The Gift of a Morning

tortoiseshell cat in greens
Cookie in my garden.

My sincerest wish as I remember Cookie is that all of you who read what I write, each of you who has a relationship with one or more animals, that your relationship is as deep, complex, satisfying and, if your species or breed allows it, as long-lasting as was Cookie’s and mine. I could never feel that I have any regrets, that Cookie and I “missed” anything but we lived as full a life as a human and cat could do. It depends on many things often beyond our control, but I wish those things for everyone who loves an animal, now and always.

Cookie gave me many gifts in all the years she was with me, including the visual discoveries from this particular morning in September 2011 which led to a poem and insights beyond what I wrote that morning, and remembering that morning and other mornings I have come to the end of a stage. The poem text and an audio version of the poem with a slideshow are at the end of this post.

tortie cat in front of painting
Cookie, my art assistant at age 19.

The last weeks have been working through a series of “never agains” as I remember and let go of the unique things Cookie did—stepping into a warmed pasta bowl while my back was turned; quietly climbing her way into any spot in the house despite her disabilities; loving every cat who was in the house when she came here and all the ones who came after; greeting everyone at the door with sincerity and making them feel welcome.

tortie cat with painting
Cookie my art assistant, at age one!

I have also been resuming everyday activities I had been intentionally avoiding somewhat or completely, those that Cookie and I enjoyed together and I now do alone or without her—sitting in the kitchen after dinner to crochet or read with all the cats around, where you see so many photos of her interacting with my crochet materials; visiting the deck and back yard each morning regardless of weather to feed the birds, drink coffee and take photos; and gardening, from starting the seeds in the basement to getting dirty out in the soil.

Much to the joy of the household, I’ve begun to take a break after dinner again so everyone can walk on me and test my crochet projects. Until yesterday I totally avoided my deck except for the first few days in February when Mimi joined me, only filling the feeder outside my office window, and yesterday I spent my first full afternoon in the yard without a cat in many years.

tortie cat on lap with crochet
A relaxed hour on the deck.

And this morning I sat outside on my swing with coffee and crochet, a Sunday morning ritual whenever the weather was nice enough (nice to me and Cookie was anything above 40 degrees and no heavy precipitation) as I remembered all the years she had gone off to explore the yard then come back to climb up on my lap and have a nap, just Cookie and me doing things we enjoyed and each other, best friends.

We knew

I’ve been sharing daily photos and stories from previous years because so many more readers have found The Creative Cat in the past few months. We see a lot of Cookie from last year, including a number of photo essays of her adventures outdoors. I photographed her excessively all through the years, but the extra postings were intentional. I knew what was coming. I knew because Cookie knew, and let me know.

tortie cat on coat
You

From January 2011, around the time my mother died when Cookie grew weak and lethargic for no apparent reason, we presumed it was because she, as usual, was carrying part of my stress. She recovered, but I saw in her expression a realization. She kept slipping back every month or so, losing a little ground in between and even having a few close calls with her kidneys, and we decided we’d treat every symptom we could and enjoy the rest of our time together.

She stole her last month, January 2012, right out of the jaws of death as after Christmas 2011 she was again lethargic and anorexic, and worst of all suddenly lost use of her hind legs, her body temperature kept dropping and her heart rate increased; her blood tests were frightening. That truly was to be the time but she fought it off, a little adjustment in medications helped but mostly it was her working very hard for just a little more time. We saw her in January looking and acting like Cookie, but I saw she had little control of her hind legs, her body temperature remained depressed, she had increasing difficulty breathing as her heart grew more enlarged and her heart rate slowly increased.

cat looking into flower pot
Cookie checks the “cookie jar”, an old canister I used for outdoor plants this year.

Cookie needed a little help getting started each day, but once she was going she was Cookie again, until that last day. The previous afternoon, warm for February 1, we went outside, a treat since that was usually reserved for mornings only during the week, perhaps we knew. She had no interest in exploring but got herself onto my lap as soon as I sat down, curled up and purred. We went in with the memory of that warm sunny afternoon. The next morning I had to carry her outside for the first time in her life, and as I sat with her on my lap she did not revive as usual, ready to explore even just a little, just remained curled on my lap purring.

sparrow in forsythia
The song sparrow in the forsythia (it

Though it was still winter the birds were singing their spring songs, our friends the chickadees and cardinals and wrens who we’d fed and watched all winter. During a brief silence a song sparrow landed in the forsythia just a few feet away from us and sang its familiar three-note-then-warble melody several times, and I knew it was singing to us, and I knew what it meant. It was February 2, that magical cross-quarter day when winter finally begins to turn into spring, a time of transition where death falls away and new life begins. They were singing her home.

tortoiseshell cat in purple
Holding Cookie that last morning.

I am so grateful that I could just drop everything that day and spend her last hours with her, monitoring her condition and managing her discomfort with the advice and materials given to me by my veterinarian, sitting with her on my lap in the studio, our favorite room, ready to call my veterinarian or run her to the emergency clinic at a moment’s notice if the need arose. In the course of that last month there were many things I wanted to do for her but simply could not afford and tried not to be regretful in those last hours, thinking they would have made any difference or bought any more time; they were superfluous in her condition, and likely would only have made me feel better, not Cookie. What she wanted was me, and that I could give to her.

At 3:00 the next morning, February 3, lying next to me on the floor with all the other cats around, she opened her eyes and found my face, put her paw on my hand and held my gaze for several seconds, comforting me, thanking me and saying goodbye; she stopped breathing about an hour later.

Always with us

Loss is never made easier or less painful by any amount of experience or knowledge, but the long, slow goodbye of that last year was sweeter than words can describe. Relationships like Cookie’s and mine are rare but we who have experienced them know they never end, not even with death. Cookie has visited me in spirit, but she is always with me as well, just as she was for 19 happy years.

photo of cat and flowered dress
Cookie and I have lunch al fresco.

On the day, at the moment, when I regretfully and emotionally decided to close my shop at Carnegie Antiques where she was my “shop cat”, the back door of the room lightly blew open and I felt Cookie enter, could see her hobbled little gait as she walked a circle around my feet, one of her lifetime habits, and her tilted face looking up at me half orange and half black, her green eyes with gold flecks; she was with me as I walked all around the building remembering all the places I’d seen and photographed her in the times she’d been there with me. As always, she appeared at just the right moment with her comforting and practical manner. I should only hope to meet a human with half as much wisdom and willing compassion as that little tortie cat.

We haven’t seen the last of Cookie. She will still show up in new postings of prior daily photos, and I’ve had a few paintings of or including her that I’ve been planning for a while.

And the passing of an animal companion like Cookie has always meant for me the coming of a time of transition and personal growth. Cookie led me to the door and opened it, it’s up to me to walk through and do something when I get there.

Here is the poem, and you can also watch it with the embedded video, below, or view it on YouTube.

The Gift of a Morning

I thought Cookie
was being stubborn, contrary,
when she wandered away
into the overgrown garden
sauntering at her own pace beneath the stems
of fallen burdock and grasses
and through the forest
of tall goldenrod and asters
where I couldn’t follow.

She sat calmly among grasses and blooming beggar’s ticks
and when I arrived at her side, irritated,
skirt prickly with stickseed and burdock pods,
I reached to pick her up, bad girl,
and turned to see what she studied,
and saw my garden awash with sun
majestic tufts of goldenrod backlit by beams of light
humming with hungry bees finding
the sweetest autumn nectar for their final meal,
white poofs of sow thistle holy in their radiance,
and the first calico asters, my favorite
dappled with passing drops of sun
against the backdrop of dark silhouetted trees;
so much to love in a sweet autumn morning
so much I would have missed.

—————————————

All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

30 thoughts on “The Gift of a Morning

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  • March 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm
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    I loved reading about Cookie but it also made me cry as on June 6th 2011 my cat of 19 years passed away. I wish she could have passed at home but that was the case. She battled kidney disease for two years. I have two cats now who are great but they cannot take the place of TC who would cry every day I went to work. I hope and pray that there is a Rainbow Bridge so I can be reunited with all the animals I have loved during my lifetime. I miss all of them very much.

    Reply
    • March 19, 2012 at 11:03 pm
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      Sharon, I’m so sorry to hear you still hurt about losing your 19-year-old TC. I remember you posted about that earlier, and I think it was one of my posts about Cookie’s condition being fairly serious and not having much time. There is always at least one cat who is more your soulmate than your roommate, and it’s never easy when the leave–I could never tell you when I started dreading Cookie’s loss, probably about the time I lost Peaches in 2010, but I was, as I mentioned, so glad for the long goodbye or I’d be devastated, absolutely…and I’ve now lost 14 cats. No matter the circumstances of her loss, she knew how you felt, and that you did your best.

      I have a book to recommend to you, it’s one that I reviewed a few weeks ago, written and illustrated by a friend of mine and it’s her version of The Rainbow Bridge called Forever Paws. Just think of her having burnished her pawprints on your heart so that when you get to the bridge she knows you right away and you can cross together. My thoughts are with you.

      Reply
  • March 19, 2012 at 4:47 am
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    reminds me of my last morning with Kramer. For whatever reason, I woke up over an hour early and had plenty of time after getting ready to head into school. It was a Wednesday, and we’d decided that day I’d try to find the strength to put her to sleep. So I got on the floor, and we spent time talking with her. We’d had the 6 months Dr. Ron said we’d get from the chemo to say goodbye. Well that afternoon, I drove home so slowly, procrastinating on the duty I had to do. Getting home, I found Kramer had passed away, a couple feet from her blanket. She looked like she was at peace though. I think I told you last time, but I took her to Dr. Ron’s hospital, and we had her cremated. She might be in a nice wooden box on my dresser now, but she’ll always be in my heart too. She went through a lot with me, and stuck by my side through it all.

    I’m not as religious as I should be, but I received a story when I picked her up. About when you make it to heaven, the pets you’ve lived will all know your voice, and come running toward you. I’m sure Cookie’s looking down to keep an eye on you too.

    Thad Tusinski
    Allentown, Pa.

    Reply
    • March 19, 2012 at 11:17 pm
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      Thad, I’m so sorry to hear about Kramer, but I’m so glad you had such support in your veterinarian and could take care of her and have that last six months. I lost a cat while I was at work, the first black cat who was the love of my life, and I know he died right after I left; I think he was waiting for me to leave. It was so strange to come in the house and not feel his spirit there and though I’d been trying to determine when was the right time I wasn’t prepared. He is always in my heart, and in all the cats I’ve rescued because I loved him so much.

      I think our faith is bound up in our love, for people and animals an the world. The story you picked up reminds me of a book a friend of mine wrote and illustrated (I recommended it to another person tonight as well) called Forever Paws http://portraitsofanimals.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/book-review-forever-paws-by-christine-davis/. I know Cookie will always be watching over me.

      Reply
  • March 19, 2012 at 3:04 am
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    If you allow me to do this, I will post something I wrote for my late Sasha (beautiful Calico).

    Reply
    • March 19, 2012 at 11:20 pm
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      Susan, please feel free to share! I believe you can even post a photo.

      Reply
  • March 19, 2012 at 3:02 am
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    With every cat and kitten, dog and puppy that share their precious lives with me, my wish is like in the movie, ET, their paw and my finger can touch, aligning our lives so we die on the very same day.

    Your cat Cookie was lovely. I hope there is Rainbow Bridge and that she is playing with all of my beloveds from the first one living in my memory and heart, Little Kitty. I was about 4 when she passed away.

    Every one is so loved and I recall all of them with love and miss them to this day (in my 6th decade now).

    Reply
    • March 19, 2012 at 11:20 pm
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      Susan, thanks for your thoughts. I know the connection is real, and I know I’ll see Cookie again. And one of the most comforting things people wrote the day Cookie died was that she was up at the bridge playing with their cats, what a wonderful thought, all of us friends, and all of our animal companions together. I count the “ages” of my life in cats, the ones who were my closest friends, like Cookie.

      Reply
  • March 19, 2012 at 2:55 am
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    An exquisite tribute to a loving friend. Thank you for expressing so well what we feel when we have to say goodbye to a faithful feline friend.

    Reply
    • March 19, 2012 at 11:37 pm
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      Peg, I found you out by following your link to your site. Thanks for visiting! I really try to express how this feels, not just for myself, but for others who are experiencing a loss, especially for the first time.

      I remember reading about your book–congratulations on your award–and I love your jewelry. I’m also familiar with Julie Zickefoose, whose illustrations I discovered through Project Feederwatch and other materials and which I studied.

      Reply
  • March 19, 2012 at 12:01 am
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    Just lovely and so deeply touching. I remember my dear Shelley (female cat) in this same way.

    I am fortunate to have an older dog, still with me, who is also my closest heart companion. Don’t know what I’ll do when his time comes. Same thing as when my Shelley passed on, I guess.

    My current cat will be 13 in April. He is also such a good friend, but not quite that ultra-close way. I love him dearly, though!

    Reply
    • March 19, 2012 at 11:39 pm
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      Pam, it’s just like our human friendships, sometimes they go all the way to our core and sometimes they are just nice. I’m glad you still have a heart companion; it’s not easy to see them go, but imagine life if you had never known them.

      Reply
  • March 18, 2012 at 9:57 pm
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    Loss is never easy, but is eased with it being shared. Tears roll down my face as well after reading this. I find it such a blessing to run into other “cat people”.

    thank you for sharing so openly.

    Reply
    • March 19, 2012 at 11:41 pm
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      Connie, I remember the first few times I lost cats, before, not knowing what to expect, and after, feeling so alone, even though I had friends who understood, so I write this for the people who need to know someone else has experienced a similar thing.

      Reply
  • March 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm
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    What a lovely recollection of your intimate times with your beloved friend! Although tears rolled down my cheeks while reading about Cookie’s last earth-moments, I was thrilled to learn of your forever-tie with her and how you lovingly touched each other’s lives.

    Reply
    • March 19, 2012 at 11:42 pm
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      Holly, I am so fortunate that I knew she was very special from nearly the day she came to me. Sometimes you don’t realize it until they are older, even teens, but Cookie was my best friend from the beginning. And always will be.

      Reply
  • March 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm
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    In agreement with Ingrid…very moving. Such beautiful words you have written. Wish I could have known Cookie longer. Such a beauty. Bless her and you. And..thank you for all your writings and drawings. I too feel my Twinkie around me and remember her love. Thank you!

    Reply
    • March 19, 2012 at 11:44 pm
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      Linda, I’m so glad I had the chance to share Cookie with everyone for all three years I’ve been posting on The Creative Cat. And imagine, there were still 16 other years of her to know! All of them were the best. I’d rather she was on my lap right now, but knowing how many others know about her makes me so happy.

      Reply
  • March 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm
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    The purity of those moments…I am glad that you and Cookie got your long good-bye, Bernadette.

    Reply
    • March 19, 2012 at 11:45 pm
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      Tammy, it was a gift because the universe knew it would take us that long to part.

      Reply
  • March 18, 2012 at 7:12 pm
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    This is a breathtakingly beautiful, and moving post, Bernadette. I can feel Cookie smiling in approval.

    Reply
    • March 18, 2012 at 7:23 pm
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      Ingrid, we couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for sharing this–Cookie’s work is not done.

      Reply

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