Salute for Sophie

Sophie’s backyard friends held the gathering I could not.

He wouldn’t have dared, if she was still with us. That was her spot.

She’d sit there in the evening, Mistress of All She Surveyed.

I think he misses her. He loved to bait and taunt her, and she loved to ignore him more often as she got older. He’s actually probably the child or grandchild of a previous rodent provocateur. But it’s game over, now.

The house, and the yard, have been very quiet since Sophie went. The scritching in the wall next to my desk, which drove me nuts for weeks, has stopped, with no corresponding smell that would indicate demise. Just a cessation of sound, signaling that whatever had been making it has finally chosen to vacate the premises.

The neighbor’s-from-two-streets-over cat, a wide ranging tabby, had taken up residence under our deck. This cat has been coming around for a few years, and looks exactly like a cat that showed up at my Mom’s house all the way on the other side of town shortly after Mom died, acting like she owned the place. Like we were supposed to open up and let her the hell into HER house. It could be the same cat, for all I know. The neighbors said she really gets around – had to chip her because she kept turning up so far afield.

I’ve found her on our roof from time to time, or up on the deck railing (also Sophie’s spot – where she’d come to the kitchen window to ask to be let back into the house.)

But a few days ago, that tabby came out from under the deck (better her than the former resident, a huge skunk, or the raccoons before that) and she hasn’t been back.

I  honestly think these creatures know that Sophie is gone, and are mourning her in their way.

As I was regarding that chipmunk, sitting where Sophie sat last Saturday evening, her last, as it turned out, I decided to take a picture rather than shoo him off the deck. He looked forlorn.

Just then, the hummingbird that my daughter had reported sighting several times appeared, closer to the house than the chipmunk, and lowered itself elegantly into the cupped petals of the tulips I had planted for Mike, so he’d have flowers to look at during his ceaseless rounds of dishwashing, before the kitchen was redone.

And here was that hummingbird, a symbol of Mike to me, sinking gently into those tulips, and of course zipping out and out of sight, when I tried to creep silently (not so silently, I guess) out of the house to get a closer look.

The chipmunk took off as soon as my footsteps sounded on the deck’s planks.

Somehow I found comfort in these creatures this morning.

It was as if they were paying their respects.

My daughter continues her daily, sighing expression, “I miss Dad,” now recited as, “I miss Dad and I miss Sophie.”

But a few days after we said goodbye to Sophie, she also said, for the first time in the nearly three years since Mike died,  “I went to the gathering for Dorothy Elaine (her grandmother.) I liked the gathering for Dorothy Elaine. When is a gathering for Dad?”

I dissolved. How was I going to explain to her that it was much too late for that? That, because of decisions Mike had made and because of how he had chosen to circumscribe his life, it was already too late for that a decade before we even knew he was sick?

There were four people at Mike’s burial – me, our daughter, our pastor and the hospice chaplain, who had quickly become Mike’s friend in the last week or two of his life, through a shared love of poetry, discovered in the first few minutes of their first conversation.

“Remember that beautiful day, sweetheart? The day we put the stone box with Daddy’s ashes into the ground at his gravesite? We read the poems, and you and I both chose beautiful flowers to leave for Dad? That was his gathering, sweetheart – there won’t be another one.”

And there won’t be one for Sophie, because I said no when the vet asked if we wanted the ashes. Didn’t think about processing time for her, to ask, and me, to decide. So too late for that, now, as well.

But I will tell her about the chipmunk, and the neighbor’s cat and the hummingbird, who seem to have organized a “gathering” of their own – one that seemed to me to be an acknowledgement of Sophie’s absence and a kind of farewell.

Didn’t sleep much last night, so we slept away today’s gloomy, grey, rainy, quiet, almost peaceful, morning.

So long, Soph.

With this final farewell to my feline friend, I remain, your struggling but starting to surface again,

Ridiculouswoman

Sophie’s Empty Sunny Spot

Sophie the Christmas Miracle Cat ran out of miracles on Mother’s Day morning, and we had to say goodbye.

There’s a special kind of loneliness in letting go of a pet you shared with a spouse who has died.

Sophie’s warm fur was a lingering, physical manifestation of specific memories of Mike – how she’d sit on his left leg, crossed ankle to knee over the other, so his left knee was elevated a bit; he’d stroke her as she settled herself there in the triangular cradle his legs made, to stare over that knee and watch the hockey game with him, intensely following the movement of the puck, as if it were a mouse she wanted to devour.

There was the time he called to me to come see how, as he lay on his bed reading, she had demanded his attention by arranging herself with her butt at his chin and her tail extended straight up his face.

Months after he was diagnosed, we remembered how, months before, she’d daintily walk up from her end of the couch to his, to lay lengthwise on his torso, facing him, gazing at him with concern. It was as if she knew before we did – as if she could sense the disease that lay beneath: as if she was trying to warn us, or commiserate, or tell him that she cared, or ask him if there was anything she could do. As if she was preparing to miss him.

Saturday afternoon, I bought 36 cans of cat food (coupon) and a new green jug of cat litter. Sunday morning I carried them back to the car, sobbing and streaming snot, trying to think of where I could donate them.

The cat bed – her too-small, clam-shaped tiny Hollywood bowl of a cat bed, coated with her fur, went straight to the garbage. I couldn’t look at it for another moment.

When night came, I was overcome with a loneliness so intense it nearly made me sick. Sophie was our substitute third “person” in this house, and now, it was genuinely, really only the two of us, here with far too much hollow space around us, especially in the darkness of the night.

I asked the vet to take Sophie, and not to bring us the ashes.

If Mike had been here to make that decision with me, would it have been the same?

Since Sunday morning, every time daughter sighs and says, “I miss Dad,” (which she has been saying daily for nearly three years, and probably will say daily for decades to come), she adds, “and I miss Sophie.”

I do too, sweetheart. I do too.

Maybe it wasn’t fair to tell her we’d get a sign from Sophie, to tell us she had found her sunny spot in heaven, with Dad. More abstraction for an autistic person to try to process.

Late Sunday night, in the midst of that nearly-sick-making smackdown of loneliness, I had a sudden impulse to start watching a cable comedy that I’m a few seasons behind on.

Halfway or so into the pilot episode, the Mom gets a phone call. It is brief and when it’s done, the daughter asks who it was.

“Sophie’s Dad.”

In the scene, the Mom didn’t want to talk to Sophie’s Dad, who seemed like an awfully nice guy in the few seconds he had on screen. If we think of Mike as Sophie’s Dad, I damn sure would want to talk to him. But maybe our Sophie was just doing the best she could, to find some available, if slightly awkward, way to send a signal through.

Monday evening, sitting on the twin chaises on the deck, enjoying the late afternoon sun and the green of the lawn and the birds swooshing around the yard, I noticed a grey bird landing on one of the neighbor’s fence posts, right across from us, looking at us.

It made a loud, meow-y kind of sound.

Is that a cat bird?

“Sophie? If that’s you, come to the bird bath!”

The bird flew closer, but was headed off by the male cardinal, protecting his turf.

I Googled for a YouTube video or recording of the call of a cat bird. Cornell’s library of bird sounds.

Yep, that was it, exactly.

I googled the territory of the grey cat bird. Cornell again.

Yep, could be here, this time of year.

Oh, Soph. Thanks for calling. Thanks for telling us, as daughter says, that “you have arrived at your destination.”

Now climb up on Dad’s lap and watch some hockey. We’ll be thinking of you both.

Sending love and gratitude to pets past Lucky, Buddy, Barbita, Rocky, Phantom and now Sophie too, I remain,

Your sobby, snot-smeared, Sophie-missing but certain she’s found her forever sunny spot,

Ridiculouswoman