This is another in my series of stories for the season, prior to the Feast of All Hallowed, Samhain, the Day of the Dead and other celebrations of the dimming of the veil between this world and the next, of visitations, the mysterious returns of my cats after they’d transitioned. None are scary, unless you’re afraid of something that isn’t physically there, but all include elements I can’t explain and only accept…and am glad to have experienced.
. . . . . . .
When visitations happen around the loss of an animal companion it’s difficult not to dwell on the loss itself, though that misses the point of the visit. They’ve returned to tell you not to dwell on their loss, and to know of their peace and happiness. I’ve yet to hear of a single visit where the pet was unhappy.
But some visitations happen before the loss, or just at the time of the loss where you may sense another presence and understand it’s somehow related to your animal companion.
In October 1998 Sally had simply stopped eating one day and went for nearly two weeks with a completely normal routine while drinking water, but only eating the occasional treat she could not refuse. Exams and tests showed nothing and she looked no different, yet she would surely die if she persisted. One day I simply held her and cried, begging her to either begin eating or let me know what was wrong. An hour or so later she ate a few threads of cooked linguini, and from that began to eat normally again.
In November, Fawn was diagnosed with lymphona, but we’d gotten it into remission fairly quickly.
In January as I was petting Sally I felt a flat nickel-sized shape on the back of her right lower jawbone. Sally had developed an osteosarcoma or bony tumor in that spot. Osteosarcomas often grow very slowly but can be very painful; removing her lower jaw was not an option. She paid no attention to it, yet after a month I knew it was spreading. I remembered the previous October and knew she had known about the growth before any human could detect it and knowing she could not win this one had decided just to let go, but for my sake she decided to stay.
In March, Fawn’s cancer came out of remission and we lost her quickly.
As the spring continued, Sally weathered the tumor’s steady growth without complaint, adjusting as it affected her tongue, her jaw, her eye on that side of her face, and the whole side of her face as I fed her pureed food with more and more water added, finally feeding with a syringe, syringing her crushed medications into her mouth and coating her eye with a salve as it would not close. This was my wild child, the deaf kitty who would not be handled in any way, yet we had been partners in this from the previous autumn; when she had changed her mind to stay to the end, I had promised to do all I could to help her. As the summer came we visited the garden as frequently as possible. One evening in June she was finally in such discomfort that she gave me one direct look and I heard, in that manner of communication that is a transfer of thought but as clearly as if she’d said it, “I can’t take this any more.” I scheduled an appointment for euthanasia for the early afternoon of Saturday, two days later.
We had just lost Fawn in March of that year, and she was still on my mind. Two years previous, we had lost Kublai, my first black cat, the household leader and prince to Sally’s princess and my best friend, and Allegro, our gentle, silly orange boy, two weeks apart. They were my first rescues and the first of the group who had moved in this house with me to leave us, and as Sally neared her end I thought of them more and more.
The day came but did not feel heavy or sad, it was instead a beautiful day, feeling strangely full of promise. I thought perhaps I had prepared myself for this well enough, I knew that Sally was ready, but I had no idea why I wasn’t on the verge of tears, thinking it would hit me all at once at some point in the day.
On that lovely, sparkling June morning, Sally and I took our last walk around the garden she had loved, then sat on the deck while the day was still cool. Butterflies were not unusual, but I had noticed a certain black butterfly with blue spots on its wings that kept flying around Sally as we walked, and now that we were on the deck it was visiting all the flowers in the planters and even flying around on the deck. Now and then it would land and slowly spread its wings wide then fold them, and fly off again. It was a black phase tiger swallowtail, not at all uncommon, and I see them pretty frequently, but this one was persistently staying with us.
Sally soon tired and the summer heat began to build on the deck, so we went inside the house.
An exchanged identity
As we walked in I saw Namir on the kitchen table, and as most of us probably do in greeting our cats I simply said, “Hello, Allegro,” as I gave him a quick pat on the head and walked on behind Sally for a few steps before I realized I had called him by the wrong name. They looked nothing alike except that I had seen Allegro in him as I looked at him and felt Allegro’s presence and even then was ready to call him “Allegro” again.
Namir was a foster who’d arrived two years before, and one year to the day after Allegro had died, and I had always emotionally connected him with Allegro for that coincidence and because he kind of reminded me of Allegro with his quiet silliness and amiable sociability. I had never in two years called him by Allegro’s name, though, and no one would confuse them physically with Allegro’s large rangy build and rich red tabby fur with white patches compared to Namir’s slighter, slender build, dark gray tabby fur with white patches.
While I stood there petting Namir I caught sight of movement outside the door and saw the black butterfly flitting around on the flowers once again.
Sally went to lie down on the cushion next to my desk which she’d been inhabiting for the past few days. I headed for the second floor for a clip to pin up my hair in the increasing heat.
The joy of sunshine
The sun was shining brilliantly through the tall narrow casement facing east, filling the small landing and the stairwell with a cascade of sunlight. Even though it was heating up the house I still found it beautiful and welcoming, and was that a cat I saw playing in the sunbeams and dust motes? Moses perhaps? no, she was downstairs.
As I walked up the stairs looking into the sunshine I remembered how Fawn had loved just this, the sunlight on the landing, how she would dance around in it, roll around in it, talk about it and call for me, which she always did when she found something she liked. And I realized the kitty I’d seen in the sunlight was Fawn; no, I had not actually seen her, only sensed her in the colors and the dancing light.
And then it all came together—Fawn was there, and Allegro and Kublai too. They were here to welcome Sally and escort her on.
The black butterfly was Kublai’s lustrous black fur, the light blue spots like his light blue-green eyes, hovering around Sally, leading her around the garden they’d shared then continuing to flutter around her favorite spots when we’d gone inside.
I had called Namir “Allegro” several more times, even when I consciously tried to remember not to. Namir had simply become Allegro for the time.
And the sunshine at the top of the stairs was Fawn, just as surely as anything tangible I knew she was there.
For the first time in a very long time my household felt full again, though counting Sally I had eight cats in the house in a physical sense and it should have felt full already. But it felt complete that I could sense the presences of the three who had passed as if they were just in the next room and that wonderful group who had moved here with me were once again together.
My regular veterinarian was away that weekend, but I had found another who agreed to make a housecall. She soon arrived and we followed the procedure there on my office floor. Sally, who had always been a very free spirit and resisted being touched or handled willingly submitted to the first shot and quickly fell into a deep sleep, seeming to welcome the relief it would give her.
I sat with her for a while after the veterinarian had left, quietly stroking her lovely silky white fur, hardly believing our time had come to an end. The other cats wandered in and out and took in the experience in their own ways, and I thought about the butterfly, Namir’s identity sharing, and the sunshine, which I could see was waning in the stairwell as the sun moved. I sensed Kublai, Allegro and Fawn in the room and Sally too, then as suddenly as the sun in the stairwell faded they seemed to all sweep up the stairs together and leave. No inkling of them was left. My house felt empty again, Namir was Namir, and I was aware of the quiet of a hot summer afternoon.
Had I really experienced these visits? Was it just the product of wishful thinking, of deeply remembering those recently lost and the comfort of that particular group of cats who were my first teachers? Reality can be a fluid thing in the midst of strong emotions and a certain amount of denial as we tend to be at the time when we accompany one of our beloved animal companions in their transition from this world to the next.
But from that point little visitations continued to happen, reinforcing what I had experienced. Why wouldn’t the bond we had all shared, they with me and, more importantly, they with each other, continue after death? The idea that Kublai, Allegro and Fawn were still around in some form, and that they had come for Sally in forms so joyful and free, was such a comfort to me that I can hardly help but believe it.
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