We tend to think of the warmer seasons as times of renewal and ease. But when we stay in that safe head space, we forget that endings are also part of the process. I haven’t been able to write anything for months because I blissfully forgot about the way life tends to keep the scales balanced, how for every new beginning, something ends. When life decided to remind me about balance with the deaths of two that were close to me within the same month, I was left too numb to think past the moment, let alone think of something witty to write about.
On a sad evening in early April, my daughter and I said goodbye to a beloved family friend, Trinity. Trinity entered my life eleven years ago as a plump kitten of about eight weeks. I selected her from a litter in my neighbor’s apartment. She was the quietest kitten, one who seemed content to observe, rather than participate. Her arrival brought my feline total to four.
Why four cats in a tiny New York apartment, you might wonder? Well, when Neo came on board, he was a four-month old bundle of manic energy, too much for my older cats, Firsa and Annie. When I asked a local pet store how to redirect his energy, they suggested that I get another kitten for him to play with. Hence, Neo ended up with his own pet cat, Trinity.
Trinity could usually be found sitting in a basket that I kept on top of my refrigerator. She quickly earned the nick name Sweet Potato because I kept said vegetable in that basket, and she loved lounging on top of them. Later, she discovered the joy of flight, sort of. She had a tendency to climb up onto my bedroom curtain rod and jump off of it, only to land on my head every morning.
By the time my daughter was born, Trinity was a regular member of my household, no longer the newbie. She welcomed my daughter with gentle sniffs and curious meows. By the time my daughter reached her current age, Trinity was firmly established as my daughter’s cat. On that April evening, knowing in my heart that Trinity probably would not make it, I gave my daughter the opportunity to come with me to the animal hospital. I felt my daughter deserved a chance to see Trinity through her final moments. My daughter showed more compassion than I’d known she was capable of, gently patting the carrier and speaking to Trinity in soft, soothing tones. After a brief exam, the vet gave us the terrible news. Trinity was too ill for them to do anything for her. Although the decision was mine, I felt it was important for my daughter to have a say in what happened next. I explained to her how sick her pet was, and how we could help Trinity find peace. My daughter agreed. After many tears and gentle, but desperate, hugs, we said goodbye to Trinity. My daughter had never showed an understanding of illness and death before, but that night, it was clear she understood that goodbye meant forever.
That was fortunate, in its own bleak way, because we lost my aunt to cancer about a week later.
The news of my aunt’s illness had come a mere 6 weeks before. We struggled with trying to accept both the fact that she had cancer, and that we would lose her it. There were no trips to specialists, or moments where we waited for news of whether the latest treatment had worked. She went to the clinic for a routine appointment, was diagnosed and admitted the same day, and was transferred to an end of life care facility about two or three weeks later. It was agony riding in the ambulance with her from the hospital to the facility. We rode in complete silence. There was nothing left to say, really. I helped her get settled in, then rode home alone, trying to figure out how I would live without her.
With Easter coming, my mother and I decided to revive an old tradition we had shared with my aunt back when we all lived together when I was a kid. We sat with my aunt at the facility and watched The Ten Commandments together on television. The only sounds in the room were the television and my aunt’s ragged breathing. My aunt transitioned a few days after that last evening we spent together.
So where does that leave me?
Five months later, I find myself still feeling sad when I find pictures of my cat or my aunt around the house. There are just so many things that remind me of the two of them: cans of Trinity’s favorite cat food, things my aunt would have found funny on television, clothes I saved from my aunt’s apartment when I was cleaning it for the last time, Trinity’s fur on a blanket she used to sleep on all the time.
And yet, life moves on. My daughter asked for, and was given, permission to choose a new cat for the family. Bella now runs up and down my hallway and into my living room, occasionally jumping over my head in the process. She’s a year old and full of the same kind of energy Neo once had. Neo is an old man now, but he has a soul mate in Bella, as she likes the same kind of rough play he is still infamous for. People cannot be replaced, but time does lessen the pain. And wonder of wonders, relatives that I’ve been estranged from all my life are now reaching out to me. I’ve been invited to a family reunion with my father’s family. A new door is opening, and I have absolutely no idea what’s on the other side. But I’d be a fool not to, at least, try to get to know them.
Balance. Doors close, and new ones open. Life continues, and I find the peace of mind to write a little bit more every day.