Taking Sally Home

pastel painting of cat bathing
A Warm Bath, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

Second in a series of stories about visitations for the Halloween season.

So many visitations happen around the loss of an animal companion that it’s difficult not to dwell on the loss itself—but 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.

Sally had developed a bony tumor on her lower jaw, and after six months she was in such discomfort that she simply told me one evening that she couldn’t take it any more. I had scheduled an appointment for euthanasia for the early afternoon of a Saturday in June.

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.

A butterfly

tiger swallowtail black form
The black butterfly with blue spots

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.

Sally soon tired and the summer heat began to build up on the deck, so we went inside the house.

An exchanged identity

As we walked in I saw Namir on the kitchen island cabinet, 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. 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.

pastel painting of cat on windowsill
Suncatcher, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

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.

cat in sun
Fawn in sun on the landing.

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.

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 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 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.

Leavetaking

I sat with her for a while after the veterinarian had left, quietly stroking her lovely silky white fur. 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. 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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Bernadette

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

6 thoughts on “Taking Sally Home

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  • November 4, 2010 at 9:51 am
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    I have really been enjoying these last few pieces, Bernadette — they’re heart-felt, they’re exquisite, they’re a book-in-the-making. We had a similar experience when we lost Celtie, one of our Red Abys: I knew something was off but wasn’t sure what (kidney failure, as it turned out), and one night, I sensed Alex, my mother’s Maine Coon cat who had died several years before. A few days later, we had to have Celtie put to sleep.
    Why Alex came for her, I’m not sure — they had no real connection. But Alex was a kindly, friendly soul who always greeted everyone at my mom’s, and Celtie was our Maureen O’Hara in a cat suit. So I have always thought of him as her gentleman caller coming to escort her across. Your story captures this same feeling and does it beautifully.

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    • November 4, 2010 at 10:21 am
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      Thanks for reading, Tammy! I’m sure Alex felt a family connection, or perhaps that became his job at the Rainbow Bridge, but I’m always conforted when someone comes for them. For years I haven’t been sure about sharing these stories because people always seemed to want “proof”, but the culture has changed and I think more people are willing to admit they’ve had like experiences–and yet others have learned to trust their intuition and recognize it for what it is.

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  • October 30, 2010 at 10:34 am
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    Ingrid, you’re exactly right about simply accepting these visitations, though it takes some practice even for those who are open to acceptance to trust your senses and realize you really are experiencing what you think you are. I hadn’t realized I had been experiencing these all my life, not just with my cats, until Kublai actively began teaching me lessons in his last year, and then I didn’t trust my judgement. Now, 11 years after this, I can’t say I take them for granted but I’m aware what’s happening and I’m not surprised as they happen all the time. Tomorrow I’ll be writing about a list of little happenings through the years that became more apparent to me as I accepted what I was experiencing was real. This experience, where three returned for one, is one I recall and savor frequently.

    The butterfly, because of its lifetime of metamorphosis moving through change after change of its body yet adapting to its new incarnation, is universally seen as a symbol of a departed spirit. A good friend of mine who’d lost her mother during the year before her wedding had a little white butterfly hovering all around her veil during the entire outdoor ceremony, from the time her uncle walked her up the aisle until she and her husband walked back down. Some people thought it was attracted to the white flowers and beads in her headpiece, but I knew better, and so did she. She still can’t talk about it without crying.

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  • October 30, 2010 at 9:19 am
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    Another beautiful and hearttouching post. I particularly love the line “Reality can be a fluid thing in the midst of strong emotions and a certain amount of denial” – so true. However, I think when we try not to question these visitations too much and simply acknowledge them with a “thank you” to our beloved animal friends on the other side (for lack of a better word), we open ourselves to more of these experiences, and the comfort they can bring.

    It seems that butterflies are often chosen as a sign from departed loved ones. I wonder whether that is because the butterfly is such a perfect example of a cycle of transformation?

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