Perhaps the Storm is Finally Over

My July anniversaries of births, adoptions and losses have passed, and now in August it is time once again to take those lessons and move forward with their knowledge.

I initially published this story on August 30, 2009, as a coda to the loss of Namir and all the other cats I’d lost at that time, looking back at the beginning of that cycle in 2005 when my household held a different group of cats, and musings on how connected my creative self is with these felines’ presence and activities in my life. Before I move on to new works and new ideas, I’d like to share it again.


pastel painting of a sprint sunrise

Spring Sunrise, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets 4: Little Gidding
, quoted from verse V


Hurricane Katrina, Namir, a household of cats and my personal creative inspiration

"Awakening", block print

"Awakening", block print

I remember the night Katrina was headed toward New Orleans, partly scoffing at the hyperactive media reports and partly worried that the storm of the century really was heading for the Gulf Coast and knowing that, if it did, many people, most people, would not take it seriously. For all the dire warnings, natural disasters rarely fulfill their potential so it’s easy to sit back and wait for a while, much easier to stay in the place where you feel the most safe and guard the things you hold most dear; just stay home. At the beginning, we can never know the final impact, or what the disaster will encompass.

And sometimes a public event marks a time or a circumstance in your life, in fact stands as a metaphor for your circumstances, even though it has no connection with you or your life at all; yet, whenever you encounter a remembrance of that event, it brings back that time in your life as if it was a slideshow playing for your review.

I don’t have a television. I heard about the storm on the radio and read about it on the internet, then visited The Weather Channel to actually look at the meteorology of it. I would naturally avoid all the hype of 24-hour news stations making a story out of possibly nothing in the slow news flow of late August.

The only reason I saw any television coverage was because it was on in the waiting room of the animal emergency hospital where I was waiting for the diagnosis of Namir’s sudden, frightening condition. I paced all night long between visits from the attending veterinarian as they x-rayed, blood tested and medicated Namir, then placed him in an oxygen cage. The veterinarian’s face was blank to grim, though no final word was given until nearly dawn.

Sophie, "The Perfect Camouflage"

Sophie, "The Perfect Camouflage"

I’d noticed that he wasn’t his goofy self for a few days, just subdued, then on that day he had begun crouching on the floor instead of sitting on my lap or my desk. I noticed his breathing was shallow, he wouldn’t eat dinner. He had had a compromising bladder condition for several years so I always observed his activity and took action with whatever seemed appropriate, but these symptoms were not indicating that condition. He looked up at me imploringly in the evening, those lovely, slanted, gentle tourmaline eyes telling me this was serious. I called the emergency hospital, packed him in a carrier and drove with cold, stiff fingers and my own shallow breathing, knowing this was not good.

Kublai, "Are You Looking at Me?"

Kublai, "Are You Looking at Me?"

As the veterinarian and technicians went through their paces and I watched Katrina spin toward New Orleans, I was sure, in my middle-of-the-night fearfulness, that the world was really coming to an end. I took hope for both New Orleans and Namir when the storm was reduced to a Category 4 sometime in those hours; even the smallest improvement could have a vast positive outcome.

Yet as the dawn began to open details in the black outside the windows the veterinarian told me that Namir had developed congestive heart failure through hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I fully understood the detailed explanation the vet gave me, following his sketches and descriptions in my own visual language, visualizing Namir’s damaged heart inside his delicate feline chest, struggling to move the blood through but not quite moving all of it every time, the blood circling and swishing around in the chamber, the walls thickening, the fluids building up instead of washing away. I understood that Namir was in very serious condition, that the condition could not be cured.

The hospital closed at 7:00 a.m. being only for overnight emergencies, but in the same rooms the specialty clinic opened at 8:00 a.m. Namir would stay there and see a doctor who specialized in his condition in just a few hours, have more comprehensive diagnostic tests done.

Namir's "Bedroom Eyes"

Namir's "Bedroom Eyes"

They allowed me to say goodbye to him in the oxygen cage. I couldn’t touch him, and he didn’t come to the window but crouched close to it with an IV in one leg and several shaved patches and looked at me with those same eyes, but instead of the worry, near panic, I’d seen earlier, I saw hope, and perhaps he saw the sadness and fear in my eyes temper with it. We would work together on this, no matter what happened.

Katrina was reaching landfall as I drove home through the growing dawn and early morning traffic and I equated the gray misty light with the howling gray images I’d seen of New Orleans and elsewhere along the coast, pondering the veterinarian’s prognosis of Namir’s recovery: about a month with no treatment, six months with medication and careful observation, perhaps a year if we were lucky. Even with recovery his quality of life might not be optimal, he might actually experience a lot of discomfort and even great pain. I would know more the next day after an ultrasound and other tests.

Stanley, "After Dinner Nap"

Stanley, "After Dinner Nap"

In August 2005, I was occasionally dosing Stanley with sub-q fluids for chronic kidney failure, but he was overall well—amazing for being somewhere past 20. All the others were fine, Moses at 19, Sophie at 16, Cookie at 13, Kelly at 9, and even the two new senior fosters, Peaches and Cream, estimated at 15, were adjusting well.

In the following year I would lose four members of my household, my four oldest cats, and three of them my oldest friends, Moses, then Cream, then Sophie and finally Stanley, and shortly after Stanley, the kitten I’d taken in and simply adored after all that loss, Lucy, at 15 months.

Lucy, Pink and Gray

Lucy, Pink and Gray

Namir lived almost four years with his condition, and hardly evidenced any discomfort though he hated his twice-daily medications and needed to stop back at the emergency hospital for a tune-up now and then. I don’t know how many times in those four years I said, “Namir was first diagnosed with congestive heart failure the night Katrina hit New Orleans…” Namir and I certainly had a better outcome and what we experienced in no way compares with what happened there, but whenever I hear about Hurricane Katrina I remember that night when my own storm began, my own little life inexorably pulled apart by circumstances beyond my household’s control, but in much the same way as the aftermath of Katrina it was the hidden reserves of strength that determined the final outcome, individuals pooling and sharing their strength and supporting each other.

Cookie, "The Goddess"

Cookie, "The Goddess"

I heeded my own natural disaster as best I could with the warnings I was given. Now I hope that my storm is finally over for a while. I know that I will have losses again, and with older cats likely I’ll have a few illnesses to treat. Even though Peaches hasn’t seemed to age a day since she came here and can still jump right up onto the kitchen island where she eats, she is 19 years old. Cookie hasn’t seemed to age since she was about 3, but I can see her slowing down and experiencing a little hearing difficulty, though we act as if we don’t notice. Little Kelly, who has to be at least 13, hasn’t shown any diminishing of ability and it’s hard to imagine her as a senior. My “Golden Girls” as I classify them…And I now have a big jump in age to Mimi, who is likely 6, then her kids, who just turned 2, though as I learned with Lucy and FIP that illness and death have no recognition of age.

After all this I was surprised I haven’t been in pain over Namir’s loss, considering the big personality he was and how close we were. He left strict instructions with “the kids” on my care and feeding, however, and I have never felt alone since Namir’s been gone—I’ll be writing more about this later, now that I have a perspective. But it hasn’t been just Namir’s loss, but all the others, too, all of them together, through it all knowing that I’d lose Namir, too, and finally I feel that process is complete.

Moses, "A Rosy Glow"

Moses, "A Rosy Glow"

The one thing I can’t avoid is that in two months I haven’t done much that’s creative—no blog entries, no new poetry, I’ve had to drag myself into my studio and still I’ve only done one piece of artwork, only a few photo sessions and all the other things I’ve done daily for years to keep my creative intellect in shape have just been neglected.

I know why that is. That’s the very core of myself, and in opening myself up to those creative experiences I leave myself vulnerable to hurt. It’s easy just to live on the surface as if floating on clear water, able to look at the beauty of the depths but frightened to go there, even though the risk, the plunge, the exploration and the return with new insights to share far outweighs any pain that might be experienced in the endeavor.

Now that the deepest part of my grief has passed, I’m ready to finish and fulfill the things I’ve planned, and to move on with new things. The hardest part of grief is letting go and feeling that who and what you leave behind will be forgotten, but we leave behind and let go in a million ways every day without ever knowing. Namir came to me one year after I lost the love of my life, my Kublai, and if I had kept myself closed off and held on to Kublai’s memory for fear of his being forgotten, I would never have known Namir, which would have done none of the three of us any good, or any other of the foster cats who became loves, or the people or the places I’ve known and experienced since then.

So I’m a little out of shape, but it’s never taken me too long to get back into it before. I love this time of year, and probably most inspired by it, when summer changes to autumn and I can feel the pace of life slowing a little.

Last year, I had a wonderful feline portrait and a reunion with an old friend with which to begin that new season, Madison. This year I’ve just finished another, and I’ll write about that one in a few days as well as other plans.

9 Comments on “Perhaps the Storm is Finally Over”

  1. animalartist says:

    Ingrid,I’ve written so much lately about pet loss, but it’s for reasons like this–that relating my experience can help another person understand that where they are is normal, that they aren’t alone in their extended grief. In loss as in life, so many of our experiences are parallel. The most saddening thing for me was accepting that me and all my relationships to everything were permanently changed and I would never feel the same way about anything again. I can imagine that promoting Buckley’s story and showing off Allegra may feel as if Amber is forgotten, left behind, when she should still be with you for many years. But we’ll never forget Amber, nor will anyone who knows you or reads your book–as I read the book my love for Amber grew as if I knew her, and I remember coming away from reading it with a very deep, abiding affection for this gentle quiet girl. Words are hardly solace for the physical comfort of a lost loved one, but one day you’ll look back and realize how far you’ve come. My thoughts are always with you.

  2. Ingrid King says:

    This post touched me deeply on so many levels, and I sit here with tears in my eyes as I’m writing this. So many parallels. Your experience with Namir at the emergency clinic mirrored mine with Amber, only the disaster of the day for me was the oil spill. Like you, I hadn’t followed on tv because I don’t watch news, and yet, it will forever be linked to her illness in my mind. And I was almost relieved to read about your inability to create for two months following Namir’s and all the other losses – relieved to know that I’m not the only one this happened to. It’s been three months for me now since I lost Amber, and I’m just starting to slowly come out of what has in essence felt like an extended leave of absence from life. I’ve been unable to concentrate for any length of time on writing projects, the joy has gone out of promoting Buckley’s Story, a project I was so proud and passionate about (and I know I still am, it was just overshadowed by losing Amber). I love summer, it normally is my favorite season, but this summer, it feels like time is passing me by and I’m just going through the motions. Your piece, combined with a very slow return to some semblance of normal in my own life, is giving me hope that in time, I will feel better, the spark to create will return full-force, and my heart will mend.

  3. animalartist says:

    Chris, it’s just funny how things worked out; I think I was given the story so I could tell it like a parable, and that helped to lessen the pain of the reality. I’m glad you could visualize right along with me, though! It’s that creative process that has pulled me through many things, and helped me get through all these losses. I’ve come out on the other side changed, but with deeper insights.

  4. animalartist says:

    Shannon, I really feel for you today, and I’ll be thinking about you tomorrow. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on today’s blog post. We’ll remember Alla.

  5. Shannon says:

    It is sudden from her diagnosis, but I think her symptoms were present much longer than I was aware. She has stopped eating today and her spirit seems to have given up. She spent some time our in the sunshine today, and we will say good-bye tomorrow, unless she tells me otherwise. Thanks for your support. I certainly like the idea of continuing the relationship in another form. Seems fitting when one is taken so young.

    Here’s what I wrote for Alla today.

    Take care.

  6. Chris Davis says:

    Bernadette, reading about your personal storm with Namir, juxtaposed against Hurricane Katrina, really touched me deeply. I could see the artwork for it very clearly! I understand not feeling creative after such a heart-breaking loss, but ultimately we find our way back to our keyboards and brushes and pots of paint, because we must…

  7. animalartist says:

    Shannon, so soon? You’ve hardly had time to prepare yourself, but if Alla says it’s time, she knows best. I’m so sorry to hear, and when a loss comes so suddenly I always hope that in a way their spirit will return, either in a sign or even in a new body so that you’ll be able to continue the relationship. I’ll be thinking of you both today. ~Bernadette

  8. Shannon says:

    Bernadette, I just wanted to let you know that the FIP now seems to be winning. Today is probably my last with my precious girl, Alla. I know that you know how much this thing sucks.

  9. Marg says:

    That sure was a great post. That Katrina was a horrible storm and good thing you didn’t have a TV to see all those poor people with no where to stay or anything to eat. And all the animals, totally homeless. I did read a lot of stories about how people went into neighborhoods and caught as many as they could and other people set up places to keep the animals and feed them. Most of them were tied to the fence but they got food and water.

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