Remembering my friend, Connecticut, Part 1: MELL-ow!

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Today I am remembering my friend, Connecticut. She left this world one year ago, February 13, 2010, at nearly 16 years of age.

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Most of this memorial I wrote a few weeks after she died—writing about her was a cathartic moment that helped me to push through a very dark time. Many of these photos have been on my bedside table for the last year: they are from when she was young and vibrant, because I was not very good about keeping track of or even taking photos in the intervening years. Every day I wake to Connecticut’s penetrating gaze and smile. She loved me like no other.

February 26, 2010

It seems that I’m going to have to write about this, or lose my mind. And body. The body is the mind is the body is the mind—that much is becoming clear, even as everything else is becoming less. My grief for Connecticut is a palpable thing. A very real thing, a physical thing, a physical presence, a weight, a darkness. I can feel it in my forehead, the back of my neck, and of course, my lungs. There are people who care, who understand, and through my fog I have received their small offerings of comfort and wisdom with real appreciation, but little understanding of how to really make sense of it all.

I got to talk with Steve [my vet] today for a little bit, for the first time since she died. It was evident that I was really down, and sick, and he said, “Is it, you know, a lung thing?” circling his fingers around his lung area, “Your sickness?” I indicated yes. “Well,” he said, “In Eastern medicine grief is indicated in the lungs.” And I was glad to hear it, because I didn’t know that, but I do know grief has made me sick in both mind and body, and it is good to feel validated, again, even though it does not make me feel better. We also talked a little about how the seasons affect us and the animals, about this time of year. I mentioned how I felt guilty—that maybe there had been more we could have done for Connecticut. I think he was sincere when he said that no, there really wasn’t anything else that would have helped. He said there was another cat with similar symptoms around the same time, and he ended up “sending her to kitty heaven” a few days ago. At least we can speak candidly with each other of these things.

So likewise, a few days ago I saw the nurse practitioner because I felt like I have strep among some other nasty things. I told her right away what had happened, and she also agreed that my grief had made me ill. She reminded me that in this society we are not given a chance to grieve our animals, let alone much time to grieve our humans. That first day when I stayed home to be with Connecticut when she was dying, I said I was sick. Soon, I really was. Thinking makes it so, and sick is an acceptable excuse to stay home—grief is not. She mentioned that animals have a way of teaching us—and maybe there was a reason she died so close to mom’s death anniversary.

That has not made it easier. Connecticut, Connector, Connection, Nectar, Nectarine, Rumply, Cow Kitty, Bat Ears, Long One (this from a comment made by a vet when she a kitten, “My, that’s a long one,” he said, measuring her torso).

She died in my arms on February 13 at around 5p—just under two weeks ago. Mom died February 16, 19 years ago. Grief never really leaves, it gets weaker over time, maybe, like a virus, but is there lurking, waiting to pop out again angry and raw at the first opportunity.

(As I try to write with the laptop balanced on my leg, Pip has decided to come flump me, perching on my left knee, hanging on with her claws, making it very difficult. But also making me smile. These kitties are persistent in their love, and maybe in their grief, I don’t know. Nectar didn’t really like the other animals very much, and they’re probably mostly relieved that the Wicked Witch is Dead! The Queen Bee is gone. I think Pip was the first in my lap that evening on the bed after Connector left us, her body still on the bed, but her spirit wherever spirits go. What a bittersweet lap snuggle Pip and I had.)

I’m so afraid that I’m going to forget what Connecticut was like. Everything always fades. I can’t really remember anything specific about 20 years with mom; what her voice sounded like, what we talked about, even what she looked like—other than in photos and videos. Sure, I remember impressions, snippets of conversations, a laugh, a glint in the eye, bits of conversations and stories told. But much of it disappeared a long time ago. I just don’t have a great memory for detail.

I walk around this house and there is a palpable absence of Connecticut everywhere. Nearly 16 years of her are walking around with me. I wish I understood where she is now—my oldest friend. I thought going through the process with her—not hospitalizing her, letting her go when she needed to go—I thought that would help us through it too, my husband and I. But holding her, feeling her take those last long breaths, so far apart, feeling all of the heat drain from her body, her feet so cold to the touch in those last few minutes—it didn’t help. She was there, and then she was not there. Where did she go? If she were here now, she would be stoically helping me through this by curling up in my lap or on my chest at every opportunity. That had to have been one of her most favorite things in the world—doing “the boat” or becoming “a loaf” on my chest, purring away with that deep, sputtering, popcorn of a purr. Another nickname: Popcorn Head. If she was in the mood, and she often was, she’d undo the boat and strike a sphinx pose, with her arms very close to my face, so she could poke me now and then with her paw. And then, waiting for me to become sleepy, or sometimes after I was asleep, she’d lick my face, which I would try somewhat unsuccessfully to dodge under the covers. She obviously thought this was funny. And it was a game we had played hundreds of times.

Nectar had other games as well. She would almost always get up with me in the morning. My first pee was often accompanied by Connecticut, trying to bite my big toes. She’d go for a toe, I’d try to hide the attacked foot behind the other, and then she’d go for the other toe. After a while (how many years?) I wised up and would immediately plunge my feet under the bath rug to try to avoid those sharp little teeth. Her green eyes would be bright and her white whiskers so alert and far forward, enjoying herself immensely. (She also liked sleeping on my lap if I spent too much time in the toilet.) She was not immune to occasionally biting a nose or chin, either, as my pet-sitting friend once found out. Then there was the banister or counter game that she liked to play with my husband or I, where we’d tap the end of the banister or the counter lightly and say Meh! and she’d race towards us, sometimes talking back with a Meh! Then we’d run to the other end, tap it, and she’d race back towards us, this repeating for some time. She had a deep voice, and did her fair share of talking. She would say what sounded like, “MELL-ow!” and which we’d often repeat back to her, “MELL-ow!” Connecticut had her own vocabulary, and inspired ours. “Flump” was the only adequate way to explain the way she would fall over dramatically to one side, when deciding to lay down. The word has gotten incorporated into our family lexicon. Note: Cats flump, dogs don’t. Cats also do the “boat” or “loaf,” which is when they tuck all their legs underneath and sleep upright. And a pointy cat face is a “beak.”

Connection was my cat, who became our cat. She seemed to have loved my husband and I both equally, and without judgment, which is something we are unable to do even for each other. She was a constant, for so many years. When she was younger, she used to be very sensitive to my tears, and would stick her beak in my face, trying to comfort me. After a while, she stopped doing that, probably jaded by too many tears. But I knew she still cared, because she was always there to jump in my lap, no matter what kind of mood I was in. And for more years than I can remember, after a preliminary boat session on my chest, she slept most of the night to the right of my head and pillow, between me and the night stand. That was her spot. Occasionally, for variety, she’d sleep in the middle between us.

Sixteen years is a long time. That’s four and a half years short of the time I had with my mom. That’s longer than any other friendship I’ve had. I will miss Nectar always.

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