Holding on–letting go

IMG_0226Early in the morning. I’m sitting on the couch. Raven, the cat, is prowling around, hoping for space in my lap. She’s an old girl—she was 10 when I adopted her from the shelter in January 2011. So far she’s been healthy but recent bloodwork indicates her kidneys are starting to deteriorate. She’s lost some weight, seems to be drinking more water. Other than that, she’s her usual self.

But I know what might be coming—I’ve been here before with other cats, most recently my cat Sam who died in 2009. When the vet called to tell me the results of Raven’s blood tests, I told her about my experience with Sam—the nine month passage from mildly elevated blood values to a very sick cat and euthanasia. She reassured me that not all cats go that route; some live comfortable lives with chronic disease. Perhaps.

This is the bargain we make when we adopt these animals—that we will love them, care for them—and usher them through their last days, leaving us with holes in our lives.

Raven has been sitting on the dining table, gazing out at the backyard, which is slowly getting light on this next-to-last day of daylight savings time. She now makes the leap from the table to the arm of the couch and bulldozes her way onto my lap—I’m typing now at a slant with the laptop off to one side. Ergonomics be damned when a cat wants to rent space in your lap.

Bringing animals into our lives, opening our hearts to them, forces us to confront the duality of loving well and letting go. We rehearse this over and over, with each furry death. I know I’ll have difficult decisions ahead—when to treat and to what extent, whether to administer sub Q fluids, when to end it. Cats are stoic creatures; by the time they let us see their pain, they’re usually suffering.

In 2009-2010 I had to make that decision for 3 cats. Albert was first—acute kidney failure and a trip to the emergency vet hospital that resulted in his euthanasia. Then a few months later, I had Sam put to sleep after his chronic kidney disease grew severe. Indigo, the oldest of the three, lived for another year of declining abilities, aching joints, and a wonky heart. Each death taught me something about what to look for, when to treat, when to let go, how to keep the animal’s needs foremost, put their welfare above my own need to hold on.

Raven has abandoned my lap—this is often the routine, she nestles in for a time and then leaves for more important feline business—a daily ritual of attachment and letting go. The sky is light now. and I need to start my day. 

New Harbor and Pemaquid

 My sister and I spent the week of September 12 – 19 at Thompson Cottages in New Harbor, Maine. When we turned off Route 1 and drove down the hill into Damariscotta and then headed down the peninsula to New Harbor, I felt like I was coming home. This is a bit odd since this was a vacation destination for my family rather than a permanent home but it’s a place with many layers of connection and history for me as it was for my parents. My mother’s faimagemily spent summers near Boothbay, at the end of a neighboring peninsula, and she and her siblings came regularly to Pemaquid. I have pictures of her with her brother and later with my dad and friends picnicking and playing on the rocks.

Every time I make this trip, memories ride along—my first visit with my parents after a long drive east from Ohio when I was 9 or 10, subsequent visits with parents in my late teens and throughout my 20s when they owned a cottage for a few years and then came for extended summer/fall stays in various rentals and I’d come for regular weekend visits from my Massachusetts home. In more recent years, I’ve come up every few years, sometimes alone; sometimes with friends or, as in this vacation, with my sister.

My sister and I rented one of the Thompson’s Back Cove cottages, which was wonderfully private and quiet, especially at this low season time. One of the best features of the cottage, which was overall a comfortable home away from home, was the screened porch that overlooked the cove.

I got up early every morning, made the coffee, then wandered out to thIMG_0410e porch, where I read, watched the birds, wrote a bit in a journal. Later in the day, B and I sat there together, after whatever adventures the day had taken us on. We’d watch the light glow on the trees across the cove and then slowly diminish. Unidentified birds swooped and chittered, crows called loudly, a blue heron waded by daily. (We wished we’d brought binoculars and a bird book!)

Five miles further along, down at the end of the peninsula, is Pemaquid Point, a big pile of rocks spilling into the sea, a lighthouse, a small cafe.

Pemaquid has long had power for me. I remember sitting for long stretches huddled against a sheltering pile of rocks, shutting out the sounds of other visitors and letting myself sink into the crash of imagewaves and the smell of salt and seaweed. I came there one evening when I was in my 20s and caught up in some sort of tumult—there was a full moon and a high tide—magic, an easing of spirit. I came again the spring that my dad died and 10 years later, the summer my mom died, needing the touchstone of a place that has echoes back in family history, remembering childhood picnics on the rocks and imagining my parents there in their younger, newly married days

And I still gravitate there. If I’m in Maine, I make sure to stop at Pemaquid even if it’s not my primary destination.On this trip I made daily pilgrimages to the point, trying to reconnect with that power. And it was beautiful and the waves crashed and the air smelled of brine but the power was diminished. I suspect it’s partly because I’m more cautious than I used to be about clambering around on the rocks and so I felt more distant, a viewer from afar.

But I think it also says something about being in a calmer, more reflective time of life. What held power for me on this trip was the cove. The stillness, the light, the heron wading, the light. That’s the stillness I look for when I meditate, when I sit to write, when I sit with morning coffee looking out at the garden, not thinking, just being.

Monkey mind dancing

Azalea, anemone, andromeda. The garden is much on my mind. Lee and Tom were at my place earlier this week. We began talking about downsizing. The first step is taken. Lee pruned. I’ve been raking. Much of my drive time this week has been filled with garden thoughts. Maybe I’ll buy pansies this weekend.


I just signed up for an online course. I get an email newsletter, a marketing thing left over from a conference I attended on learning and the brain. The email newsletter is out of Berkeley and is about the science of happiness. I skim it and sometimes something catches my eye. (I haven’t unsubscribed.) What caught my eye in this most recent issue is this online course–self guided–free–about happiness–research, strategies. I’m skeptical but curious. I wonder about happiness as a goal. Is this a good thing, a desirable goal? my cynical side asks.


My mind feels cluttered–the book I’m working on for my job, the garden plans, house repairs that need to be done, changes I might make to my diet to get through allergy season, summer plans with friends, ways I could budget both time and money better. I sit to meditate and my mind spins and leaps and jumps–monkey mind leaping and jiving, monkey mind on steroids. Soon I decide enough and push stop on the timer even though only 10 minutes have passed.


I heard coyotes last night as I snuggled into bed, thankful the cat likes to be an indoor cat and was snuggled next to me. Last winter I heard a great horned owl several nights–or maybe two of them calling to each other. Wild suburbia.