Do’s and dont’s when addressing grief

Now that we’ve managed to muddle through Valentine’s Day for all of you happy Hallmark people, I’d like to get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I don’t normally “cheap out” on my posts but this recent article by David Pogue featured in The New York Times echoes many of the things I’ve been saying or felt these past few years.

What to Say (and What Not to Say) to Someone Whose Grieving.

Saint Prances

My sister sent me a text the other day that said she had a “cat question” for me.

I have earned the unofficial title of  “the widow lady who lives alone with her cats” much to my dismay, although I do love my little charges as evinced in the Joey on the Lam debacle I posted about this summer.

My sister Mary had never been big on pets.  We had an outdoor cat named Tiger growing up, and a dog Sandy later on, but she never gravitated towards having any of her own –   until recently.

She and her husband live in rural Tennessee where people are not so Lady Gaga over domestic animals.  A lot of Southern ne’er do wells abandon pets in her neighborhood as a matter of fact, cats in particular.  So there is a group of feral cats living near her house – likely in a neighbor’s barn or shed.  They come over for the food and water she and her husband leave out for them.  Slowly, one in particular has become a favorite whom she now calls Prances.

“Because she prances when she walks, and so it kind of fit,” she explained a few months ago when we were catching up on the phone.  I knew at that point we had her.  The “we” being the vast pet lovers society who understand the comfort given and unconditional love brought by four-legged creatures.  Prances will now come up on their front porch and get petted.  I have been after her to trap these cats and get them neutered for sometime, which was the subject of the call.

Her question for me had to do with housing Prances while in recovery from an impending operation to get fixed.  Her plan was to lure Prances to her porch and carefully place her in a borrowed pet carrier (ha!) and drive her to the vet.  They would house Prances in a spare bathroom for a few days while her stitches healed. “Should I put a litter box in the bathroom for her even though she has never used one?”

“Yes” was my answer.  They seem to instinctively know what it’s for, I explained.

I had my doubts that trapping Prances was going to be an easy task, and given Mary’s state of nervousness and anxious tone on the phone, so was she.  We were both cautiously optimistic though, you might say.

A few days later I received a text: “Mission aborted.  Prances got me good. Cancelled vet appointment.”

I admire my sister for trying to do the right thing.  But Prances was having none of it and had clawed her way to the ground and ran back into the woods.  I suggested Mary get a Havahart trap once a bit of time had passed to accomplish her heartfelt mission.  It’s how I finally got Joey back (and he knew me, the little minx!).

A part of me thinks her recent attachment to these feral cats may have a deeper meaning.  Mary had lost her teenaged granddaughter this past summer in a tragic car accident.  She still can’t talk about it, no surprise there.

She could not control that situation and can’t make that pain go away.  But she can help those around her.  She and her husband have long been known for their generous spirit and help to less fortunate folks in their rural part of the state and to many family members.  Watching out for the local feral cat population is a small gesture in a string of larger kindnesses.

And so time will have to pass before Prances regains the trust of her two-legged neighbors so they can complete a compassionate act that she will never appreciate.  Much more time will have to pass before Mary can talk about her granddaughter without choking up and going silent on the phone.  But I remain cautiously optimistic on both counts.




Motorcycle musings

I took to the open, albeit local roads last night for a little bike time sandwiched in between the latest bout of rain showers we’ve been experiencing here in New England.

Since a much earlier post about purchasing a motorcycle – my personal “fuck you” to my late husband (she said, with great fondness) I’ve gotten more comfortable riding and so am enjoying it more. You have to remain ever diligent, since you are incredibly exposed when on two wheels. However, I’m glad to say I’m no longer wearing my shoulders as earrings.

I keenly felt the bumps of the road as I unsuccessfully tried to avoid rolling over man-hole covers and sped across defunct railroad tracks. I took in the sweet smell of tobacco as I motored past open barns hung with the drying leaves of future cigar wrappers.

As a 14-year-old I had worked tobacco one summer sporadically with my best friend Anne. I say “sporadically” because it was grueling hard work, and so sometimes as we walked the mile or so to the farm to catch the bus to the fields, we talked ourselves out of going to work that day. Instead we’d thumb a ride to the neighboring, bucolic town of Somers, CT and spend the day meandering through the woods there.

I don’t know what it was about that town, except that it had a certain magical quality for me and my friends. It was “woodsier” than our town, and had a small but significant mountain for hiking with the reward of a fireman’s tower at the top.

I never guessed those many years ago that I would find myself once again traveling the same roads past the same silent barns. A whole lifetime it seemed, had passed between that time and this one. Anne and I had dreamt of renting a van after high school and traveling ‘cross country. It was not meant to be. I went away to college, and she went to work. In either case, she had found a boyfriend by that time and was ingrained in his life. I was awkwardly stumbling through the corridors of higher education, spending a fair amount of energy on beer and boys.

Anne and I continued to take different roads and have lost touch. Somers is still there. I decide to ride through some of the familiar back roads on my bike. Definitely more “neighborhoody” than woodsy, but it still has some magic left.