Neither the beginning nor the end

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Whatever occurs is neither the beginning nor the end.”
-Pema Chodron

Marge Piercy has written about ‘writer’s cats’ – the special feline friend that will snooze on your desk all afternoon as you wrangle a phrase, sculpt a paragraph, coax a chapter into full flower, or over-mix your metaphors (as I’m doing right now) into a soupy mess. Either way, the cat is by your side, eying you balefully as you sigh, cut, paste and delete. At some point she might walk over to the printout of the draft you’re agonizing over and sprawl luxuriously in top of it, as if to say:

“It’s only paper. Chill.”

Grrrlfriend-the-cat was a stray: she found me in the Kootenays of British Columbia as I took a walk in a forest, one beautiful, gilded summer evening. She was mewing impetuously; I took her home. I was spending the summer there, writing, and since no one responded to the Lost Kitty posters we put up all around that rural community, she became my companion – for thirteen years.

When she got sick last summer no one thought she’d last this long. But she rallied enough to fly with me across the country, spend a summer on a porch of an old Vancouver house greeting anyone who happened by, and then return to Toronto for her last winter.

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This weekend she called it quits. Stopped eating. Could barely walk anymore; fell into a peaceful sleep, still breathing. When I came home that evening I found she had somehow, miraculously, hauled herself onto my bed. She wanted to spend the night there, next to me. As I petted her before falling asleep, I felt an uncanny, and almost joyful sense of mutual understanding, between human and animal: it was her time.

My lover and I spent much of the next day with her, being close by, talking, cooking, eating, reading. She died in the night.

It’s different than the passing of a sibling, a parent or a friend. It is a lighter sort of passing, but profound nonetheless. It is absence, rather than loss. A companion is gone from my life.

Someone suggested that my anticipatory grief (I was disconsolate earlier this week!) is also a way of anticipating, and working through, other, future losses.

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, writes: “Death in everyday life could also be defined as experiencing all the things we don’t want…. Having a relationship with death in everyday life means that we begin to be able to wait, to relax with insecurity, with panic, with embarrassment, with things not working out…”

So anyways, I’m making soup today. Sunday soup, a grounding ritual for me. I’m working on a deeply flavoured chicken stock, and trying out a new recipe – creamy chicken vegetable soup from everybodylikessandwiches.blogspot.com.

Life – beautiful, full-flavoured, complex and uneven – goes on.

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Photos by Laurie Bell.

10 Comments

  1. Grrrlfriend was my ANCHOR during an emotionally fraught holiday season when I was housesitting for Marusya in Toronto last December. We developed a ritual. I would come home in the evening agitated, stressed, and exhausted (I was working on an exciting but challenging film project) and the cat would tune in quite subtly to my state of mind and go to work. No overt intervention, just a comforting vibe was sent my way. I would recline on the sofa and she would then jump up on the chest and settle down, purring softly until my karmic balance was restored. Many, MANY thanks Grrrlfriend and best wishes on your transition to another dimension.

  2. Grrrlfriend was a cat with a big soul, a sense of humour & a very demanding meow (especially when you peeled a banana, one of her favourite foods). She lived a good life.

  3. i just came across this and i am totally sad to hear about girlfriend. she kept me company this last winter when i was moving books from yer shed in vancouver, and was super sweet and obviously in charge. sounds like she had a really swell life for a kitty, as good as it gets. i am sending you a virtual hug.

    i hope another equally as amazing kitty finds you and moves in when you’re ready for it. here is a link that always cheers me up: http://catsinsinks.com

  4. So sorry to hear about Grrrlfriend’s passing. Several years ago, I lived with and loved a cat named Shang

  5. Thanks to all of you for lovely comments and tributes to Grrrlfriend. Mosa, i’m glad to hear Grrrlfriend showed you some hospitality. Peter, I’m shocked at how close you and Grrrlfriend became! Farzana and Black Eye, I’m sorry you never got to be catsitters. Asa, you were Grrrlfriend’s godmother and true friend to her and me.

  6. I met you the same summer in the Kootenays that you found Grrlfriend. I remember you’d never had a cat before, and I’d had cats all my life, and so I assured you that cats hated to travel, they detested riding in cars, and if you moved them to new homes you had to lock them inside for weeks or else they would wander away. Not having a cat before, you saw no reason this should be true, and Grrlfriend turned out to be an unusually insoucient traveller — happily settling into vacation homes and catsitter’s digs and letting herself be aired on a little leash at truck stops. She was one cool kitty & had a fine life.

  7. I only met Grrlfriend once, but was impressed by her delightful air of feline entitlement, and the way she graciously traded blinks with me. She was a fine cat, and must be a sad loss to you. My best to you…
    -Elaine M

  8. Oh, sweet Grrrfriend, we will miss you. Someone said “The cat is the spirit of the house.” She certainly was a part of the spirit of your Vancouver home, but also a seasoned traveler. Perhaps her roots are in the air too.

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