This is the time of year when, for so many of us, longing usurps joy. We deeply miss and long for those people and four-legged companions who have passed from our lives and wish they were here with us, once again. But that said, there is the joy of knowing they live on in our memories and in our hearts. They warm us when we are cold. They ward off the monsters in the wee hours. And they watch over us— always. In keeping with this thought, I am honored to share the following with you:
Blizzard-like conditions slowed our progress during the long, slow ride home from the hospital, where I’d just undergone a lumpectomy to remove a malignancy in my right breast. It was February of 2016. Friday the thirteenth, if recollection serves.
Alternately freezing from the blustery winds seeping into the car and sweating from the cranked heater, my stomach roiled from the after-effects of the anesthesia, along with the tranquilizers that aided in keeping my extreme panic at bay prior to the surgery. I was drugged to the eye teeth and every fiber in my being fought against getting sick in the car.
I’d never felt so ill, or so scared, in my life. As the snow swirled around us, my husband put a comforting arm around my shoulders as he carefully navigated the car with one hand.
I was very lucky. The cancer was caught early. It hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes and, as I found out later from the oncologist who proved to be an anchor during this surreal time, I would not need chemotherapy and my daily radiation treatments were to span over four weeks, instead of the usual six. Daily, with weekends off.
But I digress. When we finally made it home, my husband helped me totter inside and carefully helped me change into a nightgown and robe. I was limp and barely aware of my surroundings. The surreal-ness of it all!
Our four cats were so happy to see us. It had been a long day for them, too, and they wanted their dinner.
I made two stops that night. To the bathroom, where I saw that my complexion had taken on a strong blue tinge due to the injections of dye to check my lymph nodes. As I peered at my cerulean face in the mirror, I had to struggle to keep from sinking to the floor.
The second stop was the recliner in front of the TV in the family room. Gently, my husband helped ease me into it and I didn’t move — except for bathroom breaks — for what seemed like days. I had to sleep there, you see, so as not to roll over onto my stitches.
As soon as I settled into that chair, two of our cats never left my side, except, like me, to eat and hit their own “potty.” The other two visited, off and on, so as to reassure me that they, too, were concerned for my well-being.
For those of you who share your lives with a cat or dog or both, you’ll know how comforting that was. Andy, Pokey, Jolie and Dooley instinctively knew that something had happened to “Mommy.” Something not so good. I’m telling you their names because… well, because I think they deserve to be “heard.” And remembered.
During the long days and nights following, Pokey and Jolie, especially, burrowed into me as if their lives depended upon our shared body heat. My husband and I had adopted them together, many years ago, and they had a special connection.
Psychology Today makes a point that, as our social networks continue to dwindle, and one-on-one interaction with our fellow humans is increasingly limited, it is, more often than not, animals who are “healing the wounds of loneliness in our society.”
Studies have shown that just gazing into your pet’s eyes can lower your blood pressure.
Cats, in fact, have a special “blink” that they use when greeting other cats, as well as with their humans, to communicate affection. My husband and I practice that slow blink with our kitties all the time, and when they blink back, it’s such a kick, and such an expression of true, unconditional love.
As a lifelong animal lover and advocate, I have always been disturbed at the propensity for people to liken the criminal and/or psychotic element amongst us to “animals.” This is common, especially in movies. And you can bet, that when you watch a “family in peril” thriller, where said family has a pet — that pet will be the first to be dispatched by whatever menace the (lazy) screenwriter dreamed up. That’s my cue to change the channel. As a screenwriter myself, I would never incorporate such a scene into my scripts.
How can anyone hurt an animal? Can someone explain this to me? Lest you are thinking, “Well, children are abused all the time,” I want to stress that I understand this and it’s abhorrent, but the focus of this story is animals.
As I am a member of the ASPCA, PETA, The North Shore Animal League, and a contributor to other animal rights efforts, every day, a new atrocity crosses my inbox and I’ve come to the point where I simply cannot look at them anymore. Animals that are tortured, abandoned, left out in the cold to starve to death. Monsters do this. Not animals. Sick twists who I could cheerfully dispatch (in a horrible fashion) and then have a hearty meal, after.
If that makes me sound crazy, so be it. But animal abuse brings out the militant in me. Years ago, there was an underground animal rights group called the Animal Liberation Front. I read about them in the Chicago Reader. The members of the ALF would risk everything to free dogs, rabbits, monkeys — anything with fur or feathers — from ghastly medical experiments and other horrors. I thought they were wonderful and wonderfully brave. I wanted to be them. Maybe, in another life.
Although I talk a lot about cats, as my husband and I have shared our lives with them for over thirty years, I love all animals: Dogs, cats, squirrels — you name it. In fact, I feed “our” squirrels. They especially love honey-roasted peanuts. I think the neighbor across the fence hates us for this. He has a bird-feeder in his yard that he never fills and is obsessive about his lawn. He walks around with a bucket and a stick, staring at the ground. God only knows what he’s looking to poke.
Pokey and Jolie. They’re gone now. As is Andy. And I miss them every day. The loss of a beloved pet, who has steadfastly showered you with pure, unadulterated love for a good part of your life, is like a knife to the heart, that never fully heals. Certainly, many of you understand this. But, continuing that legacy of love by sharing it with another deserving animal is what sustains us.
Dooley is still here. And he loves to mix it up with our other two rescues, Conor and Lorna. Which brings me to this: People, if you are considering bringing a pet into your home and heart, please visit your local shelter and adopt— don’t shop. There are so many animals in need and the returns will be greater than you ever imagined.
Our cats helped me heal. They continue to do that, every day, as I struggle with job loss, an up and down screenwriting career and well, life, in general. And, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t love them anymore if I gave birth to them. And that’s the God’s truth.
As always, thank you for reading.