The Alchemy of Love
When I was growing up, we called Memorial Day “Decoration Day” and planted flowers on my grandparents’ graves. Being all immigrants there was no extended family to memorialize, and my parents’ generation, “The Greatest Generation”, were still around but had no interest in memorializing their service in that war, enjoying the holiday for remembering their own parents and then having picnics and enjoying all the elements of freedom they had fought to preserve. Now that my parents and nearly all their generation are gone I have many more people to remember as well as others and proudly hang my father’s veteran’s flag outside and enjoy a quiet day of reflection, that rare enough in itself.
Last year at this time I was working on a huge project—converting my spare bedroom/work room/junk room into the bright, organized and busy studio space you see today in photos. You’ve also read the other history and purpose of this room, as the “spare cat room”, and as I removed all the goods stored there, some of which had been there since the day I moved in and welcomed Sophie as my first spare cat, through all the years of rescues and art projects and starting my business and working at home all wound together in that one little space, I held them all in my heart and renewed the space for a new set of memories.
And last year the photo above gave me pause as I was in the final stages of reorganization; in the moment I saw Mimi by Peaches’ portrait I knew there was a bond being lovingly observed and realized I was not the only one in the midst of memorializing.
“Peaches and Peonies” was too big to hang in my house and had been off hanging in many other places, lastly in my shop at Carnegie Antiques. I happily decided that Peaches should come home to be a part of this dedication to my career as an artist, so I could study the painting and continue to draw inspiration from it, and so that Peaches could watch over me as I work.
I leaned the painting in a safe spot against the wall, then left for a while.
When I came back, there was Mimi, relaxing in a beam of sunlight, in front of Peaches’ portrait. I wondered briefly if Mimi only found this quiet sunny spot to have a bath and a nap—in a room where she rarely goes unless she follows me—and through a habit she rarely observes in sleeping on the floor. And she didn’t get up and greet me as is her habit, but only looked at me and stayed in her spot. It was just very much unlike Mimi.
Even though I know the portrait is only an inanimate object, that it’s questionable if Mimi can clearly see or would recognize the scene in a painting, and all cats, including Mimi, are drawn to little beams of sunlight for relaxation, I knew there was no coincidence. I had also not realized until then the depth of the bond between Mimi and Peaches.
She stayed for quite some time, until the sunlight faded, and I would not interrupt the moment, enjoying also a moment of my own. Peaches, as well as every other cat who has come to me in any way since I’ve lived in this house, began their life with me in that room, some ended their lives in that room too, and even with the total transformation the room will always carry memories for me and I’m sure all the cats too.
I remember too
I had been remembering my sweet Peaches since the previous October, little reminders every day in that first year after her passing, remembering her daily habits so intertwined with mine, her quiet and pleasant personality, her petite beauty. Browsing my photos in their daily folders, there she is in almost every one, having a bath, enjoying the sunshine, coaxing me out of bed to feed her breakfast, interacting with the other cats—especially Giuseppe, who very lovingly cared for her, and the Fantastic Four in general.
I also remembered the simple moments that aren’t in any photographs, the tactile memories that are such an integral part of our relationship with our animal companions. I remembered the particular soft plush of her fur, short but thick, as she would lift her face and bump her nose against my hand as I would start on her forehead and run my hand down her back, and the way her tail would swing straight up as my hand reached her hips so I could bump against it, then start again at her forehead, feeling her purr growing more resonant with each stroke. I remembered the small rounded weight of her body, like a little pear, as she reclined on my lap each evening for a vigorous and complete after-dinner bath, her legs and tail and head emerging in front of me, then her process of turning around and around and around in both directions in preparation for sleep as I tried to work around her.
And as the season and fruits of summer are fresh, I thought of Peaches as I placed my fresh local peaches in a bowl, remembering the nicknames of “my little Peach pit”, “my little Georgia Peach,” “my sweet Peach”, and every other variation on peach I made up just for her.
The memories were as sweet as she was, even the memories of assisting her through the months of renal failure, the more frequent doses of sub-q fluids, the variable appetite, the nausea and her increasing discomfort. I remember that brief part of her life less as time goes on, finding instead that I remember the way she looked at me, with total devotion, and smiling in this moment at the memory of her guileless, honest expression.
I’ll admit, also, something I don’t miss at all, and laugh when I remember…for whatever reason, Peaches never cared for the litterbox, instead choosing an inconvenient spot somewhere, which she changed frequently. She came to me at 15, her owner had died, and I have no idea what her history was, but as soon as I eased her back into the habit of using the box, she would begin to experiment with other areas. In the months after she passed, I also laughed to myself as I replaced stained old throw rugs with the better ones I’d packed away, well, until Peaches was no longer around to use them. And in renovating that very room, portions of the flooring so stained and saturated from her and others before her…
And I looked then at how much my household had changed and rearranged. I had the three senior tri-color girls at my desk all day, then just Cookie and Kelly, and now just Kelly. I have a completely different wake-up committee. And I lost the only light-colored kitty in my household—with black cats and torties it’s sometimes a challenge to distinguish one cat from another in my photos.
And now a new memory
I am always working on projects up there now, but in the past few days have spent some very late nights working in there. Cookie was at my side no matter what I did in this house, not asking for attention, but being my moral support, vigilant, aware and ready to give me a comforting or encouraging look or touch. In whatever era is remembered, all the others would be off somewhere sleeping as I toiled away at some project into the late hours, but Cookie never failed me. Along with her beginnings in that room are years of memories of working in there with her in the room somewhere. And, of course, her end was in that room, not so long ago.
Now it’s up to a bunch of new cats to supervise me, give me head butts and intervene when I’m getting all wound up about something, but none has yet become my lady-in-waiting, as I always called Cookie.
It’s all a process of the acceptance of loss, which is a part of the acceptance of change, the constant change that is a part of life. I may feel a twinge of sadness, or feel tears well at a memory, but this is the process we all mention when someone loses someone they love, that time heals all wounds, that the pain you feel is replaced by the love you will always carry.
Each of these encounters helps to heal over a little bit more as the philosopher’s stone of the alchemist it turns the base metal of pain to the gold of loving memory, which is truly the elixir of everlasting life.
All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used 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.
21 thoughts on “The Alchemy of Love”
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What Annie said. I love this, Bernadette — especially the last two paragraphs. That alchemy is what it’s all about. We lost Circe to kidney failure almost two weeks ago, so that point of transmutation is still off glimmering in the distance. But I’ll get there, and your post reminds me of that. Thank you.
Tammy, I remember seeing you’d lost Circe, and what’s often been hardest for me after a loss like that is that I suddenly have no more caretaking to do, but it’s hard to turn it off; sometimes that need to do something makes the loss a little more painful. As I’d said to Ingrid, now that I’ve lost so many I don’t remember them “in place” but they are always with me. I’m sure with your years and numbers of cats you’ve got a similar perspective.
Beautiful post. I’ve always expanded Memorial Day to include remembering all lost loved ones, not just those who lost their life in service. I loved seeing Peaches and Cookie again, and I’ll be spending time today remembering Buckley, Amber and Feebee.
Ingrid, I’ve hit a point where I’ve lost several more cats, 14, than I generally live with, and from all eras, and it has totally changed how I think of them all. They are all my family, all together, always.
Poignant and lovely. It looks like Merlin is fast following in Peaches’ footsteps.
Layla, do you think so? He will go to rejoin Coco, but I’ll bet Odin and Domino gave him a few extra years, and happy years, as Giuseppe and Mimi did for Peaches.
This is Beautiful, Bernadette. Memorial Day Reminiscences, but also, love-letters to your dear friends, who’s pleasure was to stand by you n share your way, delighting in the fact that their presence was not only appreciated, but was, actually, helping you through.
An acknowledgement, also, of the inevitable processes of grief, that I recognise only too well, here n now, having recently lost Lucy, with whom I also had a very close n comfortable relationship, that seemed to suit us both, admirably. Whilst I don’t necessarily go looking for the processes of grief, they are not, as you say, all wholely unpleasant, and as attempts to avoid them are futile, anyway, it’s as well to learn to embrace them.
It’s quite something, I think, to learn to be able to face grief.. to not be afraid of it, to take pleasure, even, in some aspects of it. That afore-mentioned Alchemy, for instance, I recognised that and find joy in it. For me, I believe this acceptance is a gift from my succession of precious fosters, that I’ve waved on their way, n from my dear elderly furbabies of more recent years, off on their other journeys. I Thank then, one and all.. and you, too, Dear Bernadette. I hope your Memorial Weekend is Marvellous. xxx
Annie, thank you for reading and for sharing. No, I’ve lost one or more cats every year for the past six, and also my mother last year, and while the deepest part of grief is deep and painful, it is also a parade of lovely memories of a loved one. That may hurt to be reminded they are no longer with you, but we all need to learn to love the memories.
But I thank my succession of rescue cats for most of the things in my life that are good, and especially those life lessons about love, because it’s all about love.
Interesting how Mimi chose that very spot. I love the visual image of Peaches watching over her.
Vicki, it was so unlike her, and she always left what she was doing and came to me, talking, when I entered a room, still does. I have about a half hour of images of her bathing there before I realized how special it was, but she spent nearly two hours in that spot.
I think sometimes we have to be nudged into expanding our abilities. For example, an artist being forced into learning lighting and other application-of-color-to-substrate techniques, faced with a surfeit of black cats and torties…
Harry, that was when the daily sketch became a necessity!