Tag Archives: death

Summer 2007

Two years ago, I was wading through a difficult summer of parental illness. This summer, I am doing the same. September will mark the second anniversary of my Dad’s passing. Two years is not a great temporal distance from such an event and I’m still keenly aware of the loss of his presence. Yesterday, someone mentioned a date and I burst into tears. It was the date of my father’s birthday. Such are the irrational reactions of the heart in grief.

Since May, my Mum has been in steady decline. A voice in my head keeps whispering, too soon, not ready for this. But these are things for which there are no options. Events unfurl. All we can do is react, be with, advocate for, be ready to let go. There are no predictions. No fixed date.

Anxiety is in my body. I have started waking at three a.m. in case the phone rings. In the morning, my neck is stiff with tension. I tend to eat badly or not at all. I tend not to want to do much of anything, to just wait for the news. But this serves no purpose. I try to rally my energies to useful activities, like housework and writing, but my heart isn’t in it. I force myself to do yoga and walk to release the tension. And I have promised myself that once a week I will do something relaxing, a massage, or a spa.

I visit regularly, but now she sleeps most hours, eats little, is mentally distracted. Conversation is sparse, me asking questions to which often no answers are forthcoming, or talking about my day, but she nods off after a few sentences. The phone is next to useless, causing confusion, often off the hook. My mother is unwinding, both mentally and physically. I am uncertain who she is becoming. There is little time to find out.

© Catherine Jenkins 2007

Summer 2006

It’s been a year since my last journal update. Where to start? As was apparent from my last entry, my Dad was failing. And yes, he did die, just after midnight on September 7th, 2005, after a lengthy, but painless, period of decline. There was nothing more that could be done medically and he communicated in many ways that he was ready to go, in fact, almost impatient the last few days.

I moved into the retirement home the last two weeks and am grateful for the support and many kindnesses of the owners, staff and residents. I was with him leading up to and during his passing, the most difficult and important moments of my life to date. And as exhausting and emotional as that was, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I felt I was where I needed to be. I am also grateful to my many friends, acquaintances and clients for their patient understanding, love and support, which in many cases came from unexpected quarters. If my faith in humanity ever needed any bolstering, it certainly got it. And losing my Dad wasn’t as catastrophic as I’d feared it might be (for that I’m grateful too); it made sense and felt somehow correct.

I took two weeks off to recover both from the loss and the physical strain. I don’t remember much about that period, except I spent most of it at home, doing what I needed to do for myself, whatever that happened to be. Nerves rubbed raw by circumstance, there were some harsh moments with siblings and my Mum, which was unfortunate, but not surprising. We were all at very different stages of grief, all handling it our own way, all sure our way of handling it was the correct way. And it was correct for each us, but not for each other. I found myself biting my tongue with family and needing to be alone even more than usual.

And then I went into workaholic mode, one of my methods of coping with extreme emotional stress. Even as I was doing it, I knew it was reactive, a socially acceptable method of avoidance. So I worked sixty to eighty hours a week for several months and by the spring, I knew enough time had passed that I could stop doing that.

In my Dad’s last weeks he was mentally in England a lot, the place he went to university and first worked and first married. It was obviously a quickening for him, a time of profound growth and change. One day last summer he said he “wanted out of this snake pit” a reference, I think, more to the situation than the actual accommodation. When I asked him where he’d rather be, he closed his eyes and said rather dreamily, “On the Thames on a Tuesday afternoon.” He wanted to be in England. So I made that happen as best I could.

I started planning the trip shortly after his death last fall and finally went in June. I travelled lightly, spending a week in London, staying in one of the residences of his old university, wandering around the Bloomsbury district he had wandered. I devoted Tuesday to the Thames, doing the London Eye, a riverboat tour and walking the embankment. On Wednesday, I took the tube to Ealing, found his old residence (no longer part of the university) and the church in which his friend had introduced him to Bach. I then continued to Kew Gardens and walked along the Thames path to Richmond. And there, on a quiet part of the river, surrounded by lush trees and grasses and birds, I scattered the small film canister of his ashes I’d been carrying with me throughout the trip.

And yes, I felt he was so close, even after the tangible remains had been combined with the waters and mud of that old river. I kept asking him for guidance, what I was to do with these ashes. I knew that the busy downtown London Thames on a windy, chilly afternoon wasn’t right. And I let him guide me to the right place, the place he’d intended. And when I reached it, I knew I wasn’t to go into Kew Gardens, but around it on the path. And when I reached the right place, I could feel him telling me that, pushing me to get on with it. And once I had, there was such a profound sense completion, of having done what I’d been asked to do, such a lifting of weight and grief and of things left undone. That’s stayed with me and now I feel I truly am moving forward again.

The trip to England continued with a driving tour through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. I’m proud to say I drove 734.4 miles on English “highways” without serious incident. I have to admit it was a challenging learning curve though. Driving on the left was the easiest part of it; getting used to such narrow roads with stone walls on either side and minimal road signage was much more challenging. But I saw everything I set out to see: Bath, Avebury, Stonehenge, Salisbury, Corfe Castle, Looe, Polpero, St. Michael’s Mount, Boswell, Tintagel, Clovelly, Glastonbury and Wells. I did lots of writing and took lots of photos. And although I never stopped for very long, I came home feeling relaxed, refreshed and regenerated.

Since coming home, I’ve also taken my annual trip to the Shaw Festival in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake. I saw two plays by G.B., Too True to be Good and Arms and the Man, both very timely vehicles with characters enmeshed in war; both typical Shaw plays, witty and intelligent, funny and pointed. Plays that make you think. I also saw Noel Coward’s Design For Living, a brilliant and honest consideration of a three-way relationship. It’s the sign of great writing when seventy years after the fact, it’s still relevant and all three of these plays are. I also saw High Society, which, after my afternoon wine tour, delivered an appropriate level of fun fluff. And I finally had an opportunity to sample some fruit wines (plum and blackberry), something I’ve wanted to try for years; I was not disappointed. So, another lovely trip.

Now that I’m back home for the rest of the summer (with the exception of short trips to the family cottage), I’m writing in earnest again. Well, not in earnest, because it’s a romantic comedy. I’m back working on the novelization of my screenplay Pairs & Artichoke Hearts and enjoying it immensely. An excerpt is posted on the Works in Progress page.

Wishing you a fun, relaxed summer to enjoy the company of those you love.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2006

May – June 2004

If you’re not interested in cats, or at least in pets, I suggest you stop reading now.

As some of you know, I’m a cat person. In my entire life, I think I’ve been sans feline company for a total of about three months. I’m the kind of person that while I’m walking along the street, cats will trot out to greet me. On occasion, they’ve sought me out when in need and I’ve rescued a few from short brutish feral lives.

I’ve also suffered some feline losses the last few years, as age or illness has taken its toll. Moon passed away in my arms at twenty-one-and-a-half. Charlie died rather unexpectedly of cancer when he was only ten. That’s left me with Skye, the last of my Peterborough brood, who for a couple of years was a single cat. He’s now twenty, blind and requires additional nursing, but he’s a happy boy, full of purrs and cuddles and with a hearty appetite that rarely fails him.

About a year ago, with the aid of my friend Lorena (a very serious and talented cat person), we rescued a cat who, through an unfortunate series of circumstances, had been left alone in the apartment across the hall from me. Dashiell, as she came to be known, was a lovely little cat, who was unfortunately easily frightened and consequently sometimes responded aggressively. (And yes, she was named for Dashiell Hammett, who’d also seen some of the darker side of humanity, but successfully turned it into something creative.) Things between Dash and Skye never really settled down. She teased him and he got upset. Over time, her behaviour was starting to tell on him, wearing him down. I thought Skye was on his way out. I had friends stopping by to check on him whenever I had to be away for a whole day. Then my household underwent an unexpected tragedy that has bloomed into a very positive outcome.

About a month and a half ago, I came home late one afternoon. Dashiell hesitated, but she did come and greet me, jumping onto the piano to say hello. I still didn’t have my jacket off, when she let out two very loud, pained screams, swooned, lost her balance and fell to the floor, where she continued to cry out, writhing in pain. I was shocked. I didn’t know what was happening, what to do. Then she stopped. There were a few twitches of whiskers. Then stillness. I felt, I listened. There was no heartbeat, no breathing. It seemed utterly impossible. This was an active seven year old cat, who’d been fine only a few seconds earlier and now she was dead.

Rarely have I felt at such a loss. I didn’t understand what had just happened and didn’t know what to do. I was conscious that I was in a state of shock and needed to do something. Reality check. I phoned two friends, left two messages. Sat with Dashiell’s body, waited for the phone to ring. Lorena called back first. In recollection, the message I left her was essentially a demand to tell me what the hell had just happened. Fortunately, she recognized that shock makes people say odd things, or perhaps reveals more primal traits. I needed an intellectual understanding of the event and she was able to supply that. She checked a few details and then told me it sounded like a heart attack. Apparently some cats have congenital heart problems and tend to die early from them… kind of like some people. Somehow having a rational explanation helped. My other friend, also a cat person, called back and explained he’d had a couple of cats go the same way. The sense that I was in The Twilight Zone was fading through a combination of rational understanding and caring conversation.

Although I’ve experienced a few sudden human and feline deaths, because they’re so out of the blue, there’s no expectation, no mental preparedness. There are substantial heapings of shock, anger and guilt to be gotten through before one can even begin to approach grief. When I can see death approaching, somehow it feels more natural, it’s easier to slide into grief. But as Neil Gaimen so aptly stated in the character of Death from The Sandman comics, “You get what everyone gets. You get a lifetime.” And that might be a second or it might be a century. Then you’re off to wherever… Heaven, the ether, Summerland. Somewhere light and safe and loving.

As with her namesake, Dashiell died during late middle age. Although I miss Dash and am sorry that her life was so short, there was an odd sort of completion to her death. She died the day the apartment across the hall was finally reoccupied.

The unexpected upside of Dashiell’s demise has been twofold. Firstly, Skye rallied. He’s rallied like I didn’t think possible! He’s more active, eating voraciously, has gained back the weight he’d lost and his fur’s looking better again. In short, he’s a happier guy because he’s not being harassed.

The second unexpected event took place about a week and a half ago. I got an e-mail from Lorena describing the circumstances of a cat she’d rescued. This cat had obviously been well loved until recently, when his owner was taken to hospital by ambulance, seemingly never to return. The landlord had emptied the apartment of everything including the cat, who’d been out on the street for three weeks and was having a rough go of it. Some of the neighbours were feeding him, but having not been raised feral, he was used to a much easier, less competitive lifestyle. Lorena had taken him home, where he was settling in, but was a little uneasy with her clowder of cats.

Without much coaxing, I adopted him, with the proviso that Skye would also have to approve. I didn’t want to subject him to any further torments. By the time I had this new cat in my building, I knew his name: Monte. And once you know a cat’s name, he’s yours. Although Monte’s only about two, he’s very laid back and non-confrontational. He’s curious about Skye, but doesn’t want to get into anything with him. Essentially they avoid each other, although even that’s beginning to break down. Skye sleeps at the head of my bed, Monte at the foot. Skye’s still purring, his appetite’s good and he’s become even more active and interested in exploring. Monte does his best to stay out of the way, although Skye, being blind, occasionally stumbles into him. They’re curious about each other, but it’s a very peaceable household.

As is written on a little framed picture my brother once gave me, “Home is where the cat is.” For me that’s certainly true. My home would feel very empty without a feline presence. I’m hoping to get them up to the cottage for a little change of scene and scent for a while this summer. (Not to mention that having a little eau de chat around the place helps keep the mice at bay.) I don’t know how much longer Skye will hang on—after all, he is twenty—but I’m glad Monte’s here now. He’s a wonderful addition to my little family and with his relaxed persona, I’m sure he’ll be around for a long time to come.

P.S. If you’re interested in adopting a feline, I urge you to select a shelter with a no-kill policy. Information on Toronto Cat Rescue and the Lakefield Animal Welfare Society can be found on my links page.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2004