Although I have not experienced any dreams involving my deceased 26-year-old son Marshall, I did dream about his cat Chervony two weeks after he died from old age. When he was alive and before old age set in, Chervony was a clean, fluffy ball of Creamsicle-colored orange. Sometimes, in fact, I nicknamed him “Chervon-sicle.”
For about 16 years, he was our household’s alpha cat. That is, until alpha-male number-two Sam, a black cat, about six years younger, arrived with my new roomie slightly over two years ago. For the first six months guttural meowing sounds, screeching, hissing, growling as well as black and orange hair flying were the customary background in our house.
Miraculously, by the second year, tempers simmered down and both alphas tolerated one another. Chervony, aging and ailing with a newly diagnosed thyroid condition, started to nest in the bathroom corner. Subsequently, I took an unusual liking to Sam, who, as it turned out, was terrified of Chervony. For over a year, I showered undivided attention on Sam until the day came when I realized that I unintentionally neglected Chervony. Though, in his last months of life, I tried to make up for my careless behavior, I felt tremendously guilty, especially after my son’s cat died.
Circling back to my dream, Chervony, reflecting a chromatic peach color, sprinted over Sam who was laying in front of him. It was as if, although the details are hazy, this ball of fire was going to spill into my open arms. What I know for certain is that in the dream, Chervony was vibrant, happy. Upon awakening, I felt all was forgiven and he held no grudges against me for my playing favoritism. In fact, it was one of those few mornings that I actually felt like my old self at least for a few minutes; light and carefree, before my son’s death.
All I can say is that I don’t know if this dream about my son’s cat symbolizes that my son is “in a better place.” (My womb of grief whispers there’s no better place than home with me and with those who are lost without him and who are conducting a daily mental search party for him, especially his younger sister.) However, since losing him, I don’t attempt to flex my muscles anymore and hold up and arrange the building blocks in life’s space. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: there are things in life that I don’t understand, and I’m okay with that today.
It’s been said way too much, “faith is believing.”
For me right now, doubt is better than belief. Raising my hands up and surrendering releases me from control, and I can exhale and live one more day. Just one more day I can open the dark blue drapes on the bedroom window and let the sunlight stream in with its Creamsicle-orange glow, a whisper of hope and energy that spills over my arms into my soul.
Sometimes having-keeping-finding faith does not magically erase an ocean of grief-filled tears under your skin. After losing my 26-year-old son, going forward is constant “pain management.” Describing my journey, my therapist Louis accurately dubbed the term “pain management” two days after the tragedy occurred eleven months ago.
I looked up the word pain management and I found it “is a branch of medicine that uses an interdisciplinary approach for easing the suffering and improving the quality of life of those living with chronic pain.”
Interdisciplinary means “relating to more than one branch of knowledge.”
Although I do not take medicines to ease my journey, my interdisciplinary approach includes a close relationship with my daughter and longtime partner, a network of true friends and censoring everything I read and hear so it doesn’t trigger unnecessary emotion.
Before the tragedy, serendipitous moments stitched my life together. Now, gray blankets wrap around ninety-five of my life. Faithful moments bind the other five percent. I wouldn’t call them serendipitous in the “old life” sense, but I would label them as serene -dipitous. In other words, these moments calm me. They provide the balance and balm to get through. As opposed to the old days of feeling giddy and happy instead of giving me the bounce in footing, these moments provide balance.
One of the last serene-dpitous moments I experienced was inside CVS where I ran into a man of size, probably weighing nearly 300 pounds. I recognized his warm, sincere smile. He was one of the regular attendees at my weekly WW meetings before my world was ushered into a flatline existence and then the pandemic hit. He informed me our WW meeting room was still closed due to Covid-19 concerns, and we made small talk until we parted ways. His beaming smile resonated with me. Its glow sparked an optimism that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance in the future that I would attend WW meetings again, once the ban from the pandemic, of course, is lifted.
It’s not easy to carry the weight of the world, but smiles don’t cost a penny and freely given ones “light”-en the load. In my mind after my encounter, I sang that song, “Smile a little smile for me, Rosemarie, Rosemarie.”
I don’t know who Rosemarie is, but I know the universal language of pain. I know how suffering connects us, but we move around disjointed in our mostly silent suffering. Like tree trunks we are taught to put up a good façade. It’s not a BAD thing. I mean, society has to function and how would it be if we all hit rock bottom from emotional imbalance?
So, here is what I learned in my grief journey.
Be vulnerable when appropriate. Carry the load, but unload some of the burden in a consistent manner to at least one other non-judgmental person whom you trust and who symbolizes a sounding board and/or a safety valve.
Be productive. Scrub your sink daily. Be proactive. Pay the electric bill. Doing something is better than naval gazing and ending up in parking areas full of obsessive thinking that can lead to bottomless pot holes.
To me, I rather organize a drawer than spend my time comparing my insides to someone’s outsides on FB.
Listen to pleasant music, not the news.
Smile even when your heart breaks.
“Lift up your pretty chin Don’t let those tears begin You’re a big girl now And you’ll pull through somehow”
Find serene-diptious moments that help cement the puzzle pieces back together. Remember always, the big guys with the big smiles appear when your faith diminishes to the size of a mustard seed or even smaller chia seed.
My son’s words chimed through my head last Monday when at day’s end, we were forced to put our dear, sweet girl down. During this sad day, I wrote the somewhat cryptic post last week.
Today, as I write this post, dear fellow bloggers and friends, I am grateful for the response and support I received from so many of you at a time that pierced my womb of grief deeper. You see, even though I loved my daughter’s cat, Blossom’s death, the last of our nuclear family’s household pets, only underscored that our once happy “Maxwell House” of four adults, four pets, is now a mere memory.
Out of eight family members, there are only two of us left. Beyond the disbelief, regret, remorse and utter pain, I feel a sense of betrayal. For instance, when we were all vibrant and alive, my now ex-husband reinstated the idea of retiring and then renting an RV for us to undertake a year-long’s drive through the United States to Canada. I believed in the future to the point of RV window shopping!
During these years of wishful thinking, I thought this was it. IT was an arrival at the destination. IT was a place of permanence. IT was a tattoo. Blossom’s passing this past week made me realize that separation and death have fooled me, overtaken my home, heart, dreams and aspirations, and at the moment I feel like there is no place on earth I can find without fall’s shadow cast over it. IT is not to be.
Anyway, this past July, Blossom turned 19 years old. A couple of months ago, before her son Chervony died, her body, like summer turned to fall, faded. Her system slowly malfunctioned. Her purr, in fact, had ceased at least a year prior.
About five weeks ago, her son passed. Mind you, their dislike from the get-go was unmistakable. When they were younger, they wrestled fiercely. Fortunately, though Chervony championed the role of the alpha male cat, Blossom held her own, though mostly to manage to escape her son’s savage strength. Also, for a string of years, unbeknown to me, Chervony stole his mother’s breakfast. Once I caught him, I fed them separately.
In later years, “separate” is the word to describe their relationship. They simply did not acknowledge each other at all. Every once in a while, however, Blossom would break through the apathy and paw slap Chervony when he passed close by.
I read that feline mom’s disfavor their sons. Who knows? But I figure it must be stressful to be a “teenage” mom. It all started in 2001 when my now ex-husband, along with the kids, rescued Chervony’s mom from the pound and brought home the surprise. Admittedly, I was unhappy about the extra responsibility in our household. Immediately, she turned out to be my daughter, Alexandra’s cat since my son Marshall had his own beloved cat Cliff, our only pet at the time. Alexandra named the calico kitten Blossom, after the main protagonist of the Powerpuff cartoon series.
Thankfully, she arrived with a free spay/neuter certificate. However, that was the week my 55-year-old brother suffered a stroke and suddenly died. During this time of chaos, “teenage” Blossom accidentally got pregnant by the neighborhood tomcat. A few months later, “little” Blossom delivered seven kittens in our kitchen with the assistance of my neighbor and Alexandra, who got a taste of what it meant to be a vet, her lifelong ambition.
Intent on smoothing the transition of the newly born babies, I strode into the nursery ready to make introductions, holding Cliff, Marshall’s cat. Well, “sweet, little” Blossom, the epitome of mama bear, perceived my action as a threat and attacked us from behind. Ouch! I can still remember the debilitating pain from her claws on my back. With Cliff still in my arms, I managed to break her grip and rocket out the kitchen. Over the course of the next few days, after three kittens died and four lived, everyone settled in.
Although it was a tough decision, we could only select one additional household member from the litter. Out of Chervony, Vanilla Sky, Cali, and Mr. Mike, Chervony it was. We subsequently secured good homes for the others.
Anyway, fast forward: Chervony passed away this past August 28, and what I learned is that even when mom-offspring relations are strained or nil, an invisible bond remains. After her son’s passing, Blossom illustrated this when she continuously roamed his typical path through the house, from the kitchen, down the hall to the bathroom, an unfamiliar course for her. Amid her venture, she howled on occasion. In fact, on her last day on earth, she took one more painful trek on his behalf, howled and collapsed.
Without food, drink or body strength, by two in the afternoon on October 5, I knew her time of sunset drew near.
Ironically, out of all my pets, it took the longest for me to get acclimated to her. I can’t put my finger on it, but I think after I stopped seeing her as another round of litter to clean, I started seeing her value and worth. My ex-husband phrased it best by saying, “When you look at her coloring, her design, her incredible artistic mastery, you cannot doubt the existence of God.”
She was God-like. Aesthetically, her beauty, grace and refinery was second to none. Looking back, too, whereas Chervony got into numerous neighborhood altercations during territorial battles, and both he and Cliff drove me nuts catching birds, squirrels and bunnies, Blossom was peaceful and gentle. She did, however, on one occasion catch a snake! It surprised her as much as it surprised me and she spit it out as if saying, “Oops, I thought it was an over-sized string, not something that was actually alive!”
Little wonder was it that over the years we called her “Lady.” More days than not, I sang one of the lyrics from the song “Lady” written by Lionel Richie and first recorded by Kenny Rogers to her.
Lady, for so many years I thought I’d never find you You have come into my life And made me whole Forever let me wake to see you each and every morning Let me hear you whisper softly in my ear
After her son died, we shared an intimate womb of grief. As I mentioned earlier, her purr had stopped about a year ago. Amazingly, however, about a week prior to her passing, she gave me a final memorable machine-like purr as part of her legacy. Then, on October 5, vet appointment scheduled, in the same departure ritual that I performed with our beloved Cliff and poodle Crouton, and her son Chervony, we experienced our final earthly walk through the house and grounds. Before us rolled the silver screen of memories filled with children’s laughter, glee, dogs dancing and cats’ deafening purrs, I sang Lady, for so many years, I thought I’d never find you …. One of the last stops on our final tour was viewing her children’s grave. That was when Mother Bear tried to muster the energy to escape my arms. This time, I won out and not her.
Together, just past four, my roomie and I, in the same way as with her son, due to Covid-19 restrictions, we met our vet in the parking lot and she took Blossom to sedate her and brought her back to us for one final good-bye. We nested in the car as our dear Lady faded into her personal sunset. How I had wished my son was alive to mourn, support and comfort me, my roomie and my daughter, who lives in another state. He was a rock presence, a sense of sunrise in dim times.
“It’s going to be a sad day when she goes.” Over and over, I heard his deep, masculine voice. And so it was. This was IT.
As it turned out, I finally read about the Powerpuff girls this week and I found that the character Blossom was named after is the “Everything nice” part of the trio. She “is the confident and courageous leader of the Powerpuff Girls. Dubbed ‘Commander and the Leader,’ she is best known for her level head and determination, as well as leading the girls to victory and saving the day.”
In the eye of another household death, it brought a sense of reprise to recall my younger days when faith was flawless like Blossom’s colors and design. So many images flashed by me: the beautiful feline sleeping with my daughter, perched on my daughter’s desk while she did homework or the memories of when she simply flattened the curve on the alpha male chaos in the house. She was our regulator and peacemaker and our Lady who offered us the welcomed perspective that a whisper can be far more powerful than a guttural battle cry. xo
I have had the privilege in life to love unconditionally and abundantly. Not because I am special, different or blessed anymore than anyone else, but because I am a vessel and brimming with what others once gave me. I feel it is my duty to spread my inheritance.
With that being said, I experienced a particularly painful day yesterday and will post about it next week. You are free to pray for me and my family and keep us in your thoughts, but I do have one particular request. I ask you to perform one act of kindness this week. Nothing earth-shattering. A mere smile to a stranger is an excellent way to bring a little light and a message of faith into a world that can sometimes seem so dark, chaotic and disconnected.
Remember, faith works through love, and its usefulness cannot be underestimated. In fact, it is a good thing to store it in your everyday arsenal.