Wild & Precious Life – End of Winter/Start of Spring 2021

January descended upon the Finger Lakes with heavy snow. One snowstorm followed another, although we truthfully didn’t get many. The temperatures remained low, and the snow remained on the ground. Too high for play, we stayed indoors.

When I look at the past few months, I find myself at a loss for words. How do I sum up those days that just recently passed? They seem to have blended in the way they do during a pandemic–at least this is how I’ve learned time passes during this odd time. Each day is much like the other with little variance and only major events truly stick out.

February was the most active month in terms of activity and celebration. We celebrated the halfway point between the start and end of winter with treats, then celebrated again when Valentine’s Day arrived. Bruce proposed on February 13 way back when, and every February since we have celebrated Valentine’s Day on the 13th by means of getting sushi–our Valentine’s Day meal of choice. Restaurants are a lot less hectic on the 13 and it seems to be a little less of a rush.

By the 22, we celebrated Ryland’s 2nd birthday. I made a box cake with homemade icing and we set up our phones to record and share on Facetime Ryland’s first attempt at blowing out candles on a cake. While it was unfortunate we could not all be together, in many ways we had more people “present” than for his first birthday. The distance and inability to see each other has caused us to be more considerate of ways to include one another even when we can’t physically be there, and so I am grateful all of his aunts and uncle were able to partake in this birthday.

Ryland blew out his two candles like a champ and devoured his cake in record time.

March brought the first hints of spring. We had snow and cold and rain, but many days of sunshine and warmth. As the earth struggled between its winter death and spring awakening, we were faced with something we had not suspected we would be faced with.

We noticed during the winter that our beloved cat Lily was looking a little worse for wear. She and her brother, litter mates, were to be 18 in 2021 and so we brushed it off. No cat is going to look perfectly healthy with glossy, youthful fur when they are 18 years old. But in March, Lily’s health suddenly took a turn for the worse.

We always called her our eternal kitten. She looked the part and was always full of energy. But suddenly she was sleeping more, suddenly she was more persistent to be under blankets and in warm spots than she had been previously, suddenly she wanted our undivided attention to the point where it became a nuisance as she would jump on tables or laptops during important calls. The week prior to St. Patrick’s Day, she began to leak a foul smelling drool and after a few days without it improving, I asked for Bruce to set up a vet appointment.

My concern was that she had an infection in her mouth. In her 18 years, she only ever had tooth problems and no other health issues. The vet’s in our area are still adhering to COVID protocols and accepting pets in the parking lot to be taken in for private exams while the owners sat outside. The vet, upon us explaining what was going on, accepted her as a patient for the following morning. Friday, March 12.

We had not expected the vet to tell us that she was in the late stages of kidney failure. We had not expected the vet to allude that that weekend would likely be our last with her. It came as an utter, gut-wrenching shock and completely shifted all our plans for the coming days.

From March 12-15, we were on a death watch. For all the exuberance Lily had, it suddenly had depleted. She slept continuously, her desire for food and play had diminished, and we were heartbroken. She had chosen my reading chair in our study to sleep on, a place where she often joined me when I used the chair more frequently in our previous apartment. So we included the heated blanket and turned it on, giving her a warm place to sleep which she happily accepted, and we proceeded to spend every possible moment we could with her. Sitting beside the chair, petting her soft fur, whispering secrets and prayers and wishes to her as she slept.

By Monday when she was beginning to lose more strength and was easily losing her balance doing simple things, we knew it was time. We are deeply grateful that our area hosts a ton of vets who are willing to do at home euthanasia and found a doctor who was willing to come to our home the following day.

And so on Tuesday, March 16, Lily fell asleep for the final time on her warm little seat that she picked, with both Bruce and I petting and kissing her fur. She went quickly, in seconds rather than minutes. The heartache of this loss was, for me, all consuming. I have had a handful of cats in my life, but Lily was one of two that I felt deeply close to. While she was Bruce’s cat, she chose me when I came into his life. She was my shadow, my compatriot. She slept beside me every night through my pregnancy, would not let me go into the bathroom alone while I was pregnant either. When she grew deeply sick, I felt I was already morning her loss because she had suddenly stopped sleeping by us, and yet the night before she was put to sleep, she gathered enough strength to jump up on our bed and sleep between Bruce and I the entire night.

The morning of her death I had woken up and curled my arms around her little form. She purred while I pet her and buried my face against hers. We had done this so often and after the previous nights where she refused to come into our bedroom, I was and am, so deeply glad I was able to have this moment with her one final time.

St. Patrick’s Day followed her death and I mindlessly went about making the standard corned beef and cabbage meal for our family. The day after that, I was given my first dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine.

For all of the emotions that played out that week, I feel it is unsurprising when I say I cried when I was given the vaccine. My emotions were raw, my eyes swollen from the last week of crying, and to receive the first vaccine felt like a release. Finally I was taking a step forward back to normalcy, finally there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but also I had imagined this moment through the pandemic and always pictured myself knocked down by the vaccine and left to have a fever in bed while Lily laid beside me and now, suddenly, that picture had changed.

I have always had strong reactions to vaccines and the Pfizer vaccine was no different. With the first I had a migraine for days, sleepiness, nausea, and joint/muscle aches. With the second vaccine I also had swelling of my lymph nodes and a fever, while the previous reactions had returned with a vengeance. But, I’d do it all again to help provide a safety to Ryland who is too young to receive the vaccine himself.

It has been nearly a month since we lost Lily and at this point, Bruce and I are both gratefully fully vaccinated. The weather has shifted from the back and forth of snow and warmth to more consistently springy days. We had nearly two weeks of sunshine and temperatures 10-20 degrees above average which has coaxed the spring flowers and tiny leaves to come out of hybernation. Allergies have returned as well. We have spent as much time outside in this spring weather as we can and the rainy April days have chased us indoors to have welcomed days of rest.

Easter was bright and happy, Ryland was great at finding easter eggs and we played outside in bright spring light. We’ve taken walks and have played at the playground. I worked on embroidery projects during the last few months as well, going so far as to openly a shop to sell these embroideries and selling nearly all of them. There’s still one embroidery work for sale. When Lily passed, I took a pause from the shop as I wanted to focus on other crafts that were more personal for a moment. I completed my first temperature blanket (of three, the other two have yet to be started on), and began the baby blanket making that I have to do (so many babies are due this year! Four blankets to be made!), and lastly I started on a larger-scale embroidery of my dear little bean, Lily.

Until these projects that all have time stamps are complete, I am not doing other embroidery projects. But soon, perhaps. Soon I’ll start all over again.

And now with vaccines in arms and my county quickly rushing towards herd immunity, we are seeing a new shift in future plans. We still are being cautious, still following recommendations from our state and federal government bodies, but finally we have hope for more normalcy. Grandparents and relatives are hoping to visit, and I’ve signed up as an interested party in a toddler music class (done outside, socially distanced, on summer mornings or evenings, can you fathom how lovely that would be?) We have begun to consider my return to work but we also aren’t in a dead rush, as we are finding the joy of a curious toddler to be all consuming and the ability to explore our surroundings for the first time–truly–to be something we cannot quite pass up.

Going forward, we have plenty of outdoor plans for Ryland and I. We have grandparents visiting to give plenty of kisses to a busy little boy. I have my craft projects and other things I hope to achieve. We are, once again, attending the summer CSA at our farm. As each warm day dawns, I feel a burst of energy, and as the peepers sing in the evening as the light fades I think of our little Lily and how she would have sat beside me and purred away. Gosh, I miss her so much. But I’m grateful for the brightness of spring and feel, in some way, she waited to go on the cusp of this changing season because she knew the outdoors would draw me up and away from my sadness.

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