I awoke in the very first light of dawn, that other twilight where the veil thins though not as completely as at evening, to hear the first few notes of “Cavatina”, 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 this 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.
It was a moment rare enough and one I knew would never come again, but more importantly it was a moment I needed to experience and remember because this wonderful group would soon break apart 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 the “Cavatina” for its brief length I held still so not to wake my cats 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 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. Usually the lyrics have something to do with how I feel about them, sometimes it’s instrumental, as it was with the “Cavatina” composed by Stanley Myers from the movie The Deer Hunter; I am not lost on the themes of loss and redemption in this movie, it’s a longtime favorite on many levels.
For Bootsie it was Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”. 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 shared this entire recording with Deb Chebatoris to play in her living room for others to find comfort when they visit there. 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…). And of course there are more. Whenever I catch these played, which is rare, I think of my cats, and sometimes I play them just to remember them 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.
That 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.
Today I will receive Peaches’ cremains from Deb Chebatoris in the special cloth bag with silk rose which Deb has prepared, and she and I will talk a while about Peaches and about our losses. I don’t mind this period of waiting; it seems like a natural part of the process of letting go. Little by little I have 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 step over areas she used as her temporary litterbox. I’ve stood and looked at the places where I could always find her, picturing her there, remembering. I’ve accepted the changes to my household and anticipate more.
Now I am ready for what remains 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 will move the sleeping cat figure in my garden, loosen the soil beneath and mix Peaches’ cremains with the soil, and with the others who’ve gone before. When I do this I feel the spirits of all the others flitting about me, welcoming the next member.
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. A bit of their essence is in the things that grow in those places, the forget-me-nots that emerge from between the bricks, the wildflowers that grow around the far edges of the yard, 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.
Ultimately things come full circle before they move on, and I think of Joni Mitchell’s song “The Circle Game” (And the seasons, they go round and the painted ponies go up and down/we’re captive on the carousel of time/we can’t return we can only look behind from where we came/and go round and round and round in the circle game).
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
“The Circle Game” lyrics © Joni Mitchell
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.