coon Cat eyes of his.
Callie, initially had hid under the bed but then followed us into the living room where her “people” were.
The following days were the worst as Trey and Callie realized that mom was no longer there. I’d watch as Trey jumped from the top of her bureau (where the clothes she had worn most recently were still in a pile) and then to her bed; he was clearly looking for her. Callie had settled into the floor of her closet where she slept on top of her shoes.
A day later, it was early in the morning when I decided to take a shower. I had closed the door when I could hear the feverish scratching of paws against the door and loud yowling. When I turned the shower off, I grabbed a towel and opened the door to see Trey – it was like you could actually see the sad, disheartened, “oh, it’s only you” look on his face.
A few days later, my brother arrived. Together we discussed Callie and Trey and keeping them together or separating them. Because Trey had been the only cat my parents had had for several years before rescuing Callie, we decided that Trey would go back to Florida with Scott and Callie would move in with Nate and I as they seemed to get along pretty well.
The next few weeks also seemed trying for Callie and Trey as furniture was donated (along with antiques and books and other belongings). What had been their home had transitioned to suitcases, duffel bags, and boxes which subsequently were taken to different places. The emptier the room became, the more confused they all appeared to be.
Because of this transition and the grief they had, I paid a lot more attention to what I was doing and made sure that we developed as consistent a routine as possible for them regarding spending time together, feeding and bedtime. I also made sure that some of mom’s clothes were available for Trey to lie down on.
On the last day, I put Callie and Nate in their carriers and took them to my car. Trey and I were the last ones to leave mom’s room. I made sure we had a conversation and a prayer about mom watching over us in heaven and then thanking Trey for being so brave before we closed the door behind us.
A few weeks later Scott returned to take Trey home with him. Watching them together going through security at the airport, I knew that both Trey (and Scott) would be happier together but I cried as I watched them leave. Trey had endured probably one of the toughest times in his life but I knew he would be happier having all of Scott’s affection to himself and being in warm, sunny Florida where he could watch the birds play outside while watching the world go by.
And Callie and Nate have settled in well together here in our home – adjusting to their new place.