Saturday, August 11, 2012

some thoughts on saying goodbye

Each time I say goodbye to a human or an animal family member I feel, in my deepest core, the reality that as much as I try to manage things and take care of things, I have very little control when it comes to keeping my loved ones safe.

Since losing Keats I have had many dreams in which the predominant emotion is anxiety and helplessness. I dreamed that a team of hoofcare practitioners arrived and with much machinery and fanfare trimmed Keil Bay's hooves into bizarre shapes that bled and left him unable to stand on them.

Before I could intervene, they were doing the same thing to the pony. In the dream all I could think of was saving Salina, next in line, from a similar fate.

I dreamed of an airplane trip that went awry when we were landed in an emergency in a remote area that we could not get out of - the plane was on a runway fenced in with huge barbed wire, impenetrable, but fortunately someone had left pallets of supplies within our reach. We had to break into the pallets to eat and were finally rescued. And given many free tickets to ... fly again!

Gradually these dreams have faded and I'm now sleeping more soundly and not waking up to yet another reminder that I do not in fact have the power to keep all of us safe and sound and healthy and happy.

Now, nearly two weeks later, I am still seeing Keats everywhere, lying in cat pose on the back deck, stalking in the tall grass in the front, sitting on the fence watching the constant activity on November Hill.

As if intent to compensate for her physical absence, Dickens is staying inside more, lying with us and putting his paws around my daughter's neck as a gesture of comfort. Moomintroll and Dickens and Muffine Eloise are cohabiting more peacefully. Mystic has become cuddlier than usual.

The Corgis have been at my heels and the horses and donkeys all seem to be watching over us. Salina particularly has been more affectionate to me, following me around the barn, offering her head and neck for me to wrap my arms around.

And the favorite stories of not only Keats, but many beloved friends before her, come often to mind.

Keats was shy as a kitten, but had become a very dear and loving cat with each year that passed. She was a huntress, extremely successful in taking down birds and squirrels. She had a presence that spoke more loudly than her tiny squeak-meows did.

Keats and Muffine (Osage) were sisters and although they didn't snuggle up together, they were often seen lying close, and of all the cats here, I don't remember the two sisters ever being anything other than friendly to one another. Muffine has taken to getting up on top of the kitchen cabinets to sleep this week, which has in some ways made life easier - it is so hard to see her sleeping alone, without Keats close by.

In the end, what comforts me are the memories. The favorite stories of the cats and the dogs and the horse and the people, things they did and communicated, moments that in my mind right now seem so real and so clear it truly does feel like they live with me still.

I suppose this is the finest example of the power of stories for us humans - the ones we tell about ourselves and our beloveds, tales that become mythic in our families and our minds.

I remember Keats playing on the hay bales in the barn when she was a kitten, trying to climb up Keil Bay's tail, as an older cat sleeping on the bales, stretched out long. I remember Dickens claiming the barnyard and chasing Keats back to the house, and her ability to scale the fence. I think my most favorite sight regarding Keats was seeing her in the tall grass, resting, waiting, being her huntress self. Which seemed so opposite to the purring, snuggling, kneading Keats who sat on our chests and put her face up to ours, and gazed into our eyes.

This is how I remember her, now:

Yesterday I was in the back field and the two fawns who live here this season scampered from the trees back towards the hundred-acre wood. We've had many sightings of them, along with their mother, this summer, and it has been a gift each time.

Later, I noticed that the same tree that was struck last summer had been struck again by lightning. The top half of this huge tree was completely broken off and is lying in my woodland path. Fifteen feet away, another tall tree, though less hefty in girth, was also struck and broken. I walked up the hill to the arena and looked back at the treeline, realizing that it is different now - there's an empty space where those two trees stood.

Like lightning striking not once but three times, leaving a hole in one of my most beloved vistas, it feels like death struck quickly and took Keats away, and we live now with a hole in our family here, one that goes with the hole left by Chase, our Corgi boy.

Somehow the holes become part of the tapestry, though, this much I know. The tapestry of our days and our years remains, and the holes remain, but we continue weaving, and the holes eventually form part of the pattern we don't see until much much later. I imagine the larger pattern will be something like fine lace. And like Leonard Cohen's song, Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

So we carry on. The gift of a large family is that there are always things to be done, like helping Cody with his hives, and battling a bad year of fleas, taking care of an elbow that is trying to heal, feeding and cleaning and finding that even in the midst of grief and loss, twin fawns still scamper and play. We can still find gifts in our days. The magic still happens.


Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Our animal friends know just what to do... and Leonard Cohen just what to say.

Hope you're having a peaceful weekend. :)

Unknown said...

Thank you, Billie, for sharing about Keats, for sharing your sorrow. I know it's not easy to do.

I think your thoughts about a tapestry are true. I think love is woven into the fabric of the universe and every creature participates in the spirit of love. I mean that Keats is part of God.

I'm remind of the poem Notice What This Poem is Not Doing, by William Stafford:

Every person gone has taken a stone
to hold, and catch the sun. The carving
says, "Not here, but called away."

billie said...

C, not really peaceful but trying. Hope you are hanging in there too!!

billie said...

Thank you, Kyle. I love the idea of Keats being called away.

Grey Horse Matters said...

It's hard to not see our lost ones in the physical sense but our memories are some comfort. As you say it leaves a hole in our family and our hearts. Keats is still with you and part of the woven tapestry.

billie said...

Thanks, A..

Matthew said...

This is such a beautiful description of the love that connects us, whether we walk on four legs or two or even swim around with iridescent-colored fins.

I love Cohen's musical poetry here.

Thank you.

billie said...

Oh - I am now remembering with smiles and great fondness all the tales of the hamsters, Chipper and Cuddles, and the saga of the hermit crabs Stella and Bob, and Matisse the Siamese Fighting Fish.

Chipper and Cuddles sneaking out of their cages at night to take dog kibble and store it in my sweater drawer and in the hall closet.

Chipper having to be lured out of a huge horse puppet with a niblet of food.

Taking Chipper with us to the beach after Cuddles died and discovering he loved the new smaller habitat we bought so he could travel with us.

Matisse leaping out of the bowl and swimming to music.

Stella and Bob and the excitement when they chose new shells. And of course, the tragic morning during which Stella ate Bob. What a discussion was had as I tried to help the kids make sense of it.

And while they all had grand funerals, I don't think any could rival Chipper's - we were studying King Tut at that time and Chipper was buried with many treasures, in a gold box, in the manner befitting an Egyptian king.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

"And of course, the tragic morning during which Stella ate Bob." (lol)

These tales reminded me of the highs and lows of our two "male" gerbils Sonny and Billy, (named after Washington Redskin quarterbacks), who unexpectedly produced several babies.

Even more unexpected was discovering Sonny, the actual male, eating the babies one by one, much like we would eat an ear of corn...

My parents had some "splaining" to do. ;D

billie said...

Another of the gifts our animal family members share with us - natural instinct and the many variations between the species.. and not to mention sometimes metaphors for human behavior... :)

Bob's tragic ending was especially difficult because Stella had such a distinct and likeable personality and actually interacted with us. It definitely added to the horror of finding her with Bob not quite devoured but enough so that rescue was not an option. The joys of parenting in such moments! Sometimes there are just no words to explain things to caring and inquisitive young minds.

Greta said...

thinking of you...your families, human and animal

billie said...

Thanks, Greta..