To Have A Friend Takes Time

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In a way, nobody sees a flower, really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time—like to have a friend takes time. ~ Georgia O’Keefe

It was the last bell, of the last day, of my last year of classroom teaching, and the last thing I expected was Finnegan.

Amidst the cheers, and hugs, and goodbyes, and promises to keep in touch, and the bustle of children hurrying into summer, in walked a parent with a basket full of kittens, fresh off the farm.

Her daughter excitedly took hold of the basket and carried it over to me. “Ms. O.! Look! Would you like one?”

I had two one-year-old puppies at home, Riley and Clancy, and two aged cats, Sally and Tess. I didn’t need a kitten, really, just then, but there he was, the tiniest, with the biggest paws. A great farm cat, built to hunt mice. Would he be happy confined in a home with two puppies and two old cats, the odd man out? It was already too late; I held him and he was mine. Finnegan. He was so small, but I saw him; he saw me; we became friends.

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He was such a mellow kitten, content to play alone, or to snuggle with his much older sisters, or to profess his love for Riley. He adjusted to all of us happily.

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 When he was quite young, he traveled with us to Atlanta to see my family; I can’t remember why, but I have a picture of him in my mother’s family room. He looks quite content, so it must have been a happy adventure for him.

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Finny and I created daily rituals: He developed an affinity for playing in sinks, so I would leave a trickle of water running in the bathroom sink every morning, where he could play, drink, and relax. He liked to grab me and comb my hair with his paw. He waited (in the sink) until I’d get out of the shower, stand on the counter, and grab at my head, wanting me to shake my wet hair over him. After more than 20 years together, Phillip no longer waits, excitedly or otherwise, for me to emerge from the shower (nor I for him, to be fair), so Finny’s daily, faithful, and eager anticipation of my 60-year-old self stepping blindly out of the shower was a kind of special comfort: I’m still here; still beloved!

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He loved to smooch, and he enjoyed sitting on my lap and bouncing while I sang “our song” to him:

Oh, Finnegan, again, again,
I’ll tell you that I love you;
Oh, Finnegan, again, again,
Please say you love me, too!

For a time, after Sally and Tessy died, he was our only cat, and a little lonely, but he adjusted yet again, and I think he began to think of himself as our third dog. He loved to escape out any open door—or window—and then run under the decks to roll in the sandy earth, ignoring my pleas for his return. I’d simply have to spend the next hour in vigil, waiting for him to be satiated with freedom, all his senses filled, before he’d grandly emerge, and always with a look that said, “What are you so excited about? You knew I’d come out.”

Eight years ago, we went to the Humane Shelter to find a sister for him, and came home with two brothers as well. Once more, Finnegan adjusted well to being the big brother, showing them the way to behave and belong. We started our Morning Party tradition, gathering in a circle, singing a song (of course), and celebrating the new day. Finny always sat on my left, my loyal helpmate.

He grew into a beautiful cat. His leonine look made him appear fierce, even threatening. Guests sometimes mistook his affect, and cuddled instead with the always-adorable Murphy, but I knew Finny’s deep affection, playfulness, and gentleness, as he knew mine.

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When Fergus followed me home one day a few years ago, Finny wasn’t certain this was such a great idea. He conferred with me quite often, initially, making sure I had enough love to go around. But he adjusted. By now he was The Boss, and once Fergus understood this, life sailed on, usually smoothly.

Last year, both Clancy and Riley died, and Finny’s grief was real and touching. His love for Riley had only deepened over the years. He sat at her place on the window seat, and took a long time adjusting to this loss. But he accepted the change, helping me accept it, too.

In October, I brought Malarky home. Finnegan retreated to my lap even more than usual, or to a quiet cat bed in the back bedroom. I worried about his energy level and mood, and tried to give him extra attention when I could. He tried to please me with his acceptance of Malarky, but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. I thought, with time, Finnegan would adjust as he always had.

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We noticed a more pronounced change in Finnegan’s energy and joy last month, and took him in for a check-up. The veterinarian found an abscess and thought some teeth would likely have to be removed. On March 15th, I took him in to the surgery early, then came home to clean, walk the pup, and continue the usual daily round.

I’d just started to make a little nest for Finny’s healing in the guest room, figuring I’d sleep with him for a couple nights, till he felt able to be up and around again. My phone rang, and I knew, as fast as I’d fallen in love with him, that something was wrong with my Finny. It was way too early for his surgery and recovery to be over.

Our doctor said an x-ray had revealed the abscess was, in fact, a tumor, and the cancer “very aggressive.” A few minutes later, I sat beside my Finnegan and whispered my goodbyes to him. And a half-hour after that, I was home again, without him. Forever.

Our partners and very close friends, but especially, our 4-legged companions see us when we are as we really are, when the phone is off, the internet unplugged, the doors closed, the curtains drawn. Our private face, our instinctive behaviors, our nakedness—they hear our prayers and laughter and tears; they know us better than the world ever could, our better natures and our demons. And they love us. That is true intimacy.

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What a relief it is to be as you are and (still) be loved. When they die, our beloveds take with them that relief we came to know in their presence. All those secrets shared, all those holy moments. Finnegan’s special gift to me had always been his sensitivity to my sadness; he knew when I was grieving and remained faithfully present. Without words, we had some of the deeper conversations of my life.

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I am grateful for memories, though they come with a fierce sting, initially. They begin to weave the stories of our loves back together and, in their way, allow them to continue.

I fell in love with Finnegan the moment I saw him, but, as O’Keefe says, a friend takes time. Finny and I created a 14-year relationship that was authentic and mutual. We gave each other our time and it gifted us in return, infusing both of our lives with light and love.

John Leonard wrote, “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” I miss my old friend, Finny. He blessed my life and enriched it profoundly. He taught me so many things, and I tried to be a good student but I’ve not yet mastered his ability to go with the flow.

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His brothers and sister are making peace with Finnegan’s absence. At times, Mulligan keens through the house, searching for Finny, but the energy is settling and who we are now as a family seems to be knitting back together.

Mostly.

I’m still adjusting.

Happy Birthday, Finny!

April 3, 2002 ~ March 15, 2016

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© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without Catherine O’Meara’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors.

 

 

Farewell to Riley

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May 12, 2001 – September 13, 2015


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 And can it be that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one small creature makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of vast eternity can fill it up?    ~ Charles Dickens

Yes. Yes, it can.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without Catherine O’Meara’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors.

 

The Forest, Having Blown Up

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We’ve had an unexpectedly dramatically dramatic summer, and I would be most grateful if the energy that’s hurled us thus far through the green-flowered and golden weeks would flatten out a bit into some semblance of balance and peace.

But, there is too much, so let me sum up:

Part One

My soul is a broken field, plowed by pain.  ~ Sara Teasdale

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I guess we’re always, most of us, both prepared and unprepared for loss. We’re full of intellectual wisdom and knowledge about death and grief. We believe we’re fortified by these words and the stages and steps they describe.

And then we step into the land of loss, and the barren, rough landscape opens up, and every surface we encounter in this new world scrapes away at our sense of the known and bloodies our fragile attempts to touch and learn, and sucks the words out of us, and the walls that encompassed the reality we’d come to recognize and rely upon utterly fall away.

Of course, they were only made of paste and cardboard to begin with, but we had so carefully constructed the stage set that encompassed our lives for so long that we disregarded the potential for its devastation.

And how easily, and quickly, it can all collapse and be blown away.

The utter strangeness when a circle of love is broken and the presence of that circle’s heart is removed, requires tricky navigation, and, for a time following Clancy’s death, I chose not to move at all. A week after his death I turned 60 and it meant nothing but that I’d existed for another week.

I didn’t know it then, but I was ill. I had lost contact with my senses, sheltered—or hidden–so deeply within my grief that I didn’t understand that something “out there” was wrong. When I tried to move through my yoga, bicycling, and trail walks with sweet Riley, I felt like the tin man in need of oil. Every joint and muscle hurt, first a bit, and then unbelievably. I stopped trying.

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Phillip, family, friends, the four-leggeds, and the gardens helped, as they always do.

We focused on tending Riley’s loss of her lifelong companion and littermate, began to adjust to our own sadness, and I met with my wonderful physician, who helped identify the disease that had taken up residence in my body. Some knowledge does lend power, and over the past month, prescribed treatments have largely eliminated my pain. It’s being “managed,” as they say. (I say, “Hooray!”)

Gratitude always walks with grief, a partnership that, if we choose to recognize it, helps to make us whole again.

Part Two

Little by little God takes away human beauty:
Little by little the sapling withers.
Go, recite, “To whomever We give a length of days,
We also cause them to decline.”
Seek the spirit;
don’t set your heart on bones.
~Rumi

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Since I felt stronger, we traveled to an area Phillip had already explored for our retirement. Never sure if that should happen now or later, we visited the communities we found most attractive. We looked at some homes for sale. Mostly, we hiked and sat, and listened. Sweet Riley’s ability to join us on the trip proved a wonderful opportunity to reconfigure our circle of intimacy, settle into each other’s energy, and learn more about the family we are now, without Clancy’s physical presence. Knowing the felines were in good and loving care, we relaxed into the healing offered to our spirits by a landscape we love.

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On the way home, we looked at another home that intrigued us, and made an offer to buy it. It was a Friday afternoon, so I called a realtor in our hometown and arranged for her to visit Monday morning, to list Full Moon Cottage for sale. How exciting, to make a change, we thought…perhaps this was the new path Clancy’s death had created for us.

The universe had other plans. Early Monday morning, a storm propelled straight-line winds speeding across the area, and twirls of small tornado tails bobbed down, here and there, twisting bits of the world into unrecognizable designs.

A single kind of thunderous crash caused us to leap out of bed, adrenaline lending us a rather impressive athleticism. Phillip grabbed the flashlight and, through the darkness, assessed that possibly a tree or two had fallen. As the sun rose and daylight scattered across the yard, we saw instead that, without warning, and in an instant, the forest beside our home had exploded.

Part Three

My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.  ~  Mizuta Masahide

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Through a fog of dazed shock, I began to clean the decks as Phillip saved what he could of the front garden. Several of our trees had fallen, but the more dismal reality was that about 30 or 40 of our neighbor’s white pines had crashed across our front yard. There was no way we could clear the havoc ourselves.

A few hours later, covered in dirt, mud, and pine needles, we greeted the realtor, an impressive false smile frozen on her face as she stepped over branches and bravely proceeded to draw up the contract, assuring us that when the home actually came on the market, 10 days later, all would be well.

Home insurance doesn’t pay for storm damage, except for that sustained by the physical house, and we miraculously had little of that. But that’s where the miraculous aspects of the story stopped, we felt, since we did have about 40 trees, in a hundred thousand pieces, that had to be removed.

The morning after the storm, I watched as the two turkey hens we’ve come to know over the years paraded their new chicks through the rubble, over and under branches, accepting of the changed landscape and inviting me to be as well. A doe and her fawns leapt across the yard nimbly. Easy for you, I thought. Can’t you see the world’s been upended?

A few days and a small fortune later, we were left with what we called a muddy “trail of tears,” and worked about 80 hours between us lugging, raking, tossing and scraping together branches and limbs, in 91° heat and a sour funk. I mourned the little crab tree that had anchored my front garden, the vegetables and berries we’d lost, the lovely old hickory tree. A sad business indeed.

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Still, Riley seemed happy to be home, reunited with her cat buddies, and unfazed by the need to jump over or circle around trees on the trail, or stop and re-route altogether, so that was a blessing. And I was feeling physically stronger every day, another light in the darkness.

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By Friday, we decided to put off buying a new home, moving, or selling Full Moon Cottage. We were fairly spent, almost on empty, and fully exhausted.

We set down the rakes and shovels and took off our gloves and sat on the deck, sipping ice cold beer and surveying the altered scene before us.

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And we began to laugh. And, of course, we counted the many blessings that had equally fallen all around us. We had been spared injury; the house was minimally damaged, the gardens would recover, and many were still growing madly…

I shared that I’d had the Masahide quote running through my mind all week. And then I told Phillip, making a sarcastic joke, that, at least we could now receive better internet and phone reception, which the wall of white pines had always prevented. He replied, “The forest having blown up, I can now receive three bars,” which really set us off…and I knew we would be OK. Better able to see the paste and cardboard of life for what they are, we can set them aside and focus on what’s really real and lasting. Like the turkeys, and the deer, and sweet Riley, we will make our way across these losses and come to new places, feeding on the blessings that are all around us, and loving the memories of all that’s come before. Our family’s circle of love was never broken; I see that now. It’s only changed, and Clancy, and Riley, and our precious four-legged felines will always be that circle’s heart.

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© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without Catherine O’Meara’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors.