To Have A Friend Takes Time

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In a way, nobody sees a flower, really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time—like to have a friend takes time. ~ Georgia O’Keefe

It was the last bell, of the last day, of my last year of classroom teaching, and the last thing I expected was Finnegan.

Amidst the cheers, and hugs, and goodbyes, and promises to keep in touch, and the bustle of children hurrying into summer, in walked a parent with a basket full of kittens, fresh off the farm.

Her daughter excitedly took hold of the basket and carried it over to me. “Ms. O.! Look! Would you like one?”

I had two one-year-old puppies at home, Riley and Clancy, and two aged cats, Sally and Tess. I didn’t need a kitten, really, just then, but there he was, the tiniest, with the biggest paws. A great farm cat, built to hunt mice. Would he be happy confined in a home with two puppies and two old cats, the odd man out? It was already too late; I held him and he was mine. Finnegan. He was so small, but I saw him; he saw me; we became friends.

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He was such a mellow kitten, content to play alone, or to snuggle with his much older sisters, or to profess his love for Riley. He adjusted to all of us happily.

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 When he was quite young, he traveled with us to Atlanta to see my family; I can’t remember why, but I have a picture of him in my mother’s family room. He looks quite content, so it must have been a happy adventure for him.

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Finny and I created daily rituals: He developed an affinity for playing in sinks, so I would leave a trickle of water running in the bathroom sink every morning, where he could play, drink, and relax. He liked to grab me and comb my hair with his paw. He waited (in the sink) until I’d get out of the shower, stand on the counter, and grab at my head, wanting me to shake my wet hair over him. After more than 20 years together, Phillip no longer waits, excitedly or otherwise, for me to emerge from the shower (nor I for him, to be fair), so Finny’s daily, faithful, and eager anticipation of my 60-year-old self stepping blindly out of the shower was a kind of special comfort: I’m still here; still beloved!

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He loved to smooch, and he enjoyed sitting on my lap and bouncing while I sang “our song” to him:

Oh, Finnegan, again, again,
I’ll tell you that I love you;
Oh, Finnegan, again, again,
Please say you love me, too!

For a time, after Sally and Tessy died, he was our only cat, and a little lonely, but he adjusted yet again, and I think he began to think of himself as our third dog. He loved to escape out any open door—or window—and then run under the decks to roll in the sandy earth, ignoring my pleas for his return. I’d simply have to spend the next hour in vigil, waiting for him to be satiated with freedom, all his senses filled, before he’d grandly emerge, and always with a look that said, “What are you so excited about? You knew I’d come out.”

Eight years ago, we went to the Humane Shelter to find a sister for him, and came home with two brothers as well. Once more, Finnegan adjusted well to being the big brother, showing them the way to behave and belong. We started our Morning Party tradition, gathering in a circle, singing a song (of course), and celebrating the new day. Finny always sat on my left, my loyal helpmate.

He grew into a beautiful cat. His leonine look made him appear fierce, even threatening. Guests sometimes mistook his affect, and cuddled instead with the always-adorable Murphy, but I knew Finny’s deep affection, playfulness, and gentleness, as he knew mine.

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When Fergus followed me home one day a few years ago, Finny wasn’t certain this was such a great idea. He conferred with me quite often, initially, making sure I had enough love to go around. But he adjusted. By now he was The Boss, and once Fergus understood this, life sailed on, usually smoothly.

Last year, both Clancy and Riley died, and Finny’s grief was real and touching. His love for Riley had only deepened over the years. He sat at her place on the window seat, and took a long time adjusting to this loss. But he accepted the change, helping me accept it, too.

In October, I brought Malarky home. Finnegan retreated to my lap even more than usual, or to a quiet cat bed in the back bedroom. I worried about his energy level and mood, and tried to give him extra attention when I could. He tried to please me with his acceptance of Malarky, but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. I thought, with time, Finnegan would adjust as he always had.

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We noticed a more pronounced change in Finnegan’s energy and joy last month, and took him in for a check-up. The veterinarian found an abscess and thought some teeth would likely have to be removed. On March 15th, I took him in to the surgery early, then came home to clean, walk the pup, and continue the usual daily round.

I’d just started to make a little nest for Finny’s healing in the guest room, figuring I’d sleep with him for a couple nights, till he felt able to be up and around again. My phone rang, and I knew, as fast as I’d fallen in love with him, that something was wrong with my Finny. It was way too early for his surgery and recovery to be over.

Our doctor said an x-ray had revealed the abscess was, in fact, a tumor, and the cancer “very aggressive.” A few minutes later, I sat beside my Finnegan and whispered my goodbyes to him. And a half-hour after that, I was home again, without him. Forever.

Our partners and very close friends, but especially, our 4-legged companions see us when we are as we really are, when the phone is off, the internet unplugged, the doors closed, the curtains drawn. Our private face, our instinctive behaviors, our nakedness—they hear our prayers and laughter and tears; they know us better than the world ever could, our better natures and our demons. And they love us. That is true intimacy.

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What a relief it is to be as you are and (still) be loved. When they die, our beloveds take with them that relief we came to know in their presence. All those secrets shared, all those holy moments. Finnegan’s special gift to me had always been his sensitivity to my sadness; he knew when I was grieving and remained faithfully present. Without words, we had some of the deeper conversations of my life.

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I am grateful for memories, though they come with a fierce sting, initially. They begin to weave the stories of our loves back together and, in their way, allow them to continue.

I fell in love with Finnegan the moment I saw him, but, as O’Keefe says, a friend takes time. Finny and I created a 14-year relationship that was authentic and mutual. We gave each other our time and it gifted us in return, infusing both of our lives with light and love.

John Leonard wrote, “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” I miss my old friend, Finny. He blessed my life and enriched it profoundly. He taught me so many things, and I tried to be a good student but I’ve not yet mastered his ability to go with the flow.

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His brothers and sister are making peace with Finnegan’s absence. At times, Mulligan keens through the house, searching for Finny, but the energy is settling and who we are now as a family seems to be knitting back together.

Mostly.

I’m still adjusting.

Happy Birthday, Finny!

April 3, 2002 ~ March 15, 2016

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11 thoughts on “To Have A Friend Takes Time

  1. Oh My….It seems like you have had to say your good byes a lot in such a short span of time. Or it seems like it anyway. How much sorrow can a heart take? I guess quite a substantial amount thankfully. Somehow the cats, especially kittens, can grab your heart instantly and there is no being without them, so you bring them home. It is such a deep and uplifting time of happiness to begin that relationship with them, each of you getting to know the other so well. That relationship builds and expands in new ways as our affection and love grow deeper. Such joyous moments we will always remember. I can say I’m so sorry Kitty but that does not heal hurt. All I can do is say I care about you very much and it saddens me that you have to go through this heart break again.I can see Finny being placed in the flower gardens somewhere with a special plant chosen to bloom above him and you will do it will beauty and grace and tears. One day not too far off, somehow, somewhere, some way a spunky little four legged will appear in your life yet again and the cycle will continue. I wish you a lighter heart soon and may Finny’s spirit forever glide about your space….Hugs to you and much love….VK ❤
    P.S. Please give my thoughts to Phillip as I know his heart is empty as well…<3

    • Thank you or your kind words, Hollis. We expected these losses, of course, when we accepted each of these gifts into our lives, but the logical follow-through is a bit weighty.

      I do know the other kittens in Finnegan’s litter were not adopted and went back to the farm. I was later told that none of them made it through the first winter, which broke my heart, but also reminded me how different the life of a “farm cat” is. Very hard. So, I’m happy Finny blessed us with his life but also that we harbored him and offered all the love and protection we could for 14 years.

      As you so beautifully say, the cycle keeps turning, and keeps us engaged with life, which I think is why we’re here: to nurture and love, as you do so gently. Thank you.

  2. I had pets when I was a kid, and I was really sad when they passed away. So after that I told myself not to have pet anymore. There are things we cannot control in life. I am living with two of my sisters, and my younger sister has brought two cats home in the last three years. My girl friend also has two cats at her place. So sometime I have to deal with four cats at two homes. Cats have taught me so much about love, is a wonderful journey in life with them. I know too one day that I will be very sad as they will not stay with me forever. I think life is not only a journey, but many journeys and adventures with wonderful people and pets. I am really sorry for your lost, and I am sure Finny had a happy life with so much love from you! Thanks for the love story.

    • Thank you, qiquan, for your thoughtful words, and welcome to the Daily Round! I agree with you that the “uncontrolled” surprises of our lives are often the sources of great gifts. I like your idea that we have “many journeys and adventures” throughout life, too. And yes, this is most definitely a love story. 🙂

      It sounds like the women in your life, who I’m sure are a blessing, are also blessing you with cat companions. may your journeys with them be long and happy. 🙂

  3. This is such a touching, poignant beautiful post, how regal Finny looks, regal and magnificent, his personality shines through. How utterly heartbreaking too, I can see why parting with him has caused you both so much heartbreak, it’s truly awful when they go and I totally understand how you feel. Oh to be loved like that and to love….all those wonderful years he had, thank goodness you took him home, otherwise he would have had a short sad life on the farm. Bless you, if only all loved their four-legged friends as you do. So sorry for your loss, you have had a rough time of it recently. Sending you huge hugs and all my love.xxx

  4. Oh, thank you, Dina; I know you understand how utterly and deeply we can love our 4-leggeds. We’re doing OK. Our very good friend has had a time of it lately, so she and her pup are staying at Full Moon for some recovery time and I am happily a caregiver and 2-dog-walker once again. Cozy and wonderful. Sending love your way, and gentle peace.

  5. I had tears reading this. The photos are gems. I loved them all especially the one of Finny rubbing his head against Riley’s. And the one of him lying inside the sink! The daily rituals that made up his world. I know you gave him the world Kitty. Even as he surely gave you his. I’m sitting here soaking in the love that you shared with beautiful, mellow Finny. Your friendship touched me. Even in writing this, even in sharing the sadness that you must be feeling my dear friend, you imparted something so beautifully precious to me this morning. Something so wholesome and good. For the love between you two fortifies my heart. I send you my love and hugs. Thank you so much for writing this. Sharon

  6. Love between humans and animals is special and precious, and the loss is felt just as much as if it were a person. As the tears are rolling down my face, may god bless you and your family.

  7. Thank you, Karen; how kind of you to take time to write and to affirm our love for Finnegan…your empathy means so very much.
    Gentle peace to you,
    Kitty

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