The Cavatina

stone kitty marker

The Sleeping Kitty

I awoke in the very first light of dawn, that other twilight where the veil thins though not as completely as at evening, to hear the first few notes of “Cavatina”, one of my favorites and a most poignant piece of music.

I know it awakened me, literally, to a moment I needed to experience because in the dimness of my sleepy state and the early light I realized that all nine cats who lived with me this summer were tucked up against me or on the bed, sleeping deeply, quietly breathing, Sweet Peach curled next to my chest and Cookie curled tightly next to her, Kelly against my back and Dickie on the other pillow, all five black cats ranged around my legs in their usual spots.

It was a moment rare enough and one I knew would never come again, but more importantly it was a moment I needed to experience and remember because this wonderful group would soon break apart and I would only have memories of us all being together.

peaches and cookie sleeping

Peaches and Cookie sleeping next to me.

How do you make a moment last a lifetime? Experience it with your whole self, bring awareness to each of your senses and build a complete memory. As I listened to the “Cavatina” for its brief length I held still so not to wake my cats and watched the dim light grow ever so slightly brighter. I could distinguish each of the cats and familiar objects in my room, heard the rustling of the morning breeze in the tree outside and the first calls of the dawn chorus of birds, smelled the sweetness of a June morning as flowers opened and fresh air wafted in the room, tasted the tang of the damp morning on my tongue and felt the cool sheet and the warmth and weight of each of my nine cats.

I have experienced these early morning moments only a few times with other groups of cats, and even from the first recognized not only how special they were but also what they signified.

And with each of my cats, as we recognized they were in their last days, a piece of music presented itself in my mind and became our shared music, a song I sang to them, a piece of music I played while they were still with me and which I still sing or play and remember them. Usually the lyrics have something to do with how I feel about them, sometimes it’s instrumental, as it was with the “Cavatina” composed by Stanley Myers from the movie The Deer Hunter; I am not lost on the themes of loss and redemption in this movie, it’s a longtime favorite on many levels.

For Bootsie it was Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”. For Kublai it was “I’ll Never Find Another You” by The Seekers (There is always someone for each of us they say/and you’ll be my someone forever and a day/I could search the whole world over until my life is through/but I know I’ll never find another you). For Fawn it was “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?” a traditional Scottish song (Will ye go, lassie, go/and we’ll all go together/to pull wild mountain thyme/ from around the purple heather…). Sally’s melody was an instrumental entitled “Celtic Angels” by an artist named Kokila, played on an antique Steinway in an old church; I shared this entire recording with Deb Chebatoris to play in her living room for others to find comfort when they visit there. For Lucy, it was “The Hands of Time” by Alan and Marilyn Bergman from the movie Brian’s Song about an athlete dying young (All the happy days would never learn to fly/until the hands of time would choose to wave goodbye…). And of course there are more. Whenever I catch these played, which is rare, I think of my cats, and sometimes I play them just to remember them and that last special bond we shared. I have the recordings, I have them bookmarked on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet, I sing and hum them having no instruments at the moment; it’s all part of my process of grief and remembrance.

That last night Peaches and I spent while I was framing all night long, I was moved to play my recording of the Cavatina once or twice as I worked and petted Peaches.

stone kitty 2

The Stone Kitty, close up.

Today I will receive Peaches’ cremains from Deb Chebatoris in the special cloth bag with silk rose which Deb has prepared, and she and I will talk a while about Peaches and about our losses. I don’t mind this period of waiting; it seems like a natural part of the process of letting go. Little by little I have put away all the things I had at the ready for Peaches, cleaned up all the little messes, washed the rugs and no longer cautiously step over areas she used as her temporary litterbox. I’ve stood and looked at the places where I could always find her, picturing her there, remembering. I’ve accepted the changes to my household and anticipate more.

Now I am ready for what remains of her body to enter my home where her spirit resides in all her favorite places. These are not a substitute for her, but a respectful treatment of the vessel that had held her loving self.

And as I did with the others, I will move the sleeping cat figure in my garden, loosen the soil beneath and mix Peaches’ cremains with the soil, and with the others who’ve gone before. When I do this I feel the spirits of all the others flitting about me, welcoming the next member.

For Moses, the sun-warmed bricks were her treatment of choice for her arthritis.

Many of the kitties had enjoyed time in the backyard with me, and for them I’ll take a bit of their cremains and sprinkle them in the places they loved best, in the flower beds where Namir stalked voles, in the vegetable garden where Sally patrolled the tomato plants, between the bricks where Moses soaked up the healing sun. A bit of their essence is in the things that grow in those places, the forget-me-nots that emerge from between the bricks, the wildflowers that grow around the far edges of the yard, and in the food that nourishes me, from my vegetable garden. We are in but another turn of the cycle of our relationship, which changes but never ends.

Ultimately things come full circle before they move on, and I think of Joni Mitchell’s song “The Circle Game” (And the seasons, they go round and the painted ponies go up and down/we’re captive on the carousel of time/we can’t return we can only look behind from where we came/and go round and round and round in the circle game).

And especially at this time of year I remember the sonnet by William Shakespeare…yes, in our loved one we may see a time without them, but the knowledge that we will one day lose them makes our love in this moment all the more strong.

Sonnet 73
William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

May we love well all the things we love, for as long as we can.

_________________________________________________________________________

I’ll Never Find Another You” lyrics © Tom Springfield, performed by The Seekers

Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?” traditional

The Hands of Time” lyrics © Alan and Marilyn Bergman, music by Michel LeGrand, from the movie Brian’s Song—find this movie and watch it, based on a true story of the friendship between Brian Piccolo and Gayle Sayers, it is not to be missed

The Circle Game” lyrics © Joni Mitchell

And the characters in The Deer Hunter could have been my cousin’s wedding, my older cousins and younger uncles racing down Second Avenue from J&L Steel in Pittsburgh, getting tanked and running off to the Allegheny National Forest to hunt…and shipping out to Viet Nam, most were never the same. We thought we were watching ourselves. “Cavatina” touches me on many levels.

None of Kokila’s recordings are available to link, but visit her website to read about the recording or her store at on Amazon.com to purchase the CD. This recording is entirely acoustic piano; others are a mix of acoustic and electronic.


8 Comments on “The Cavatina”

  1. Karen Lucas says:

    I know this may sound foolish but I have the ashes of my much loved cats in a cabinet made for my parents when I was a child along with the ashes of my mother – each in their own container but all together and it makes me happy that they are inside with us, warm and not alone. What we will do with them when the time comes has not been decided although I would like them with me forever. Thank you for all of your writing and art. Posts like these are sad but somehow comforting.

    • animalartist says:

      Karen, it doesn’t sound foolish at all, this is where everybody does something different. I know several people who have instructions to mix their ashes with their pets’ after their death so they’ve kept them for that reason and many others. I had so many cats and knew there would be many more, so I didn’t want to start the tradition of keeping them inside, it would just have been overwhelming, but I still needed the memorial site outside, I couldn’t just scatter them. I can see look at the stone kitty at any time, and that is comforting to me, plus she’s outside in my yard, just as many of them were. I have all their photos on the sewing machine in my bedroom where I keep a lamp, and say goodnight to them before I turn off the light and go to bed. I like to look at them during the day…

      I’m glad you find some comfort in this. I’ve appreciated being able to share my stories as if we were conversing, and including the photographs and art helps me to express.

  2. Chris Davis says:

    Such beautiful words, Bernadette…thank you for sharing them. I love the fact that a song presented itself for each of your kitties, building a bridge of musical notes that will last forever.

    Nine cats in bed at one time – now that was a magical moment!

    Hugs,
    Chris and the kitties

    • animalartist says:

      Chris, sometimes I wonder that a few of my parts aren’t loose, but when songs connect themselves to things I’m actually glad because it gives me something I can express at will when I remember my kitties.

      I can still remember that moment, and the others.

  3. Susan Stoltz says:

    What a beautiful post, Bernadette. I love how you talk about making a memory last for a lifetime, how you soak it in with all your senses – the coolness of the sheet, the smell of the June breeze, the sound of rustling leaves and the beautiful music of Cavatina. I have learned how to savor those moments by being completely present for them. What wonderful moments you describe with your beloved cats!

    Even though the vessel of Peaches’ beautiful self is gone, she has left you with a loving presence that can be absorbed by all of your keen senses. It brings such comfort to know that all the cats that have gone before will now be joined by Peaches under the beautiful Stone Kitty. I have several beloved cats’ cremains underneath a smooth rock in my herb garden, where they loved to roll on its warm surface as I worked amongst the fragrant plants.

    I know that Peaches’ spirit is with you and she’ll comfort you with surprise visits, sometimes out of the corner of your eye or within a piece of music or poetry. My heart is with you as you make this transition with her.

    Hugs and purrs,
    Susan

    • animalartist says:

      Susan, those moments are unforgettable, and how different they feel when you are completely present, right? That is the one part of it I can’t describe but I’m so glad to experience it with my cats. I do with my painting and writing so that I can bring all that information to what I do, but I never get to share those with any other living being.

      Peaches and Cream spent their first 15 years with someone else, and Cream decided to wait and rejoin her first person, but Peaches chose to go on with me. I don’t know if we’ll share her at the Bridge, but I feel she’s all mine. She’ll be with me forever.

  4. Marg says:

    What a great post and lovely poems. I think it is the hardest thing to bring the ashes home. That makes it so final. But you certainly put is all in a wonderful way. Love the kitty getting warm on the bricks.
    Take care and thinking about you and Peaches.

    • animalartist says:

      Marg, I know all the purrs and woofs and baaas coming from your way were one of the things that kept Peaches going! One of the things that makes the ashes easier is that they are all under that cat. I think if I had each one in a different place I’d feel they’d be lonely and I wouldn’t do it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s