So… the year of our Lord 2020… What can I say to you as the clock ticks down to your final midnight..?
You have been a year like no other… One of chaos, calumny and confusion, with COVID as the causal link in a seemingly endless chain of catastrophes.
This time last year, Coronavirus was a mere idea… the slightest of sniffles… but now, it has been a cold harbinger of deathly change, born on droplets of disease and disarray.
2020 has been shaped by its spectre and every person who has been battered or caressed by it, has their own anthology of pestilence or nonchalance, with such tales to tell, whether tall or small.
For me, the experience has been defining – bringing in new awareness on waves of tears and bravado, as I have faced then weathered the storm and sunshine of another year in the life.Your gifts to me 2020, are manifold: I have laughed, loved and learnt. I sang, spun and danced. I read, talked and thought. I walked for many miles in sun and rain. I started to run – first wheezily, then easily, when I could begin to exhale confidently. I have cried, raged and despaired. I have questioned, listened and evolved.I have sat in solitary darkness, mired in a wet and muddy gutter of desolation, crying on my feet, then turning my head back up to the stars, with their infinite horizons of iridescent possibility.
I have both fucked up and triumphed. I have hampered and helped. I have been shaken and scared, just as much as I have been strong, honest and bold. I have been a contrary creature of opposing features – knee jerking my way to emotional conclusions; then breathing in and asking the Universe and myself a series of heart and head bending questions. And in doing so, turning my in-grown notion of failure – hard-wired into the matrix of my DNA – into steps towards success. So it was that I constantly coached myself to clarity – listening intently; trusting that intrinsically I knew and had always known what the answers were. So it was all taken care of. As I cared – in every way that can possibly be imagined.
You, dear year, have given me a change of pace, a clearing of head space and the chance to change. So I will accept the angst and anomalies, then lovingly let them go. I shall cherish the gifts you have given me, 2020, giving gratitude for them all: For the expansion of my psyche; for my family and friends; for my profession and passion; for all I cherish and hold dear; for my creativity and for all the love that has flowed out of me, into me and surrounds me.
So ultimately 2020, I will let you go gracefully – moving beyond you, but taking a little of you with me as I go.
As I walk, talk and sleep out here in the conscious world of toil and transaction, I’m getting myself ready for a cosy COVID Christmas…
I’ve planned, shopped, wrapped and written. Then danced around the kitchen, singing along to decades old Christmas hits, slurping snow ball cocktails, as I’ve made mince pies, mulled wine and transformed myself into a veritable Christmas Goddess.
Yet despite my machinations and preparations, most of my Christmas plans have shimmered and evaporated into the misty winter air as the spectre of COVID has slammed down port cullis’s, borders and even, temporarily, small parts of my heart.
But for all that, now it’s Christmas Eve, Christmas has settled into that same cold heart, cossetting me into a cosy blanket of familiarity and I’m feeling it, right to my marrow…
So on the inside all is Christmas sweetness, but on the outside, what a difference a year makes…
You see I have a happy, Ground Hog routine sort of festive season, which has changed little over decades. And as such, I can tell you almost exactly where I would usually be right at this point in the day / proceedings and how it would all play out from here until to the end of Boxing Day. It starts with a family birthday and proceeds through set stages of meals, activities, until another Christmas has passed and is in the past. And I play my part in this, happily sleep walking my way through, sonambulant in the certainty of the fundamental tenets of my life and my kin.
Of course COVID-19 has now put paid to all that. As we have progressed through this year of our lord 2020, the United Kingdom government, headed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has made successive announcements of ‘Guidelines’: a raft of measures and actions, described by a whole new language lexicon, including ‘lock down’, ‘furlough’, ‘self-isolation’, and ‘shielding’, all ending in ‘tiers’. This new dire dictionary defining and describing parameters created to keep people apart.
What ever your take on the pandemic – where it sprang from; if it came about by happenstance or was deliberately set upon our world for a variety of nefarious reasons: the reason why we are being kept apart is that we reduce the risk of passing on this disease from one to another. And whilst most of us would feel its effects like a bout of flu, many more, with other ‘underlying medical issues’ would succumb seriously and fill our hospitals to a capacity they cannot currently cope with.
So my own world has fluxed and flexed as the year has gone on, as I’ve gone from nonchalence, to annoyance, to despair, to resignation and acceptance. And still there are more stages to go through… On Saturday 19 December 2020, the Prime Minister announced the latest set of measures designed to combat the latest increases in infection rate and several highly infectious variants of the virus.
With his words suddenly my carefully constructed Christmas crumbled into the carpet and I cried. The latest measures meant that my Ground Hog Christmas wasn’t going to happen. That I couldn’t be with my family, that I couldn’t celebrate with my friends. That everything was turned on its head.
Plans made had to be changed, and so there were phone calls with differing levels of emotion and action in response, with family, with friends, and various cohorts. And then, after thinking through a panopoly of options, we all settled on what we were going to do in this brave new, COVID altered world.
So right at this minute on Christmas Eve, normally I would be driving, onto my way to a birthday meal in a special restaurant – hungry and happy, ready to settle into the next step of my festive routine. Yet instead, here I am on my solitary sofa, writing for me and for you. This afternoon, instead of loading up my car with food and gifts, I went for a run. That in itself, I reflected as I pounded the paths and rounded the fields around my home, was truly weird. A year to the day, I could never have imagined that I would be RUNNING!
COVID has caused this – sent my out of my Corona cave to work out / run out my kinks and cares, to reinvent my middle aged self as an athlete – a label which I still can’t wear without a smug sort of smirk, in that moment just before I get on and go for it.
And running isn’t the only thing COVID has given to me – I have had time to pause and ponder my life, focus on my writing and reach out to people not spoken to in years, yet still holding a place in my memory and heart.
Yet I can’t deny either that it has taken its toll on so many. Having snatched and ended so many lives, isolated people and been a long mental stretch of successive hurdles to jump and negotiate.
But for me, today, in this altered state of Christmas consciousness, I have to choose. And that was bought home for me when I went on a walk several days ago. Whilst running is most definitely and solitarily for me; walking is a gorgeous group activity, where I will meet and greet those in my orbit and we will walk out or around or along; pacing together, talking, laughing, reflecting – making the most of nature and each other, in our strangely straitened circumstances. Walking has been my balm, my place of coming together. It has expanded my horizons, added to my step count and kept me sane.
On this particular walk it was raining and still we stepped out, my companion and me. Ahead of us I saw sunshine and remarked that this would invariably create a rainbow. And minutes after the words had left my mouth, there it was: a double bowed beauty, a major miraculous spectacle of glory and colour. I stopped. I stared. I felt its’ magnificence. And in doing so, I realised that arching over my head was a powerful metaphor for what I was going through.
The rainbow represented the unity of the rain meeting the sun. It needed both to exist. It was filtered through a grey sky and the rain falling down from it. It manifested because the sun shone through the rain to create an arched kaleidoscope of colour over our heads.
So now this metaphor represents my current choices to me. As a result I stopped crying and set out my Christmas stall. I recalibrated my arrangements and re-arranged my heart. I stopped thinking about what had been taken away from me and focussed on what, in all reality, I have. And when I think of my life in those terms, it turns out that I have a lot. I can be grateful for so much. If I miss my family and friends, well that’s because I have them to miss. I have functioning legs that can take me out to walk and talk with them. Those same legs also turned me into a runner.
As has happened so many times over these last mad months, I’m deciding to control the things I can and accept the things that I can’t. I will play my part and I will change my Christmas this year, so that there are many more Christmases to come when I can be with my family, friends and who knows who else, in those fast forgotten ways I had always taken for granted only a few short months ago. For now, I will stay safe to keep the ones I love and care about the most, safe too.
So here I am, content with my changed Christmas and surrendering to it gracefully. Easing into it now, without expectation. Having prepared for it, I can now let it unfurl as it will, breathing into it and living each moment as occurs, in all its guts and glory.
And that is Christmas for me, today. And I wish you joy of it too. As you transmute into your Christmas, despite this years differences, my wish for you is to see the rainbows too.
At the start of lockdown 1.0, to my huge surprise, I took up running…
I had pretty much loathed it as a form of exercise until that point, but my body & brain were telling me they wanted a new challenge and that this was the perfect one. So I followed my instinct & dutifully downloaded the Couch to 5K App.
It wasn’t a linear track to the point where I graduated some months later, and I never reached a 5K distance, but in the meantime had busted through a number of physical and mental hurdles about being a woman in her 50s, who is still willing to break her boundaries and challenge her sense of body & self.
Then in August, after a random accident not related to running, I instinctively & immediately knew from the throbbing pain, that I had probably done some serious damage. Sure enough, an X-ray revealed a fractured ankle.
As I hobbled about in a support boot, I cursed myself initially, then realised that I simply had to adjust and navigate my way through the next few steps.
Swimming and yoga were a god send. And eventually the boot gave way to an ankle support and I tested my ankle out slowly – stiff, sore and achey at first, on longer and longer walks.
With no follow up health care, my body set to healing the break, as I nurtured it with supplements, practised online physio, etc. For all that, it seemed to take a torturously long time for the swelling to go down and the stiffness / aching to cease.
Meanwhile I’d been racking up my walking miles, putting some prodigious paces in, as my ankle slowly got stronger.
In the past few weeks I began to feel ready to run again and today, was clearly the day, for many reasons, to pull on my gear, strap up the ankle and test my boundaries again…
I set myself a 30 minute interval running goal, not bothering about pace or distance, but simply to get a feel for where I was. I ran and walked as the sun began to drop, at my own pace, pushing myself a little past my comfort, and it felt really good.
Now I’ll see how this sits with my body and gently work through building up speed and stamina once again.
And so, for today it’s enough for me to pat myself on the back for finally having taken those next few steps…
I had made plans… imagining meals, banter, laughter and filling myself up with family, friends, flirting and fun, as I finally burst out of my calm COVID cave…
I had some big life goals coming to fruition too… Opportunities bloomed. And unexpectedly, some hidden parts of my heart and past came calling, asking to be healed and reviewed… All in all, the Universe was sweetly aligning…
THEN came the realisation that the transition to Tier 3 would scupper my day dreams, which in seconds, had suddenly dissipated into dust.
And my big life plans… they all had to be put on hold…
After I heard the announcement for the new measures, I cried for nearly an hour… Feeling as if the rope I’d been hanging onto, was rapidly running out, burning my hands as I desperately tried to hang on to its’ rough, tattered strands…
Now the world crowded into my brain. I was beset by anxiety and a cloud of misery hovered over my head…
Bloody COVID… Bloody tier system… Boo bloody hoo…
So I had to turn away from the noisy exterior world and the even louder traffic rumbling around my brain…
I chose to tune in, instead. I listened to my intuition – the pure part of my soul that senses with glorious clarity what is and what will be. I journaled and walked and worked it out.
As a result I realised I’d been in reactive mode for so very long. Then… just when I thought I had a route out, the road map was rudely snatched out of my hands…
But now I had paused and put the work in, my instincts told me what had to happen next. It felt liberating, loving and just the way it needed to be…
And since those realisations dawned on me, life still has its chaffing challenges, and it’s not all neatly aligned, but now I have faith, not fear. I also have a new set of plans – recalibrated with grace rather than grumpiness…
So today that meant going for a walk with my 2 oldest friends, accompanied by a daft dog, all of us together again at last…
I drove to meet them, happy and excited. We walked through a crisp and sunny winters day, chattering away. And at the end of it I felt so grateful – appreciating the simplest of feats, that of putting our feet one in front of the other. We 3 took steps which moved us in the same direction – all of us in our circle of familiarity and friendship, not cowering from COVID, but coming together to navigate it…
Then the sun and the temperature dropped and we stopped, bumping elbows, then heading away in 3 different directions…
And so it was, on this day of days, that I drove home with a smile on my lips. I felt beautifully blessed, having lived in each moment and savoured each one. And maybe we 3 were socially distanced, yet regardless, we were all distinctly happy.
So… I was telling someone last week that I was getting stressed trying to get a myriad of tasks completed before my holiday.
“YOU get stressed?!” came the response. Well YES as it happens, I do…
I work on managing it, I try not to take it out on other people… But yes, I DO get tense and anxious…
Yet I’m fortunate… I’m on holiday right now and have so many other things in my life to be thankful for, too…
I’m sightseeing, spending time with friends, and today I’ve been soaking in a spa. It’s freedom and bliss.
So basically, I’m blessed.
During these days, as in other days of my life, I’m not experiencing entire, unexpurgated joy…
Yesterday I felt really ill, low and thoroughly miserable. I had a deep sense of isolation and felt desperately lonely.
I stayed indoors and span the wheels of my work life. Then I spent hours and hours working on my novel – usually my core centre of contentment, but now a chore…
I was shocked, all things considered, that I was feeling so comprehensively crap.
But then I realised that I just had to let the darkness be… To have its dominion; to air it and allow it.
You see, just lately I’ve been running on anxiety… Impelled / fuelled by duty and crisis. Though this, it’s now clear, was at a surface level. The darkness was beneath and so, it broke through, like it needed to do.
And when I recognised this, I.just.let.it. I listened to it. I was frustrated and angry. I was grieving. I felt like a failure. I went with it and wallowed in it.
Because it’s OK not to be OK.
And eventually the darkness dissipated.
So today my adventures continue and I’m having a spa day, with afternoon tea. A set of external circumstances which I desire and enjoy…
I don’t want another day like yesterday, but because I didn’t fight the darkness then, today I have more clarity. Decisions have been made and bridges crossed.
And now a new day has dawned, I have to say that the world still isn’t perfect and nor am I – but neither are any less brilliant or beautiful for all that.
~ Adapted by me, from the original, by Jonita D’Souza
I forgive myself for having made those mistakes. Had I known better, I would have chosen differently. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for having felt hurt when I didn’t feel loved and wanted. They never promised me they would, so it was just my unmet expectations. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for believing them when they said I’m unworthy. They didn’t see my light and spoke out of their own shadows. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for feeling scared and getting hurt when they acted out their anger. I know now it was not about me – it was their own inability to cope with life. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for the suffering when I felt I didn’t belong. It made me journey inwards and find my spirit, my true home. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for feeling let down. They did what they believed was right – my hurt came from what I expected of them. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for having believed that my love is worthless. My love is precious – but they were too hurt to open up to it. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for having learnt not to love myself. I accepted it was right not to care about myself, but now I know who I am. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for accepting things that were directed against me. They were just events that took place because the doers were not happy with their life. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for having given my power away and letting them decide for me. I felt fear or didn’t know better, but now I’m ready to learn. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for having expressed hurtful judgements of myself, which made me judge others too. I’ve finally tasted the sweetness of love over the bitterness of the (self) critique-poison. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for believing I’m unable, I’m small, I don’t count. I allow myself to acknowledge the truth that I have gifts and I’m worthy. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself that it took me so long to learn to forgive, again. But I was willing to learn, again. So now I forgive and respect myself more and more, always.
LIFE AFTER LOSING GEORGE… Myself and the remaining pride of cats are adjusting… ~ I’m writing poetry… ~ My self contained, independent black teddy bear of a Tom cat – Taz has turned in to a constant fuss bucket… ~ Whereas my sweet, noisy, attention seeking little Miss – Sophia, has largely withdrawn (but gave me a lovely long cuddle this evening before disappearing off to hide again). I’m so glad of them ❤
I carry my aching heart invisibly. An icicle of pain at its core. But still it will spill, and so the ice melts from my eyes…
My shimmering shades of grief make a rainbow of love and loss, Raining down a tumbling waterfall of tears.
And I choose not to fight the pain; But to cradle it with compassion. As it sits and shapes within.
Sometimes I’m gripped with horror… Or I’ll re-live the latent trauma Of caring for a creature at his life’s end.
But at the time, I was in care mode. All that mattered was calm and comfort As I watched his breath rise and fall.
Then I’ll think ‘My boy is gone’ and weep. There are quiet leaking eyes or loud ugly sobs; So many kinds of tears tear or seep from me.
And my grief will take its own time. I’ll just let it take its wandering course. No medicating or predicating – just let it be – pure and raw.
You see, I’m BLESSED with this sadness. I’ve cared, fed, fussed and hugged. Sharing my life with one of God’s beautiful creatures.
It’s a simple, primal love That sits softly in the heart, as I carry on. And now its’ shape shifts, since
He has finished with the time that was only HIS to give.
Some very kind souls have asked about making gifts or contributing to a memorial, so I have suggested they make a donation to Birman Welfare & Rescue – a lovely group of caring cat people – here’s the link (if you would like to put something toward this cause too) xx
I have a pride of 3 cats. All very different in shape, size and personality. As I sit and write this, I am mindful of the head of the pride, AKA my furry wingman, AKA George Eyesapphire – to give him his full pedigree / posh name. George is clearly near his life’s end now, so I want to start to gather in our stories, to lift my heart and work through this transitioning time we still have together.
So I’m a cat person. Not anti any other animals – that’s just how it is. They’ve been in my life for most of my life, padding along its’ path with me through childhood and beyond.
I’ve grown up with moggies – rough-ty, tough-ty creatures created by a blend of genetics that chance and neighbourhood dictated. But then, one day I met 2 Birman cats who belonged to a friend. They were enchanting to look at and engaging to know, so I stored up a little desire, that one day, I would have one of my own.
It was actually many years later that the fates conspired for that desire to become a reality. I found a breeder and went to visit a litter of 6 kittens. All male. I walked in the house to be assailed by a terrier barking a greeting or warning at me – I didn’t know him well enough to decide which. At this point the mother cat strolled up to the dog and swiped him across the face, with a careful, clawless paw, then strolled away. The dog suitably admonished ceased his barking and I was left in peace to gaze at a raised basket full of sleeping kittens.
Well, when I say the basket was full, that’s true. But that fact didn’t matter, because one such creature had his head draped over the edge of the basket, sleeping sweetly. I knew right then and there, that this was my boy. I’m not sure that there was ever any choice involved, or who made the decision. It’s more that it was just so…
So my partner at the time and the breeder woke up the sonambulant balls of gorgeous fluff and made me inspect them all. Over my head, they discussed colouration and type. They placed other kittens in my outstretched hands. But it made no difference, because I already knew…
Then the breeder’s grandson, aged about 8, swooped in to play with them, joyously mauling them about. They all took it in good stead. So I knew they were well socialised, they had grown up in a home rather than a cage and could cope with dogs and childish man-handling. We handed over a bundle of cash and stashed the kitten in a cat carrier.
I had him out of the carrier once we were in the car and we started to get to know each other. As we drove past Middlemarch Business Park on the edge of Coventry, it occurred to me that I would call my new friend George, for three reasons: in honour of local author George Eliot (a nom de plum for Mary Ann Evans); to reflect the swoon worthy, handsomeness of actor George Clooney; and not least that this was the name of my best friend’s father, who I was inordinately fond of and had recently passed away.
My mother, also a cat lover from childhood, gave me some money towards the purchase of my puss. She joked many times, over the years that followed, that his flowing, lustrous brown tail was technically owned by her, whilst giving it a stroke and admiring it, with a smile.
We took George home and I witnessed the confident evolutionary temerity of a creature who had been transplanted from mother and siblings, taken to a new territory with new guardians, yet immediately adjusted to his new surroundings, as if they weren’t anything new – just the latest game or meal or place to snuggle.
I’ve witnessed this phenomenon before and since, filtering an animal’s actions through my human senses, but it still surprises me everytime. I guess it is one of those evolutionary quirks that have made the feline / human bond so sustainable. Adult cats I notice are often not so quick to adjust, having inprinted on a territory. But basically experience and a stint as a cat sitter has taught me that most cats will accept food from any old stranger and very quickly assimilate them as a friend on that basis.
That being said, cats, like many creatures, form their favourites and it’s intriguing to see their choice at play. In George’s case, we bonded straight away, even though at the time we were introduced, I was a dyed in the wool career woman, who worked 50-60 hours a week, whilst George stayed at home with my partner Clint, who ran a business empire from his dining room table.
But George was always my boy. At the end of the working day he would sit and wait by the front door, for my return.
Two weeks after his arrival in the house, Clint bought in another kitten, a beautiful, little tabby cat we called Tigga. She was sharp and stripey. She was the antithesis of the laid back George, who absolutely hated her. But she played him, she followed him around, annoyed him and was not put off by swipes and growls. And one day, when George was purring on my lap, she crept on too and grabbed him. This time instead of growling, George started purring and they become inseparable. So different to look at, but just content in each other’s company.
As a kitten, George was sweet and playful, and very little trouble. He would sleep peacefully at the end of our bed and generally act the complete feline gentleman. In delightful contrast, Tigga though rampaged through the house, hunted everything in sight (once we let them outdoors) and turned the bedroom upside down, so we couldn’t get any sleep unless she was barracaded out. Especially since, just as George had chosen me, Tigga knew that Clint was her special hu(man)-person and would insist on clawing at his head and purring in his ear instead of letting him sleep.
Clint and I broke up a few months later. It was all very amicable and we stayed friends for a few years, until we both moved on to pastures and people new. It was clear that each cat had their own hu-parent, so Tigga stayed behind, as George and I packed up house and home for our next adventure.
And so he grew from a kitten into a handsome adult cat. George is a Seal Point Birman and his beautiful long, fluffy coat and evolved, developed and changed over the years. The base colour is a creamy white. All his extremities – ears, nose, paws and tail are rich dark brown. The brown on his face was centred on his nose as a baby and over time spread like a chocolate tide to cover his noble, fluffy face.
But his stand out feature is his eyes. They are a beautiful sapphire blue – large liquid orbs of love, annoyance or demand, taking his surroundings in and regarding them with the happiness or contempt that they deserve.
Now, a long haired pedigree cat is a beautiful thing and with beauty often comes a certain amount of maintenance and effort. He grooms himself constantly of course and unless I groom him too, the fur flies through the air and sticks to every surface with magnetic purpose. I could spend hours brushing him and he would happily spend hours being brushed. As far as George is concerned, being brushed is sheer heaven. One of life’s absolute great pleasures. Brush the back, brush the sides, don’t forget the tail. Turn him over and brush the belly, which if neglected turns curly and sheep like. Then pull the fur off the brush and drop it into the bin, then begin again, until one of you grows bored of the pursuit. Then I look down into the bin and there are clouds of fur – cream and brown, billowing around and I marvel at how he isn’t actually bald, but constantly regrowing to maintain his fabulous furry mien.
And as a pretty pedigree is he a soft, characterless cushion of a cat? Far from it. He is a strong willed alpha male who has put himself at the head of the pride and will see off random feline interlopers who dare to stalk across its boundaries, with tooth, claw and ear splitting war-cry yowls.
Quite apart from the war cries, is the vast lexicon of his language – a panolpoly of vocabulary delivered at a cat’s whisper or rousing howl – deep, gutteral and primal, with every shade of sound and volume in between. Sometimes he cries endlessly with existential angst, others he demands attention, then again sometimes no sound is needed and he signals his wants and affections with a head butt or a cheek rub. One of my favourite things is that in the kitchen, whilst waiting for food, he will gently nudge my leg with his nose, a joint mark of affection and attention seeking.
Underneath that dictionary of meows, is the core of communication, the purring. His is low and steady, ramping up in intensity, the happier he becomes, usually when he is being brushed or having a chin scratch – which in his world, is the height of ecstasy.
And with all this, he has yet another layer of language – a series of low grunts and winnows overlaying the purring, which to my human brain sound like quiet declarations of love – although I completely accept I may only believe that, because that’s what I also give to him, in abundance.
Like most relationships, ours is multi-faceted. Because we’re both strong willed and stubborn, we’ve fallen out frequently, yet he is always the first to forgive and want to make up. And I have no choice but to acquiese in the face of such grace, every single time…
I could tell so many anecdotes, share so many stories, because George is 15 years old now. So there have been thousands of cuddles, of whispered exchanges. So much love and affection. So much pooh to clear up and the occasional dead animal. Unlike my two moggies who regard hunting as a constant, necessary sport and will frequently home hapless live creatures which I have to wrest from them and then repatriate to the wild, George was always a sporadic hunter.
Maybe once a year, he heads off and returns with a dead creature, such as a baby rabbit, and then, makes a big ceremony of laying it at my feet, then hunkering down and flicking his head proudly, for all the world like a patriarchal lion, providing for his pride. On one occasion he bought home a stoat – quite a magificent creature, with the most amazing coat. It is almost as if he likes to demonstrate that he is ‘all cat’ underneath that fluffy pedigree exterior.
Time passed and in his 14th year, as an old timer, he’d started to forget the fastidious toilet habits that most cats have, so the bane of my life became clearing up and trying to prevent mess and smell. I mean… cat’s pee… a vile smell that hits the back of the nose and refuses to be shifted by even the most advanced of modern cleaning products. And wasn’t just forgetfulness, sometimes, if I fell short as a hu-mum by leaving him alone too long, there would be a ‘protest pooh’ And once cats start this habit, the smell draws them back and they feel compelled to become repeat offenders. After a lifetime of freedom of the house, he and the other cats were all banned from the bedroom. I read up on what to do, I posted in online cat forums, but there was no one real solution. Until one day, I’m afraid I lost my own shit and yelled at him. A little later, the little sod started to squat on the carpet – so rather than yelling again, I picked him up and carried him over to the litter tray, with encouraging words. After a few more accidents / protests, he started to use the facilities rather than my living room carpet as his loo.
Apart from ‘pooh gate,’ after a life time of good health, some tests early last year revealed he had a kidney condition and towards the autumn he started, noticably to lose weight. Towards the end of September last year he had also developed an upper respiratory tract infection. I booked him in for a vet’s visit and then he started sneezing blood.
Within a few hours he had somehow sneezed blood all over the house. I found it on floor, carpet and walls. I had to cover up all my soft furnishings as within a short space of time, the house looked like the set of an armageddon movie.
When I got to the vet, she said he looked “chipper” but that sneezing blood was bad. She could put him to sleep right there or give him ‘one chance.’ I chose the chance, bought several types of medication and brought him home.
Back at the house I carefully placed his travel basket in the hall way as usual and opened the door. He stumbled out, clearly having lost the use of his back leg. I assumed he’d had a stroke, wailed with anguish, then called the vet. She wasn’t happy and we pretty much decided that he had used up his ‘chance’, but it was late in the day, so we arranged for me to take him back the following day. His leg, although not working, did not seem to be giving him any pain and he followed me round the house on his 3 good remaining ones.
Knowing this was our last night together, I slept on the sofa that night. A few minutes after I lay down, George jumped up and draped himself across my stomach. He lay there all night, purring for much of the time. It was a long, sleepless night for me, but I was so grateful to have that time with him before I had to say good bye.
When we both woke to the light of day, George had stopped sneezing blood. He also had some mobility back in his leg. I called the vet and cancelled the appointment, changing for a few days later. He was now on his second chance.
In the days that followed I went into a tail spin of grief tinged with panic. I couldn’t stop myself from talking about him constantly, whilst also joking to friends and colleagues that I was becoming a ‘dying cat bore.’
There followed many vet visits, injections and conversations about when he should be put to sleep. I started to dread taking him there, feverishly imagining they would grab him off me and forcibly take his life.
Meanwhile he became a cushion cat, barely moving from one spot on the sofa, except to do the daily necessities. Every day for months I dropped antibiotics down his throat to treat the constant sneezing. He was put on a special diet for his kidnies and at the back of my mind I wondered if he lost weight partyly because he hated it. Sneezing was a constant fact of our lives… sometimes it would be a good old fashioned wet sneeze, other times looked infected or bloody, regardless it was constant. It wasn’t fair to let him go on like that, I was coming round to the vet’s point of view and so the question became ‘when..?’
And when I reached ‘when’, I decided that I would stop giving him pills and taking him for injections. And if he only had a short time to live, then he may as well go back to having his favourite food again…
Somehow the autumn turned colder and shifted down towards Christmas. Having reached that far, and his being no worse, I decided to wait until the New Year… Christmas is always spent with my brother. I go for 2 nights and did not want to leave George in the care of anyone else, so took him with me.
My brother, observing the cat, remarked on how alert he was, how well he seemed (despite the constant sneezing) and how he took an interest in his surroundings, including several excursions into the garden. And somehow this little holiday seemed to shake George out of his antibiotic fuelled, cushion cat phug.
He got off the cushion and recognisably became his old self… After months of slow deterioration I had transitioned through the loss of alot of his characteristic quirks – like grumpiness with the other cats, being yelled at if I was the wrong side of a door, or having my belly pock marked with claw prints as he gave a purring paw dance at bed time. And then the sneezing stopped.
He was thin, but he ate prodigiously and often. Somehow we had both got a reprieve. And I always knew that there would be no miracle cure and that his span would still be relatively short, but he was still here. And he was having a good, happy quality of life, drug free, although I did put all the cats back on a more medicinal diet.
So there were months of gratitude that we had this bonus time together. I thanked him endlessly for choosing to stay and I treasured every second of licking and purring along with the constant contextual moments of habit and happiness that he shared with me. Time trickled from Spring into Summer and we would spend our spare time in the sunshine as the gates of COVID-19 lockdown kept me more close to home than ever.
And if I was grateful that George had stayed around, then to have his presence with me through lockdown was a balm. He relished having me working from home and glued his self to my side as I worked for long hours on my laptop and mobile phone. My summer birthday came and went and then so did his – on 10 July 2020, George Eyesapphire turned the ripe old age of 15.
And so I write about him in past tense as I recall the memories and also the present tense, because he is here in this room with me, but in a sense not here too, clearly withdrawing from life as his alloted span runs its course. So I write to manage the pain of losing him, which has already started, for very soon now he will be a creature of memory, made then of fixed pixelated image. Then I will cry more and smile and grieve and be glad that I knew him.
All my cats are different, so I love them all differently. Already I start to feel his loss, where there will be his shape missing in my heart. The flavour of the love I have for George is made of time and temperament; millions of shared moments; simple co-existence; the sheer pleasure of just watching him – sleeping, grooming, being. He is a strong character who holds a definitive place in my soul, so the grieving is starting to gnaw at me and I will give myself up to it soon enough, but for now, I wish to live in the living moments. To try to understand this bond we have. This animal human co-existence is built on and yet bypasses cupboard love. This creature is part friend, part family and it’s a simple primal feeling which is possibly made all the more solid by its very simplicity.
And I’m running out of words now, like my darling George is running out of time. But then again you see, it is his time and given all the love and lessons that we have shared together these 15 years, then I know that this time has been good. And we’ve both been blessed by sharing it.
Postscript: George passed away today. In the past 36 hours he suddenly deteriorated. I will spare you the details. And for all my mixed feelings about vets and euthanasia, I asked to the vet to come to my home as soon as possible, to end his suffering.
So he left the living world with kind words and a gentle cuddle from the creature he was closest to. And I can’t vouch for him, but that surely has to be a fine way to go. He has been in the room with me now for a few hours, so I can say my final farewells to the physical part of him. I have also let the other two cats see him. They sniffed him without interest and went on with their day, so I guess that was more for my benefit than theirs.
My brother is coming over soon and he will be with me for what happens next – when George leaves the house for a while and then returns in altered form. I haven’t decided what comes after that. I can bide my time and let my subconscious and I work it all out from there.
At this moment in time, I am tearful, but calm, feeling I made the last best act of love for him. I am so very grateful to have known / loved him, and he, me, for what is almost exactly 15 years to the day, together.
As I reflect I realise too that I have been incredibly privileged to have been a first hand witness to the complete life cycle, from kitten-hood to old age, of one of the Universe’s many amazing creations. I am blessed beyond measure for the experience.
And that is all for now. I guess my feelings will flux as the shock wears off and I adjust to him not being here. But those are other moments that do not or may not ever exist… and right now, I will inhabit this moment and what ever that entails.