About a month before this moment my neighbor had called me to tell me that she had a skinny cat in her yard that needed rescuing. We set up a trap but when the time came, the shy, terrified black cat came up to me with an incredible display of affection and trust so we didn't need to add to her trauma by using the trap - thank goodness. In fact let just let me scoop her up and take her home which I did. But I knew I could not keep her as I already had a full house, so since it was only going to be temporary, I kept her in a separate (but very nice ) part of the house till I could find her a good home, a forever home because it turned out, she had been abandoned and I made a vow to her that if it were in my power, this would never happen to her again.
Sadly, the dumping of unwanted animals, particularly cats happens a lot here. People see a good farm with lots of animals and they just abandon them thinking that the cats can fend for themselves and that the farmers will feed them. Farms are a tough place to live and getting dumped at one is no solution for a cat who formally lived a comfortable indoor life. This black female had been spayed and she was adorable. However, she had a hip deformity that made it difficult for her to walk and impossible for her to run. How she had managed to survive a month in the wilds was a miracle. I took her home and named her Zofie but didn't let myself get attached because I was sure that a good home for her would be found - and it did it turned out only the "good home" I had hoped for her was not the one I had imagined it would be.
And so it was 2 years ago that as I was feeding Zofie, taking care of her while waiting to find her new home I heard the bobcat attack Gracie. A few hours later, when I was at the vets office and Gracie slipped out of her mortal form, she told me very clearly, "Now let Zofie take my place". Who's going to argue with that? Yet I was reluctant. How could I possibly let this foundling into my home let alone into my heart after such a tragic loss?
After a slow and controlled introduction, Zofie did indeed find her "forever home", right here. Zofie had some wonderful times here and she had some difficult times. Without realizing it, I had held my heart rather closed to any more/new cats and thus to her. Losing Grace had been hard. I felt responsible. (I wasn't but still, guilt is a strange filter in life) I tried to love Zofie, but she was ungainly, had a habit of talking too much and was always getting underfoot. But she had something special... something it took me a long time to realize. She had the key to my locked heart.
Over the months of the last 2 years she managed to endear herself in countless ways. She was the best mouser in the tribe which astonished me because she could not move very fast at all. Except for her splayed hips and turned in toes she was sleek and soft and had an otter-like quality about her. She would wobble into a room and then dive at my feet and roll over and wiggle and squiggle till I patted her exposed belly which only made her wiggle more. She'd sit at my feet or behind my back in the ample office chair while I worked endlessly at my computer processing my images. In winter that was a real bonus. And in the rare moments when I'd sit down on the couch, she'd be the first to jump up to get cuddled. She was sweetness itself and over time she wiggled her way into my heart after all.
She charmed her way with the other tribe members as well. Even the Alpha male took a reluctant shine to her in that he would follow her and protect her whenever they were outdoors (which only happened if I was there too, given our history with predators). It took me awhile to realize what was going on when I'd watch him follow her everywhere, but always at a discrete distance and then I realized it: he was her Champion and Guardian because she was so vulnerable out in the woods. She loved stretching out on the warm hearthstones when it was wintertime and the woodstove was going and eventually they all would end up there at the end of the day in winter. Her joy at the simple things in life was palpable. And in spite of myself I grew to love her.
I had noticed over the past few weeks that she seemed to be losing some weight. It also took me awhile to realize that she wasn't eating well. I tried a few of the normal home-style interventions but she just seemed to have lost her sparkle. A trip to the vet on Thursday confirmed it. She had diabetes and I had no clue. Not only that but she was in an advanced stage of the disease. The vet seemed to indicate that this may not go well. I decided I wanted to give her the chance to get better. I started treatment right away...but a part of me always knew that this might be her exit strategy. She never rallied.
We had 4 gloriously loving days. She faded quickly, but with dignity and gentleness as was her way in all things. In these four days my heart realized how much in fact I did love her. She gave me time to review our short 2 years together. She gave me time to ask forgiveness for all the moments (and there were a lot of them) when I fell short and ignored her or didn't pay her enough attention. She gave me time to lavish her with love...and as my heart broke open with the fullness of how she loved me: unconditionally and unequivocally I cried bucket and buckets...for how could it be that only now, in the hours of her departure could I finally see what an incredible gift her Presence was ?
She transitioned out of her body just a few hours ago and my heart is heavy with the loss. I will be forever grateful for her gentle ways and her unabashed sweetness. I am also now more aware of some changes I can make here so that none of the other members of the tribe will fall to this illness as it is relatively easy to prevent with changes in diet. Her gift to her tribe will be extended lives, I'm sure. She also gave me the gift of realizing that I need to take more pictures of the things that matter to me, and not just save my camera for work photography. Astonishingly, I have discovered that I have very few photos of family and friends in my archives from the last 2 years. I kept thinking I had time. I could do it later. Later has come and gone for Zofie and me. I must take this lesson to heart and make more room in my life for love...in whatever shape it takes and I want to document these important milestones and characters by taking more pictures.
Tomorrow I will find a place in the earth suitable to receive such a precious gift. Her bones and her silky black fur will disperse back into the very same earth that gives shape and sustenance to all our bodies. She was a Master of transformation...she took my iced-over heart and opened it with the gentle perseverance of an infinite spring. She was a gift of pure sweetness and love. One I will treasure always.
Blessed Be Zofie. May you always be remembered for the incredible being you are.
In better days she enjoyed watching the local wildlife:
What I regret most is how much I didn't get just how special she was until she became very ill. I now regret how often I would not stop to give her love because I thought "well, she's got a good enough homelife with us now, I don't have to do any more for her" or something to this effect... always justifying my shortfalls with some excuse that kept me from seeing things more clearly and acting with more integrity. This is really hard to see in myself. I like to think of myself as very loving and caring (and I am)...but I fell short with Zofie a lot and she didn't deserve that. But, that said I also DID love her a lot. And recently, this summer especially we had some really nice moments of shared joy. I'm just so sad that I didn't read her subtle signs that something was wrong so I could have treated her illness sooner...she might still be with us if I had not been so self-absorbed and this too I regret deeply. She was the most needy of the tribe and I don't do so well with neediness. But no one is perfect and I have to accept the flaws that I see in myself now that Zofie's PURE unconditional love has made them apparent. A bittersweet gift that I value immensely.