On Love and Loss, and the Gifts that can’t be Taken
All of us have good times and bad, though we may try to hide the fact. It’s the same with families; sometimes we thrive, and sometimes we struggle. There are times, of course, when the struggles seem great and long. In desperation, we find ourselves beseeching the heavens for relief: then, it is up to us to recognize those much needed gifts when they come our way, even when they take forms we hadn’t dreamed of, and even when they lead ultimately to the mythical Rainbow Bridge.
Nearly 13 years ago, our family was going through such a time. Each of our 3 children felt they were sitting on the edge of a personal precipice. The issues they were dealing with were difficult and ongoing, so that they doubted their abilities to cope. It was a very trying time, and for us, as parents, so often we felt helpless. We needed to stay together, that was for sure. But we needed a little more cement than we currently had.
One thing that occurred to me then was that we had been pet free for several years. We had needed a break, as you so often do after long goodbyes to beloved animals. But now, I could see that we were ready to go back in. And so, one day in group discussion, I let my Gr. 5 class, a lively group of country living ten year olds, know that we were in the market for a kitten; did anyone know of any? A little girl named Victoria shot her hand in the air. “Mrs. Oliver,” she beseeched, “there are kittens living at a house in my neighborhood. There’s no mother there! You have to take some. The boys are mean!”
I assured Victoria that I was interested, and low and behold, a day or two later, her good hearted mother arrived after school with a box filled with adorable kittens. There were at least 6, as I remember, and most of them were gorgeously long haired and charming. But I had been clear in my wants: a male, short haired, marmalade colored.
There was one suitable candidate. And even though I could see that he lacked the more obvious charms of his siblings, he was very cute. I stuck with my original choice. I found a tiny basket and put cozy fabric into the bottom of it. I took my little candidate, and placed him in the basket, and then into a box. He began to mew in great distress.
While I was doing all of this, my student, her mother and the other kittens departed. We didn’t observe this parting, and I thought about it afterwards. How easily we sever these bonds, and never give it another thought. What is it like for these creatures, I wondered often, after the fact.
Still, we were ready to begin a new life, but not before we made a trip to the vet. There was no way that this little monkey would be bringing fleas with him, from his ‘motherless’ home.
The drive to the vet was not a peaceful one, I’m afraid. The poor little fellow was very distressed about this new turn of events. I felt from the get go that he had seen more than his fair share of unpredictable, frightening behavior; was this going to be more of the same? He mewed and mewed, in the loudest little voice, so much more than one would assume his little body could deliver. Nonetheless, we proceeded, and arrived at our destination. I left the tiny boy safely at the bottom of his box, while I went in for the quick purchase. I was fully prepared for the cacophony to continue on our ride home. I was delightfully surprised, then, to open the car door and hear a quiet little kitten. I peaked into his box, and there he was. Snuggled up in the softness, he was peacefully quiet, and I thought to myself, ‘You thought the worst was coming, and it didn’t. This is something new for you, and thank heaven, you’re still open to it.’
I can’t even describe, really, the looks and expressions of absolute delight that came when I introduced this tiny stranger to my 3 struggling kids. He charmed them instantly. And while they would all take turns playing with and loving him, it was the eldest who took the basket in her finger tips, fell instantly in love, and became the new mama to the kitten who would become our Alfredo.
Of course, a baby animal is all encompassing, and Alfredo was perfect for us. He was such an active little monkey, and was almost literally tireless in his play. But at night, he slept between James and I. And I have to say, a more adorable little face to gaze upon in the middle of the night, I cannot imagine. He was a sweet little one, and we were all very content.
That is why, of course, things could not ‘just be left as they were’. Something was still missing. This was news to me, I have to say. I was feeling quite perfectly contented, as I made my way home on a fabulous late spring day about 2 weeks later. I drove up to the top of our long mountain driveway, and noticed a little gang of 3 waiting there for me. James was about to head off to work, having just retrieved the boys from school. Mike was leaning against his bike, next to his dad’s car, and Tom was throwing his opinion in for good measure. ‘She’ll never let you do it,’ I heard him say to his brother. ‘I don’t think so either,’ added James, corroborating Tom’s thoughts. ‘What??’ I asked in exasperation. If there’s anything that can get me going, it’s people who think they can read my mind.
And that is when I noticed him. Carried close to Mike’s chest, in the hand that wasn’t guiding the bike, I could just make him out. A tiny but filthy black and white fur ball was mewing his opinion in a much smaller and higher voice than the one that came out of Alfredo. It was, indeed, another kitten. And whereas Alfredo in all his tiny-ness resembled a miniature Serengeti lion, this new kitten was nothing like that. He was a panda bear. The most miniscule panda bear you ever saw, but, oh my… I could feel my heart melting uncontrollably. For that little kitten, (and to this day, I feel like a betrayer saying so) was the cutest animal I had ever seen..oh, my.
‘Get him in the car,’ I heard myself saying. What the heck was I doing, and yet, what choice did I have? I was a puddle. ‘His name is Lucky!’ I heard Mike yelling through the open window, and I thought, ‘Yep. Probably right.’ And off we sped, back to the same parking lot, the same vet office, to get the same flea treatment, and a check up. We came out and I put the drops on the back of Lucky’s neck, and then I stared into his truly magical eyes. Not for the last time.
This moment was one we would often look back upon. For Lucky was to become not only a welcome brother to Alfredo, but one of the greatest gifts our family ever received. I have to tell you, however, that Lucky did not come gentle into our family. Here is his story.
James and the boys were driving home from school in the usual manner, coming along the lower mountain road and about to make their turn up, when they could see an oncoming vehicle. When it was fairly close to them, they saw to their horror that a small object was thrown from the open window. According to James, it rolled in the dust and came to a stop at the side of the road. Now, both James and Mike saw this clearly, and they were up front. James is definitely not one given to elaborating the facts or the small details. When he tells me something, I believe it. And so, I believed this. They pulled over and got out. Upon investigation, they found a small, dusty object – a living one! It was a tiny kitten, still alive, and miraculously unharmed, at least from what their eyes could determine.
But here is the rather shocking part of the story. They didn’t bring the kitten home! No. James assured Mike that someone in the adjacent mobile home park would surely fall for a tiny kitten, and take it in. They left it, safely away from the road, and up they came. James got ready for work, and Mike got straight on his bike (I hope I hear applause). Down he came and found the kitten just where they had left it. Unable to ride and carry the kitten at the same time, he snuggled Lucky into his chest and pushed his bike up the hill. And that is where I found them.
I wish this story had an ultimate happy ending, and actually, I guess maybe it does, albeit on another plane from ours entirely. The fact is that we had 12 very happy years with both of these guys. And when James and I moved from the mainland to the Island in 2012, they both came along with us. Here, they settled into what I believe were spectacularly happy years in their lives. Lucky especially was so in tune with nature and just adored the gardens. He spent as much time loving them and patrolling them as he possibly could, and at night, especially this past year, I would find him endlessly star gazing, and I would join him. Alfredo adapted readily and also really enjoyed the warm dry summers and cozy winters. We always felt that they completed our place here, and were charming mascots for our guests. You’ll be glad to hear that, in the past couple of years especially, Alfredo really rose to the occasion, being both a mascot and an ambassador for our B & B. He seemed really in tune with us, and always caught the vibe when new folks were coming. He prided himself on greeting them, and was really a charming guy, but never intrusive. Our guests loved him, as their children adored Lucky.
There is never a good time to lose your pets, and of course, we had hoped for several more years with them, but it was not to be. Too soon, they were taken from us. Lucky sadly passed away while we were far from home this late autumn. Of course, this was traumatizing and confusing for his brother, Alfredo. Sadly, despite his athleticism, and general good health, he passed away this week, from an undetected heart ailment.
And that brings us to the rainbow bridge.
God knows it’s a heartache for us to lose these beloved family members. Time will surely help to ease this, as well as all of our good memories of them. And I have to say that when we returned home yesterday, despite the shock of Alfredo’s loss, I did feel moments of absolute peace. They were together again. Each had crossed the bridge.
And so, despite it all, I will forever be grateful for that particular, long ago, answered prayer.