Fur babies

I had a very lazy morning today. We were woken up at before 7am, but I stayed in bed until about 10am. Dozing, wafting, whatever you want to call it, I was out of it today.

Waking up, WhatsApp said I had a notification from Mum. “Branston has just passed away, very peacefully on the floor by the bed.” As soon as I read it I rang home; stoic at first, then as I told her about my ‘phone call with Bec yesterday, I started weeping.

It’s not just about a cat, it never is. As Dad said just now when we talked on FaceTime, they do leave footprints on your heart. Cats choose you, if they don’t want to live with you or your family – they’ll toddle off and find someone else who suits them better.

Chief Brody chose us when we went to the cat rescue, yelling at us until we got him in the carrier and home. I am very much his human, but he sleeps on Archie’s bed most nights too. I chose Doctor Hooper from kittens needing homes at work, but his personality was too domineering to live with CB who is very skittish (as he was sixteen weeks old when we got him, we have no idea what his history was before he was left with the cat rescue). Doctor Hooper in the end was re-hoomed to live with Ruby, a friend’s daughter. His first night home with them, now renamed Taco, he slept in her room and has been an integral member of their family since.

Branston was one of two cats I’ve not re-homed from a shelter; I was on a wait list for kittens and thought I’d missed out on this particular litter. However, another lady who was going to choose two didn’t call back. So I got a phone call, “Can you come over today to choose your cats?” I didn’t hesitate and whizzed over. Branston and Pickle. Branston pure tortoiseshell and Pickle, one of those big, fat white cats with blobs of colour on. I wanted kittens because ex-husband was in the army in the UK and we would be likely to move around a lot. I wanted them to be resilient and come round with us.

We lived next door to a couple with Borzois, one day Donna asked us to keep the cats inside until she’d let the dogs out because they wouldn’t go into their garden as Branston was out there wanting to play with them. She was still a kitten, this teeny, tiny thing scaring dogs who stood level with my waist.

Pickle was a lot like Chief Brody, a bit skittish and more than a bit stupid too. She’d climb trees then couldn’t work out how to get down them. We moved house but she didn’t cope with it, she started weeing everywhere, in the end we surrendered her to a shelter where they’d already got a lady lined up who wanted an indoor, loving cat. I do wonder how she got on, and if she had a happy life?

Branston was cheeky as. She was so little when I got her she’d curl up in a six-egg carton to sleep. Then when she was too big, she’d push the cardboard around on the floor because it sounded good. I took them both to the vets for their initial check after they’d been home a week. They got given a treatment for worms, fleas and ticks. With gunk in her ears and eyes, and dribbling white medicine the look of indignation she gave me was one I can still see now.

I’d let them out in the morning, call them in before I’d left for work and quite often would miss the bus I’d want to catch because Branston would be off and away, running like a rocking horse up the alley behind the houses. But if I gave up on the game of getting her back in and leave her out, I’d be greeted with angry yells when I got home.

One days she came in and was ill, so sick after she’d vomited, she fell over sideways. Picking her up in a towel, we took her to the vet where she was put on a drip. For two days I was a mess, but she came home and was fine. We never did figure out what it was that caused it. When dickhead and I went to Cuba for a holiday, Dad moved in to the house for two weeks to look after them both as the cost for a cattery was more than our holiday. Branston and he bonded then, when dickhead and I separated, I went to live with Mon Bears, who had an indoor bunny. I asked if Aged Parents could have Branston for me until I sorted myself out.

By the time I had sorted myself out, Branston was definitely my Dad’s cat. She adored him, following him around the house. It was on his side of the bed she passed away today. When he was ill in hospital last year having surgery for bowel cancer, she would sit in the window and wonder where he was.

But for me, my overriding memory of this cat was her gregariousness. I’d never known another cat like her. Ex-husband’s brother was a mechanic, doing a mini-service on our car on a visit down to us, I sat on a picnic blanket talking to them both. Branston sat beside me, as a car drove past, she’d go back to the house, stand in the door way, then come back to sit beside me on the blanket. When you stayed with Mum and Dad, you’d wake up in the middle of the night for no reason, then see the cat looking at you, ‘Yow’.

The last few years of her life, she got a pet-passport and went camping with Aged Parents, she loved it. In and out the caravan all day long. She would appear on the table when I’d talk to Aged Ps over FaceTime. When I walked in the house in March this year, I called “Branston!” she came down the stairs and looked at me in disbelief then started singing with joy when she saw me.

If you’re thinking about buying an animal for your family for Christmas, think about the time investment it is, whether you really do want that cute fur-ball until the end. Think about what it will feel like at the end of their lives. Fifteen years Branston was with us, Pickle was with us for three. Fluffy (because she was), Beaky (another tortie who looked like an owl), Sooty (black all over) and Susie (black and white, occasionally black all over after she’d been asleep in the coal hole) were members of our family for between five to twelve years too.

I’d have them all over again, my life has been all the richer for them.

What I want for Mother’s Day

Hubs asked me in all seriousness earlier this week if there was anything I wanted this Sunday, stating that as I was running The Mother’s Day Classic 8km, which starts at 7:15 – I wasn’t going to get breakfast in bed.

I thought long and hard about it. I am actively reducing things in the house, most weeks there is a bag or a box of stuff being donated to charity. I’m trying not to buy anything unless we absolutely need it, Peanut got two pairs of shoes last weekend for example. I did a trip to Officeworks yesterday to get some notebooks for work and a restorative trip around the aisles, satisfying my stationery fetish. I treated myself to some things, and had a very pleasant lunch break.

I don’t want for anything, I don’t need anything so I said to Hubs, “Please don’t get me anything. If you want to spend any money, buy me something from my Kindle wish list”. We’re having lunch with my brother and sister in law, so memories will be made – that is more important to me than some piece of tat that I’m going to feel guilty getting rid of when I’m sick of it collecting dust.

So What I want for Mother’s Day is for everyone who has a mother to call them. Everyone who has lost a mother, to be called and everyone who wants to be a mother, to be called too. Tell people you love them, recognise that for a lot of people, tomorrow will be difficult – be gentle, considerate and kind.

Standing Room Only

If the measure of someone is their life celebration at a funeral home being filled to standing room only; then my colleague’s mother who passed away last week after a long illness, showed that she touched many, many people. The celebrant and family friend who delivered the eulogies were open and honest, sharing joy and sorrow with us, making us laugh and cry. I never met her, I was there to show support for my colleague, along with a large contingent of the office. We’d been supporting her during her mother’s illness, so it felt right to stand with her and the family to truly celebrate the life of someone who would send out a text message ‘Pop’ to her friends: champagne had been opened at her house, come over if you can.

I’m hopeless at funerals, I feel so much for the people at the front of the room. I can feel the tears welling up and running down my face freely. I know other people think I’m odd, particularly when I don’t know the person themselves, but I’m crying for the people that are left to make sense of the gaping hole that’s opened up in their lives. How much you love someone is reflected in how much it hurts when they’re not there with you. Watching my colleague and her brother start the whole ceremony off reading a poem together, my heart broke. They also shared pictures of her life, her family; one picture was of her hand with her three grandson’s clasping hers, I wept all over again.

Emotionally, spiritually, everyone is with us all the time – we carry little bits of each other around, always. Being able to hug and hold your nearest and dearest is a bonus no one should ever take for granted. Being so far away from my family is hard work, keeping in touch with them is easier now thanks to technology, but there are times when you just need to be with someone. There are lots of people in my life that are struggling at the moment, and I’m aware that I can’t always do much other than send them words. But when I can and if they want, I’ll hold them, let them know I’m here. They can lean on me.

I’m not sure why offering being someone to lean on is something I feel I need to do. Maybe it’s because when I go to funerals I know how it feels to be at the front, bewildered and lost, I would have given anything to have someone let me know I could lean on them. Three of my grandparents died before I was out of my teens, I’d just about made sense of my Nanny’s death, when my Granny died, then again, coming out of that, Grandad passed away. I know that my family was never the same after those few years, we’d gone from being a family unit to four people living in a house together. We lost our ability to talk, to share, to pull together.

I acted up and out, did things I’m ashamed of now. More than the usual teenage angst of ‘Look at me! See me!’ I was truly lost, swimming along on a wave of hormones and emotions, unable to articulate how I felt, because when I tried to speak, I was shut down, repeatedly. I tried to find my voice; I admitted to my parents I was jealous of my brother. I asked to not go swimming training as I had homework due. I spoke to teachers about being bullied. I spoke to teachers about wanting more work to do at school. Wanting more, but being given less. Through one person and another, I was taught that my voice didn’t matter. So I tried to make my life matter in other ways, getting into trouble so I was seen that way instead. I’m acutely aware that when you don’t pay enough attention to a child, they will make you pay attention, getting a pay-off by being shrieked at, is better than no pay-off at all. When I’m with Peanut, I try to be there completely, phone down. We will watch TV together, but we play and read ahead of that.

The repercussions of not being heard have been huge, I still struggle to find words to say how I feel. Goodness knows I can type voraciously, but ask me to speak my feelings, I clam up. Hubs has learned to be patient with me as I literally wrestle the words out of my psyche. Which is why Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art Of Asking, broke me open last month. I knew that had I read it as a teenager, my life would have been so very different. She saw me. I don’t know how to explain it any other way.

I continue to try to find the words to share how I feel. I know that Rufus will creep up on me if I don’t, I’m better than I was and this blog helps in more ways than one. But I also know that I heal a part of me every time I offer and try to help someone else heal a part of them. That’s why I cry at funerals, even when I’m leaning against the back wall.

It’s the little things

Sometime life knocks you sideways, you get a phone call and your world caves in, shattered by a few words.

Other times, out of the blue you’ll hear from someone who’s never really far from your thoughts, but you don’t see very often. Their few words leave you walking on air. Whizzing about the house this morning, my phone beeped and I got a message from a girl I worked with in London. My opposite PA number in the office, we valiantly battled deadlines, paper-shuffled with the best of them and I was so upset to be leaving her – I couldn’t speak at my farewell, I just went straight to the ugly cry. (I have a feeling I am going to cry writing this as well, yup I am).

I last saw her when I was pregnant with Peanut, we spent a lovely day with her and her now husband in the Yarra Valley, I paid for her to get up close and personal with a koala, we had a splendid lunch, visited wineries and finished the day with an ice cream in St Kilda. It still ranks as one of my best days in Australia, not because of what we did, which was lovely, but also because of who we were with. The piece of my heart which holds that memory so dearly is activated often when I’m having a rough time, it was simply a glorious day.

How do you tell someone you love them?

  • Straight out – I love you.
  • Obliquely – I think about you often.

Every time I drive down into the Yarra Valley, I can still hear the intake of breath they both gave at the stunning scenery. Every time I walk past the koala enclosure at Healesville Sanctuary, (which is often) the joy on her face is repeated in my minds eye.

Every time I see Bank on TV I think about our lightening fast shopping trips at lunch time. I see pictures of their baby girl and think about the weekend I spent in their house, one of the last sacred few before I left the UK. We sat in their garden and talked and talked and talked. She paid for me to have a massage, helped me dye my hair, I had breakfast with her mum who gave me a hug I still wear with pride.

The memories of this lady are long and deep. I love that we dip in and out of each other’s lives on social media, that someone invented something that means I can see her, her family. So I don’t feel so sodding far away from someone I love dearly and am so blessed to have met.

I read something this week, (I’m paraphrasing): When people keep trying to be in your life, they’re the ones to keep. I collectively refer to my close friends as ‘My Coven’, not only because I cackle a lot when I’m with anyone I care about, but also because most definitions will say ‘A collection of individuals with shared interests’. I do collect people around me easily, but the ones I hang on to also persist with me because they see something in me that I don’t always see in myself.

B, my darling girl, you made me cry this morning and I’m a blubbering mess at my keyboard at lunchtime typing this now. But those words you sent me today? Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Tell someone you’ve not talked to in a while how much they mean to you, I’ve been wrapped in a pink bubble of joy all day.