Dear Sweet Readers,
After our last dog, Rosie the yellow lab, died a few years ago, a cat named Mitch leaped into my lap as I was sitting on our log grieving. I remember thinking “is this cat bringing me a message from Rosie?” “Where did this cat come from?” He has tags so he must belong to someone.
About a week later, I found out he's the neighborhood's cat. Apparently the neighbors down the end of the block don't want Mitch. The neighbors relative left the cat when he moved away, and they just didn't have the heart to put him down
Mitch is a Maine Coon cat and he walks around the hood like a lion. He has one green eye, the other blue. Once a year, when my relatives, Jeannie and Lori, come to visit, they seem to have the knack for getting all his matting and
burrs out. Mitch has incredible boundaries. We can scratch him on the head or the ears. We can stroke his spine. If we come near his belly, even though he's always lying on the bed belly up, like an invitation – he'll attack. If he doesn't want to go outside when we think it's time for him to go, he plants himself deep into the chair and he hisses and gives very dirty looks as we head him out the door. We have to use a walking stick to nudge him out. He likes to rub against our legs but this is NOT an invitation to lean down and pet him unless you want a few scratches.
For some time, I didn't want much to do with Mitch. I didn't want to get too attached and then end up with all the responsibility for Mitch. I protected my heart around Mitch. I also insisted that my husband make sure he didn't get too close either though this wasn't particularly successful.
Over time, I've come to see that the time-sharing of Mitch is just right for us. I like the feel of the neighborhood coming together for Mitch's sake. I've learned Mitch's ways and I don't get scratched very often. I appreciate and respect his boundaries. He knows that if every now and then, I inadvertently pet him in a place that he considers undesirable, and then he bites me, I will immediately toss him out. He seems to respect my “no biting” boundary as well. I am comforted when he comes inside in winter for the warmth.
When any of the 3 of my dogs died, there was quite a period where I felt I had also died. At least the part of me that so loved that dog, died. I still do mourn each of them, especially Grace, my beloved white golden retriever. This sweet grief is an acknowledgement of my love for them and it's okay with me if it stays with me this whole lifetime. This poem exemplifies my relationship with the dogs of my life.
“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.” ~Anonymous
Mitch role-models the more independent lifestyle my husband and I currently favor. He travels around and comes and goes as he likes and so do we. Both David and I are also more clear about the things we say “yes” to and the things we say “no” to. While we haven't bitten or scratched anyone “yet”, the “no's” can become quite feisty when needed.
When I see he's had another cat fight, I worry just a little. I've grown fond of Mitch but somehow I've managed to 'detach with love.' He's been a good teacher. By the way, it's not that I don't expect to mourn Mitch if his time of moving on in this world precedes mine, it's that he isn't a constant companion and he hasn't taken over my heart the way the dogs did. I'll be able to tolerate the loss more easily and my grief will be shared with the neighbors. I expect it'll be a simpler kind of grief. Mitch never became “my” cat and I am not his “person.” We both chose a more spacious relationship with plenty of room to come and go. And, if it turns out that my heart breaks when Mitch dies, that's okay, too.
Hey Mitch, thanks for being my teacher. I bow towards you and I love you. Perhaps he did have a message for me when Rosie died.
Thanks for listening,