This post has had a view nearly each day since I published it in 2013, lately several each day, interesting because I’ve been thinking of it myself at this time of the year too. I thought that meant it was time to share it again.
I awoke on a sweet summer morning in the very first light of dawn, that other twilight where the veil thins, to hear the first few notes of “Cavatina” playing softly on my bedside radio, one of my favorites and a most poignant piece of music.
I know it awakened me, literally, to a moment I needed to experience because in the dimness of my sleepy state and the early light I realized that all nine cats who lived with me that summer were tucked up against me or on the bed, sleeping deeply, quietly breathing, sweet Peach curled next to my chest and Cookie curled tightly next to her, Kelly against my back and Dickie on the other pillow, all five black cats ranged around my legs in their usual spots.
All my cats have always slept on the bed with me with a few temporary exceptions, but for me to awaken before all of them is a rarity. It was a moment rare enough and one unlikely to ever come again with this group of cats, a moment I needed to experience and remember because this wonderful group would soon break apart, I knew, and I would only have memories of us all being together.
How do you make a moment last a lifetime? Experience it with your whole self, bring awareness to each of your senses and build a complete memory. As I listened to “Cavatina” for its brief length I held still not to disturb my cats with my wakefulness and watched the dim light grow ever so slightly brighter. I could distinguish each of the cats and familiar objects in my room, heard the rustling of the morning breeze in the tree outside as the air warmed with the rising sun, and the first calls of the dawn chorus of birds, smelled the sweetness of a June morning as flowers opened and fresh air wafted in the room, tasted the tang of the damp morning on my tongue and felt the cool sheet and the warmth and weight of each of my nine cats.
I have experienced these early morning moments only a few times with other groups of cats, and even from the first recognized not only how special they were but also what they signified.
And with each of my cats, as we recognized they were in their last days, a piece of music presented itself in my mind and became our shared music, a song I sang to them, a piece of music I played while they were still with me and which I still sing or play and remember them. Often the lyrics have something to do with how I feel about them, sometimes it’s instrumental, as it was with “Cavatina” composed by Stanley Myers from the movie The Deer Hunter; I am not lost on the themes of loss and change in this movie.
For Bootsie it was Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” which I had just discovered. For Kublai it was “I’ll Never Find Another You” by The Seekers (There is always someone for each of us they say/and you’ll be my someone forever and a day/I could search the whole world over until my life is through/but I know I’ll never find another you). For Fawn it was “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?” a traditional Scottish song (Will ye go, lassie, go/and we’ll all go together/to pull wild mountain thyme/ from around the purple heather…). Sally’s melody was an instrumental entitled “Celtic Angels” by an artist named Kokila, played on an antique Steinway in an old church; I played it all day long the day her fur siblings came back to take her home. For Lucy, it was “The Hands of Time” by Alan and Marilyn Bergman from the movie Brian’s Song about an athlete dying young (All the happy days would never learn to fly/until the hands of time would choose to wave goodbye…).
For Cookie it was Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” in part because that was the song I sang to all my rescued kittens and cats beginning with Cookie (For you there’ll be no more crying…).
For Kelly it was the piece of music that awakened me so early on the morning of the day she died, Debussy’s “Arabesque No. 1″. I remember being awakened on that morning by a lovely waterfall of piano and immediately thinking of Kelly, who was on the bed with me, just the two of us, unusual, but we were not to know we only had a few hours left, and I suppose we were to make the most of them.
And of course there are more. Whenever I hear these on the radio, which is rare, I immediately visualize the feline in question. Sometimes I play them because I’m remembering one of those special cats and that last special bond we shared. I have the recordings, I have them bookmarked on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet, I sing and hum them having no instruments at the moment; it’s all part of my process of grief and remembrance.
The last night Peaches and I spent while I was framing all night long, I was moved to play my recording of the Cavatina once or twice as I worked and petted Peaches.
When I first wrote this memory in 2010, I was anticipating receiving Peaches’ cremains from Deb Chebatoris in the special cloth bag with silk rose which Deb had prepared, that she and I would talk a while about Peaches and about our losses. I don’t mind the period of waiting for their cremains; for me it is a natural part of the process of letting go and many of the little miracles that happen after they’ve gone happen in that time of waiting. I’ve begun to let myself accept they aren’t a physical part of my life day to day, and to put away my attachments to them in this world so that I might find their spirit more easily. They need the space to travel freely as well, and it’s wrong for me to try to hold them here with habits and things.
Little by little I had put away all the things I had at the ready for Peaches, cleaned up all the little messes, washed the rugs and no longer cautiously stepped over areas she used as her temporary litterbox. I had stood and looked at the places where I could always find her, picturing her there, remembering, smiling at her complete, guileless sweetness. I had accepted the changes to my household and anticipated more. I was ready for what remained of her body to enter my home where her spirit resides in all her favorite places. These are not a substitute for her, but a respectful treatment of the vessel that had held her loving self.
And as I did with the others, I moved the sleeping cat figure in my garden, loosened the soil beneath and mixed Peaches’ cremains with the soil, and with the others who’ve gone before. Each time I do this I feel the spirits of all the others flitting about me, greeting me, welcoming the next member, and I often a sing and hum a few of our songs.
Many of the kitties had enjoyed time in the backyard with me, and for them I’ll take a bit of their cremains and sprinkle them in the places they loved best, in the flower beds where Namir stalked voles, in the vegetable garden where Sally patrolled the tomato plants, between the bricks where Moses soaked up the healing sun, where Cookie and I spent time at the picnic table and Kelly wandered the forget-me-nots. A bit of their essence is in the things that grow in those places, the forget-me-nots that flood the yard, the wildflowers that grow around the edges, and in the food that nourishes me, from my vegetable garden. We are in but another turn of the cycle of our relationship, which changes but never ends.
And especially at this time of year I remember the sonnet by William Shakespeare…yes, in our loved one we may see a time without them, but the knowledge that we will one day lose them makes our love in this moment all the more strong.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
May we love well all the things we love, for as long as we can.
“I’ll Never Find Another You” lyrics © Tom Springfield, performed by The Seekers
“Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?” traditional
“The Hands of Time” lyrics © Alan and Marilyn Bergman, music by Michel LeGrand, from the movie Brian’s Song—find this movie and watch it, based on a true story of the friendship between Brian Piccolo and Gayle Sayers, it is not to be missed
And the characters in The Deer Hunter could have been my cousin’s wedding, my older cousins and younger uncles racing down Second Avenue from J&L Steel in Pittsburgh, getting tanked and running off to the Allegheny National Forest to hunt…and shipping out to Viet Nam, most were never the same. We thought we were watching ourselves. “Cavatina” touches me on many levels.
None of Kokila’s recordings are available to link, but visit her website to read about the recording or her store at on Amazon.com to purchase the CD. This recording is entirely acoustic piano; others are a mix of acoustic and electronic.
If you are holding one of your animal companions close to your heart after a loss, even years later, I hope you have found a peaceful way to remember them.
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters Tuesday: Rescue Stories Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork Thursday: New Merchandise Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!