Dusty Trails

Photo by Mica Asato on Pexels.com

Nearly a month ago, my neighbors’ only child, I’ll call her Felicity (one of my favorite names!), about whom I’ve written a previous blog post, relocated to attend a college about four hours away from home. I’ve not seen her mom, but her dad, as I’ve written about prior, is having a difficult time dealing with her departure.

All grief, as far as I am concerned, as I’ve also written about before, is valid. Whether you mourn the lose of a pet turtle or death of a child or grieve a child who has catapulted into the next stage of life, there is an infinite roll-out of feelings and emotions associated with a sense of loss. Grief is a natural response to a painful or traumatic experience that is part of the human condition over which we have no control over. This time, hearing my neighbor share a part of his heartbreak involving his daughter, I was able to step completely outside my personal emotional pain and maneuver my way onto the bridge that connects us humans better than Crazy Glue: empathy.

His tone had an absorbing melancholy when he discussed the slow fade of time. In other words, in retrospect, although you’re going all out, have both feet planted on the pedals, it’s a losing race.

“The house has a different energy about it without her,” he vocalized as his head tilted downward.

Energy. Yes, I thought, life is energy. In this same vein, his daughter’s departure could be a song: Felicity is packed. Ready to go. Boxes and bags, belongings and energy flow. All her belongings, only to leave us longing.

Thinking deeper about this, Felicity disappeared from her house, but not completely. You see,  Biology 101 teaches us that the body’s cells and organs work together to keep the body going, to make it the energy field that it is. As a safeguard, the body is also equipped with many natural defenses to help it stay alive. For instance, in order to fight infections, we humans “lose 200,000,000 skin cells every hour. During a 24-hour period, a person loses almost five thousand million skin cells.” In one year, the total amount of dead skin loss per person is more than eight pounds, that’s about as big as a Labrador puppy.

The process is our human way of shedding. What falls off us collects as dust. All those fast-flying gossamer bunnies you find nesting in the corner of the radiator and on your tables and windowsills are amassed mostly of former bits of yourself, which, in turn, provide a gourmet haven for dust mites!

And, here’s the point I’m getting at. About 20 years ago, I heard a renowned historic preservation architect speak. If you don’t know already, a historic preservation architect helps preserve old buildings that have historical value. Anyway, he said that each time a building is demolished, not only do we witness an inanimate object disappear, but, along with it, is the annihilation of a trail in human history – thousands upon thousands of shredded cells from the lives that once laughed, loved and experienced the many highs and lows of life on the premises. The architect’s somber talk, which kept me on the edge of my seat and on the verge of tears, changed my life forever.

In my own house, built in 1980, after hearing the talk, I thought about the “remains” of the two families that lived here prior to us. Even though I am a germophobe, I know that they have left their marks in secret places that are spared from my cleaning habits. Sadly, the boy in the second family died in a horrific accident when he was 13. My children went to school with him and they always felt creeped out to know he lived in our home. His bedroom was where I once housed my office. His shreds of long-ago life filled me with faith and reminds me that he matters.

In essence, Felicity and her energy are gone, but her shredded skin still coats her house like angel dust. And this goes for my departed son, mom (my dad passed away before he ever could see our house), brother and my relocated daughter, our pets, and even ex-husband who lives in a state 600 miles away, not to mention all the many friends, extended family and acquaintances who have crossed my house’s threshold to visit over this 20-year span. Yes, they are all here somewhere in places invisible to the naked eye, but still close, like a whisper in my ear. Their remains peeled off during ebbs and flows in the tide of their lives. They are all part of my household history like my own skin that sheds at this very moment as I stroke my creative muse.  We partner peacefully, drifting, weaving tapestries from everything repurposed, sustainable and with a thread of hope that they will last through the remainder of the century and, if possible, push farther into the next dusty trail that sometimes seems like a riverbend ahead.

Faith Muscle

When Doubt is Better than Belief

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.

Faith Muscle

Best Blooming Blossom FOREVER

“It’s going to be a sad day when she goes.” 

After our family grieved my beloved poodle Crouton’s passing and soon thereafter, our beloved cat Cliff‘s passing, my now deceased son Marshall exclaimed these words repeatedly over the years about our beloved calico cat rescue.

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.

Blossom, leader of the Powerpuff Girls

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.”

Blossom, Leader of the Powerpuff Girls

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

Faith Muscle

Grief Never Ends

Grief Never Ends

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. 

Faith Muscle

Messages from Down Yonder and Other Musings

Thinking about last week’s post, I did not personally receive any signs from my now deceased son Marshall the day when his cat, Chervony, died.

Beloved Chervony

However, I was floored by a few other signs that two of the closest people in my life shared with me.

First, my significant other sent me a text on Friday, the day Chervony (he called him “Bonner”) died,

Marshall was on my mind all day today from the minute I got up. I am truly sorry Bonner is gone.

The next day, I visited my daughter who lives out of town. We talked about the sad events surrounding my son’s cat that had transpired the day before. She said that on that day before Chervony was put to his final rest, upon awakening, and throughout the day, she felt a strong sense of her brother’s presence.

Unaware of the cat’s fate, both she and my significant other felt Marshall nearby. The mirror messages sent goosebumps down my spine.

I interpreted both instances as signs and it helped me feel the faith and realize that we can survive the vicissitudes of life as well as death. The first step is to reconcile with faith. Only then can one weave a web of hope.

Faith Muscle

Purr-ly Heaven

When our cat Chervony was in his prime, my favorite saying was, “If he were a man, he’d be in jail.”
 
He championed the role of the alpha male cat. The internet description of this type of cat is perfect:
 
“Alpha male cats are dominant, natural-born leaders. They may bully other cats or even their owners into getting what they want when they want it. They may act aggressively for attention or to get more food. You might be the owner, but the alpha male cat believes he owns you.”
 
Needless to say, Chervony did what he wanted to do, and we were at his beck and call or there would be consequences. To illustrate the point, about 12 years ago, my now deceased son Marshall and I dropped him off for a simple procedure at the vet’s office. A few hours later when we picked him up, the vet assistant sported a huge white bandage on her hand.
 
I looked at my son. My son looked at me. We already knew that no one could mess with Chervony. He was his own best advocate. Sure enough, he had bitten the vet assistant when she attempted to exam him. Lucky thing she didn’t hold a resentment!
 
Marshall discovered some research stating that orange tabbies are particularly aggressive cats. In our case, research wasn’t necessary. We lived day-to-day life with a raging warrior. Out of all our pets, he was my problem child. The one I worried about and lost sleep over. The one I endured a hate-love relationship with. In fact, when the prospect of relocating presented itself nearly 10 years ago, I was most anxiety-ridden over Chervony. Obviously, he did not fare well with change. Don’t get me wrong. Chervony loved with the force of a bull too. Sometimes he’d jump into your lap and deliver a headbutt that could knock you off your seat. In other words, his fiery color matched his personality.
 
It all started in 2002 when my now ex-husband, along with the kids, rescued Chervony’s mom Blossom from the pound and brought home the surprise, which I eventually accepted. Thankfully, she arrived with a free spay/neuter certificate. However, that was the week my brother suffered a stroke and suddenly died. During this time of chaos, “teenage” Blossom accidentally got pregnant by the neighborhood tomcat.
 
Shortly thereafter, “little” Blossom delivered seven kittens. Three died and four lived. Realistically, though it was a tough decision, we could only select one additional household member. Out of Chervony, Vanilla Sky, Cali, and Mr. Mike, Chervony it was. We subsequently secured good homes for the others.
 
Our house was a rambunctious household of people and pets. Life was as vibrant as Chervony’s beautiful coat of red, orange and ginger. In fact, my son shared his coloring, especially the ginger hues. Great faith is easy when all things are great.
 
After Cliff died 12 years later, Chervony unofficially became Marshall’s cat. No matter how old Marshall was and no matter how much that darn cat kneaded and drooled over him, he never outgrew kissing and stroking him. Sometimes the ritual lasted up to an hour, if not longer.
 
In 2018, as Chervony aged, he developed an over-active thyroid, and the vet prescribed medication for it. When Marshall, who had moved to Kentucky in 2017, last visited us in Connecticut, he cradled him in his arms and sounded broken when he said, “He’s not the same.”
 
Marshall was right. The brakes didn’t come to a screeching halt, but they were slowly wearing down. Chervony was losing his loud purring motor and flow of washer fluid drooling. The drum beat of death had insidiously started to paw its way into his lifetime of contentment and scratch at it until Chervony just became a shell, albeit still handsome.
 
Beginning this past June, the death march gained force. In the beginning of August, Chervony went outside and disappeared again. Later that day, an animal control officer arrived at our door. She informed us that one of the neighbor’s spotted the cat, apparently old and frail, and called the police to ask if they could shoot him with a gun. The neighbor assumed he had rabies, which was, of course, furthest from the truth.
 
After the cat was safely home, though I didn’t learn who the trigger-happy neighbor was, I sure wanted this person to realize that he or she would have not only destroyed a cat, but the rest of a grieving mom’s heart. Later, I discovered that during Chervony’s disappearance, he had sheltered under a tree on which my son’s name that he carved into it in 2008, remains. I came to the stunning realization that the cat had been undergoing his own fashion of mourning. Afterwards, rocking the senior cat in my arms, I imitated Marshall’s tone when I called Chervony’s name. Instantly, his gaze’s haunting quality was filled with an intrinsic sense of lose, sadness and longing.

Since his last disappearance, we sealed all of Chervony’s escape routes. Then, on August 24, he accidentally trapped his hind leg in an opening of a child’s gate in our house. After another neighbor released him from the gate, we took him to be treated at the Pet ER where the vet reported he had no broken bones.
 
By the time August 28 rolled around, he was not only frail, but had stopped eating. I intuitively knew his time on earth was near. I scheduled an appointment with our vet and a few hours later, in the same departure ritual that I performed with our beloved Cliff and poodle Crouton, 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 and slobbering drool kisses.
 
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we met our vet in the parking lot after she had sedated Chervony. Subsequently, Chervony started to fade peacefully that afternoon as my roomie and I kissed and rocked him under a breezy sky. Prior to his final departure, as the vet carried him back inside, we asked him to deliver an extra purr from us when he saw Marshall again.
 
Our old cat had many aliases over the years: Prince Peach, Pumpkin, Chivvy, Chivvs and Churrr-von-y, as the CVS drug store recording called him in their prescription alerts. To us, his unique names, personality and spirit were all bundled into a single, over-sized furry package that was part of our now nearly dissolved family. The love we shared together radiated like a pumpkin in the sun’s rays and was like a cherished tattoo in which the actual process hurts, but it’s all worth the effort.
 
In essence, our time spent with Chervony was an 18-year test of faith, and when you combine love and faith, the only way to pass the challenge is with flying colors. 

Faith Muscle

Window Angels *

Window Angels 3

Window Angels

Before the tragedy, I would swear to it that these two angels in the window protect our house. These days, putting my faith in the angels doesn’t feel like a sound investment.

I actually positioned the angels in my window yesterday, primarily because I think they are pretty. In fact, they are the first thing that catch my eyes when I walk by. Sometimes I think they symbolize my son and daughter standing side by side. My son is the way bigger angel, literally now. In secular terms, though, what is definite is that they are pretty wooden angels, and they make my eyes look up high.

Yesterday was also when my son’s cat Chervony (Ukrainian for red–though the cat is actually an orange tabby) went missing. The cat is 18 and has a heart condition. He stopped eating and drinking yesterday, and I knew what was happening.

Our plans of taking him to the vet went out the window, in the same way our plans for my son’s visit went out the window. The only thing I can be sure of is that I have wooden angels IN my window. The angels will not guide my son’s cat home nor do they give me a false sense of promise.

My mom used to say, “We make plans and God crosses them out.”

Investigating the dilemma with my son’s missing cat, I found the research below on the internet.

“Although it is not fully known why some cats go away to die, it’s likely that when our cats become very old and feel unwell, they prefer to be alone and rest. Unlike people, cats do not anticipate or know about death as we do, so they are not fearing what might happen.”

I have shed my grief-on-top-of-grief tears, but, strangely, I know our dear Chervony is at peace.

Maybe I sense this peace because peace is a regular part of my life. After all, I am in a 12-step community that promises me, “We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.”

I burst with gratitude when I say that promise has never been broken in over 35 years and even now serenity and peace do not leave my present grief-stricken life, and that’s what helps propel me to move forward and not give up faith.

It is ironic that my son chose to die in his own way on his own terms. And now it looks like his cat did the same thing. The realization provides some sort of skewed feeling of peace, and I correlate their endings like two bookends. Between the bookends, though, there were volumes of books brimming with love and memories. After all, a connection between a cat and its owner is special, angelic really.

*Chervony returned this morning! We talked to the vet and, for now, we are keeping an eye on him, because, he appears better. Maybe our window angels interceded in bringing him home or maybe my son’s Godmother’s prayer was answered when she asked my son to bring him home! Either way, what a test of faith. Will keep you updated!

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Faith Muscle

“Goodnight, sweet prince”

famous quotes about death, (1)“Goodnight, sweet prince.”

At 4 a.m., the last night that our ailing cat Cliff spent in our house, the feeble, lethargic cat, rallied and howled beneath my son Marshall’s bed. In his 16-plus years, he never did this before. My son knew it was his finale. Gently he lifted Cliff up next to him in bed and before their final slumber together, Marshall bid him farewell, whispering, “Goodnight, sweet prince.”

Cliff died later that day, and peace and contentment shrouded Marshall. This was nothing short of a miracle. Over these past years, more times than not, my son, wounded from his best friend’s premature death and his father’s abandonment, would echo things like “I can never live without Cliff.” “I’d kill myself if anything ever happened to Cliff.”

In awe of God’s grace, I recognized the poignancy of my son’s suffering; how the ultimate design, jagged, unraveling, wildly unpredictable, is so beautifully  executed, detailed to a fault, in the Weaver’s hands.

Stay tuned!…until next time…faith forward!

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Cliff Lytwyn Maxwell ~ July 4, 1997 ~ January 28, 2014

Stay tuned!…until next time….Faith forward!

Cliff: The Final Curtain

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“But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” ~Hebrews 11:6

Five weeks ago, when my daughter Alexandra and I took that dreaded trip to the vet, I, thinking it was “the end” of our beloved Cliffy, felt too fragile to euthanize the cat.  Without overanalyzing, I was working arduously not to lose my grip on my insides that felt like a flyaway kite. Fortunately, we found out that it wasn’t quite time for our tough Maine Coon Cat to make his final bow.

The strain of each passing day was unmistakable. My daughter reached a good level of acceptance with the situation, but my son Marshall held hope; held on. Though I was upset about the cat, my restless nights were spent on obsessing about my children’s wellbeing.

Tears shed, the most difficult part of detaching and letting go of him was that in our many years of what amounted to a domino effect of crises, Cliffy was our stronghold. Whether I was dealing with divorce, death or finances run amuck, his face expectedly gawked at me from the other side of the kitchen’s sliding door, waiting, above all else, to nosh. Unlike the whirlpool of the world, we all knew what to expect from our pudgy, frolicking showman, who looked so pomp and cool in his fur of black and white, promenading with his head tall.

Nearly at the end of that awful five week period, my son finally realized Cliff ‘s increased frailness. He blurted out, “Do it tomorrow! I can’t take it anymore.”

With few words exchanged between us, the game plan was, I was doing it alone, and I somehow had to muster the courage, which I found in my taking tiny steps instead of projecting the big picture of Cliff’s demise.

“God is in the details.” My BF Pat reminded me that I used to tell her that all the time. So I made a resolution. No worries, just do the motions. Move forward. And so I did, as it happened, God orchestrated every little thing and the appointment was set for 4:30 that afternoon.

At 4:00, Cliff, cradled calmly in my arms, had one last grand tour of the house where he once had run and frolicked, slept, and eaten, always filling the quarters with love. Paramount to the both of us was the sweeping view from our back porch and the acres of land that once filled him with a safe sense of belonging.

“Cliff…Cliff!” I called over the sprawling grounds below, in a voice that I had used thousands of times before for more than 13 years while we resided at the house.

“Cliff!”

“Crouton!” Still outside, I found myself calling as if our beloved deceased poodle was frolicking in the springtime next to his Maine Coon cohort.

“Cliff! Crouton! It’s time to come home!”

A bit late, 4:40, and frazzled over the area’s traffic; God is in the details. The vet’s waiting room was empty. The staff, caring, accommodating, ultra sensitive to our privacy, guided us into the examining room.

“Cliff! Crouton!” I called quietly into Cliff’s ear.

Even before the anesthetic, Cliffy in his customary lounging-like manner, reclined on the doctor’s table; his characteristic lazy self, so peaceful. He briefly stirred prior to the sedative administered as I made the sign of the cross on him numerous times with holy oil from Greece. His ears felt so silky. His eyes open but dimmed now to the physical world. He lay still; placid without the slightest quiver and within seconds after the second injection, so content and serene.

I thanked him for the privilege of his company for more than 16 years; I thanked him for always being on the sidelines when our family was void of cheering sections. I thanked him for commanding the center stage when I thought for sure the show would not go on.

“Cliff! Crouton!” my voice rang in a final whisper as I applauded him, our perfect cat who always looked so dashingly handsome in what appeared to be a tuxedo. I rose and turned away. Upon my exit, I felt humbled and honored to take part in one last standing ovation of God’s signature showman as the final curtain descended.$_57

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Cliff Lytwyn Maxwell ~ July 4, 1997 ~ January 28, 2014

Until next time….Faith forward!

Farewell, sweet prince

In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind ~ JOB 12:10

silverliningPutting our cat “down”; euthanizing; whatever the word used, it’s an excruciatingly painful time for me and my kids today. Cliff, the brave cat who once saved me from a pack of angry raccoons, has only a few more hours of life before I have to, in essence, take what is left of his life and make that dreaded trip to our vet.

For most of my earlier life, avoiding pain at all costs, I never had to do this to any of my pets. Someone else always did the dirty work. Crouton, our beloved poodle, spared us the anguish by passing peacefully just a few months prior in October.

Now I sit here writing, looking at Cliff take his final breaths. I am nothing less than grateful for this long good-bye. My daughter who made the trip to the vet with me about five weeks ago during a false alarm when Cliff first took a turn for the worst is lucky in a way—being away at school.

My son, a true hero during Crouton’s passing, is working at the moment, and unless things change, I’m taking this on alone; sparing my son. Since 2010, loss has been a constant state of affairs at our house, and the main reason I started this blog. Both my children were abandoned by their father, largely due to his mental breakdown in 2010. Months later, in January of 2011, Rob, my son’s best friend and a good friend of my daughter’s, was tragically killed. Last year we lost Maureen, my dear friend’s sister and a special person in our lives. In the interim, Cliff has been a great comfort to us all, like a large, floppy pillow to sink our sobbing selves into. Now, he has melted down to an emaciated skeleton. A breathing ghost who has not eaten or gone to the bathroom in over a week.

“You’re my father now!”

I remember my son cooing those words repeatedly in a soothing manner as he spoke to Cliff in those awful months when the wound from his father’s act of abandonment was raw.

“You and Rob were my best friends!”

These are my son’s words to Cliff recently, echoing down the hallway as we have journeyed through these painful, tearful times that remind our family yet again that nothing lasts forever.

Last week, after I shared Cliff’s story, a colleague blurted, “Move on!” Her words were forceful. When she said them, I thought about a life drawn on a chalkboard and suddenly—erased—fast, clean, efficient until the next messy job I suppose. Sure, death is “messy” when it creeps into a life. It’s unplanned. Downright rude, really. Exhausting and way too emotional. Of course, as relatively sane people that we hope we are, we must move on. However, when death rears its messy head, the manner in which we move on is different.

In the ocean of life, death is like a surfboard of pain and grief that we receive at any given moment. We grip it while trying to steer gallantly forward through the tide of the days that loop our lives. Sure, we lose our balance. We fall off the board. But always somehow climb back on and try to maneuver the damn thing, because, come on, it is ours. We alone take claim to the surfboards of pain that we are dealt, and the ocean’s arms are gentlest when we do not resist her mightiness and, yes, go with the flow—forward, the best we can, as hard as it may be.stairway_heaven

I close my eyes, and imagine a vibrant, young Cliff running and bouncing through a springtime meadow. Underneath me, I anchor myself in the ocean of life; balance on my surfboard as I drift farther from him, and he disappears in the fresh grasses.

Faith is my strength, my solace, the wings beneath my surfboard, flying me forward, onward, in the direction of that great meadow where I will one day reunite with Cliff, Crouton and all those fellow surfers that have imprinted my heart, and we will ride heaven’s waves in an everlasting celebration.

Rest in peace, our most very perfect cat.

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Cliff Lytwyn Maxwell ~ July 4, 1997 ~ January 28, 2014

Crouton Lytwyn Maxwell ~ November 12, 2001 ~ October 17, 2013

Friends in paradise forever

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Until next time….Faith forward!