I mentioned that I recently had to take an unplanned, emergency trip to Pennsylvania. I am getting ready to return to the Keystone State in a few days. I did not speak to the reason for these trips. In April, I planned a trip to visit my cousin Ann in Pennsylvania this month. Unfortunately, I received a call at the end of May that Ann experienced several critical medical events, so I booked a flight and headed north. She passed away on June 1. I spent ten days in Pennsylvania saying good-bye, collaborating with medical staff and her local friends to enable her to pass peacefully into God’s kingdom, planning for her cremation and funeral, and starting the process of managing her home and finances. I am the executrix of the will.
Ann was a very special cousin to me. I was born when she was eight or nine years old, and we lived in the same small town until I was five. I was Ann’s live baby doll throughout my toddler years. Even when my family moved across the country, we stayed closely connected to Ann and her family. Her mother was my mother’s only sibling. There were visits back and forth and regular, consistent communication. Even as adults, Ann and I were tied together in a special way. We were very different, and we were both keenly aware of those differences, but we respected and admired a lot about each other. The bottom line is that we understood and empathized with each other, even if we did not always agree with each other’s choices. Also, she was my last connection to my mother’s family.
Although we were close and did communicate, I had not seen Ann in six years or so. Her health made it difficult for her to travel. I planned the trip to Pennsylvania because I felt it had been way too long since we had seen each other. Her health and emotional state were rocky. She was declining significantly. She said something when I called to suggest I visit which probably echoed a sad, lonely thought swimming around in my mind that I didn’t want to catch. She said that it would be very nice to see me because she would really like to see at least one of her cousins before she died. Her parents and her brother were dead. My parents and brother have passed. I know she has cousins on her father’s side, but I don’t know them, and I don’t know what relationships she had with them. In short, except for friends and me, I think she was pretty much alone.
There is a lot more I could say about Ann, the family history, our relationship, her end-of-life journey, the challenges I faced in Pennsylvania, and any number of lessons I learned because of this experience. I am not going to say much, though. First, it feels wrong to tell Ann’s story because she was very private and internal. Nobody, including me, truly knows that story. Mostly, though, I do not feel rooted and stable enough in my feelings to share them. Also, I do not think my writing skills are adequate to explain the complicated nature of the situation, personalities, and challenges tied up in this ordinary disaster. Honestly, I am not sure William Shakespeare’s writing skills would be adequate to explain this set of circumstances.
There is one aspect of this experience that I do feel comfortable sharing. The cat-astrophe.
Ann was a super independent person, even when her health declined to the point that she needed help to manage her activities of daily living. As I mentioned, she was rather alone in the world. In some ways, she preferred being alone in the world. She lived on her own. She made her own choices. She kept her internal world private.
On the other hand, she was not quite alone. At various points in the past seven years, she adopted three cats. Although I am relatively certain the cats are not on the deed to the house, they did own the house. It was a lot of cat for a one thousand square foot house. There was no room, piece of furniture, or surface that Ann had not adapted to accommodate the cats’ every whim. They were her heart.
The cats’ names are Ginger, Princess, and Velcro… because, well, they are. Ginger is the color of gingerbread made with light molasses. Princess is one and behaves like one. Velcro never lets you get further away than she can touch with one soft, furry outstretched paw when you are in the house. They are good kitties… sweet and affectionate. Unfortunately, the world has a surplus of good, sweet, affectionate kitties. Finding new homes for these lonely, traumatized cats was never an easy task.
I am more of a dog person than a cat person, but I have nothing against cats. In fact, I like them. However, I had no interest in transporting three cats from Pennsylvania to Florida. Also, I never suspected I was allergic to cats, but, after living with three of them for ten days, it was clear that my respiratory system does not take kindly to felines. Besides, I am sure Max would have apoplexy if I had come home with cats. He worries about a dog scratching up the television set. I dismiss this concern, but I have to say I would bet money that the television would not last a single day with three cats climbing all over the place.
Still, these are sweet cats. My gut collapsed at the idea of taking them to a shelter. As Ann’s cousin, I could not imagine a scenario in which I did not provide a good home for “the girls.” Several of Ann’s friends, all of whom had multiple animals of their own, were searching for new homes. More than once, we thought the cats were settled, only to be disappointed. Finally, a friend of Ann’s found a home for Ginger. We tried to entice her new Dad to take at least one more, but he stayed firm. That left Princess and Velcro cowering in the corners of the ever-emptying house. Eventually, all that was left in the house was the cats, two cat towers twice my size, a couple of cat beds, and the table and chairs that constituted the “cat buffet” where Princess and Velcro noshed all day. More than a month after Ann died, one of Ann’s friends who has been my “on the ground guardian angel” and I decided that it was time to make a decision. We had both been looking into cat rescue organizations and the friend found one that would take the two remaining cats. It was a solution that was leaving both of us in tears, but I also knew something had to give. The cats were becoming increasingly stressed as their home dismantled before their eyes. I was becoming increasingly stressed because I had no idea what to do or when to do it, since the house needs to be sold. My guardian angel was ready to bring the cats to the rescue on 7/3.
The night before, said guardian angel got a call. She needed to be at Ann’s house in ten minutes because the friend who had been feeding the cats had found someone who wanted to meet them with the intent of adopting them. Guardian angel gave her wings a shake and VAROOMED over to meet the potential new cat parents. The couple spent about an hour with the kitties and the guardian angel, and everyone was happy for the cats to go to a new, loving home. They all agreed that the couple would go home and arrange the house to accommodate their new furbabies and would come back the next afternoon to get the girls.
I heard about this the next day. I was excited, but not too excited. I had heard the “we have a home for the cats” story before and did not want my hopes dashed once more. Blessedly, however, the couple came for the cats, the cat trees, and all the cat-related accoutrements as scheduled. Princess and Velcro are now living happily in a home as part of a herd of cats. Not my idea of a good time, but apparently it is theirs. And my idea of a good time ABSOLUTELY includes the happiness of all three cats.
God is good. The cat-astrophe was averted!
Do you have pets? What are your biggest concerns about them? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a purr-fect day!