Mid-August did not taste good at Tabby’s Place.
Loss upon loss upon pummeling loss left a sour note of unfinished business.
We’d hardly licked our wounds from the deaths of Phillippa and McNulty — as if such wounds can really close — when the cruel cascade began.
One damp morning, sweetness arrived in the form of fragile, finger-sized Hamilton. Born with the most severe case of hydrocephalus our vet team had ever seen (which is saying a lot), Hamilton was between two and four weeks of age — impossible to tell given his perhaps-too-tiny size. Young, scrappy and hungry, he readily earned his heroic name, and we were not throwing away any shot at giving him a long(er) life.
Foster mom Danielle was a veritable hurricane of hope, nurturing Ham hour by hour. But it’s ultimately not in our power who lives and who dies, and so Hamilton’s story closed scarcely before it had begun.
Sweetness stolen, life left unfinished.
Life never waits for sorrow to yield at Tabby’s Place, and before the grief got out of our lungs, we were again called to extraordinary measures for an exquisite soul. Scooby was so sweet, so young, so new, he made our Kitten Room look like a senior center. He’d been born to a stray mother who inadvertently injured Scooby’s legs while nipping his umbilical cord. Scoob developed a vicious, fast-moving infection, and his own mother turned away. That’s where we entered the story.
Karina was called to be Scooby’s foster mom, and if love could have broken death’s hold, he would have lived an eon. This was not to be; Scooby sighed his last in his sleep, and again we tasted the terrible theft of sweet, sacred life.
Love demands a stamina we can’t summon up on our own. Even as the ache swept Tabby’s Place, we were fed from beyond ourselves, teaspooned out provisions that were just enough — but enough — to go on. We would need them in the days ahead.
Days of delicate health gave way to weakness and weariness and worried looks between Denise and Dr. C in the Lounge. Zencada, the candy-colored phenomenon far bigger than her body even in her most bodacious days, was faltering. Effervescent, exuberant, friendly almost to a fault, Zen was the kind of cat who made you forget both your troubles and hers. So, despite “knowing” that she had diabetes, heart disease, renal insufficiency, and mysterious neurological symptoms, we did not “know” that Zen could possibly die.
She was too sweet.
Again, grief gobbled what felt like our last morsels.
And still, the cascade wasn’t done.
Biscotti was named for a relatively plain cookie. Elderly and easing into life in one of our smaller rooms, she didn’t shout her stuff like a rainbow-sprinkled, glaze-spackled donut. Hers was a richer sweetness, nourishing and nurturing and real, Italian-grandma style.
And so her loss, hours after her first symptoms, was a lance through every heart at Tabby’s Place.
Some days, some weeks, it feels as though we bear too many stories. Sagging at the spines, our books are scrawled with sagas that seem unfinished, sweetness and splendor with verses left unsung. Young or old, new or long-loved, the end comes too soon for the cats we cherish, and we’re left gasping, starving, wondering how goodbye “got us” yet again, wondering how we’ll get back to getting on this time.
And then provision comes.
Ready or not, we’re fed — even when our sustenance has to be syringed down our screaming throats. (Grieving, stubborn humanbeans have much in common with confused newborn kittens, minus the cuteness.)
We’re held, even against our own kicking.
We’re given what we need, what we could never conjure up on our own steam.
We’re meted out the mercy that is the coin of some realm not our own, grace and grit and generous love to keep going, keep going, keep going.
The song is left unfinished. But someday, every voice will join in notes we can scarcely taste today. Until then, the sweetness calls us on, and on, and on.