Grief is something that isn’t talked about much. It’s that quiet emotion – the one that’s tucked away behind closed doors – private, personal, introverted.
The raw grief that I experienced about Snowy lasted for several weeks. Sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night crying and then went back to sleep again. The silence and the emptiness in my apartment was overwhelming. I’m not ashamed to admit that I went to grief counselling to talk about Snowy. I needed a safe space where I could talk about him for a full hour without feeling like I was burdening people.
After only 3 sessions, the counsellor announced “I think you’re okay now” and it felt like a rubber stamp of approval on my mental health. I had been able to talk about what Snowy meant to me; what role he played in my life and about the traumatic way in which I discovered his dead body. I also began to talk about the meaning I could draw from the sadness. Clearly I was grieving so much because of how much I loved him. It seemed a shame that all this surplus love would just go into an empty vacuum – unused and evaporating.
I began to think about all the times I worried about Snowy – how that if anything happened to me – who would look after him? And then I thought of all those rescue cats – who were living in shelters waiting on homes. Perhaps their owner had passed away and now they were left alone in a cage, hoping on someone to adopt them. They no longer had the adorable charm of cute kitten status and might bypass the many families getting a new cat.
I wondered if I could give a home to one of these abandoned cats and therefore all the love for Snowy wouldn’t be wasted. All that love I had channelled towards him could now be channelled towards a cat in need. Suddenly the empty void of grief was being replaced by something else – a purpose or meaning in all this suffering. The grief for Snowy was still there – missing him, thinking about him – but it didn’t feel so raw. Now there was a plan.
I made a phone-call to Cats Protection. I enquired about adopting a cat. I was told about the procedure. A letter was needed from my landlady authorising a cat in the property. Forms would have to be filled out. Once the forms were verified, I could then pick a cat. There would then be a 24 hour resting period and I would return the following day to collect the cat.
The wheels were in motion. My landlady came round and signed the letter. After she left, I did a little happy dance around my living-room. It was the first time I’d felt genuinely happy and excited in weeks.
Then the first visit to Cats Protection. I admit, I went in with too-high expectations. I was full of excitement. I imagined all the cute cats and how wonderful it would be. I hadn’t eaten properly and we had trouble finding the place so I was probably more flustered and not as calm as normal.
A receptionist took my details and then another member of staff led me down to the cats. I hadn’t expected how overwhelming it would feel. All the little cats in cages, all awaiting homes. Some cats tried to put their paws out through the gaps to get your attention. Others rubbed up against the window as though wanting to be petted. How on earth could I pick just one cat when they all needed a home?
The guy who was showing us around led us to 2 cats – Darcy and May. He informed me that they had been in the shelter the longest and really needed a forever home. I started to feel even more overwhelmed. I hadn’t planned on taking 2 cats.
“I’m not sure which cat I want”, I told him.
“That’s okay,” he said. “We could fill out the forms anyway to get the ball rolling?”
So we did that. He took me through a series of questions and then went to the office to check if my form was approved. Meanwhile I was allowed to have another look at the cats. There was a ginger cat who was rubbing up next to me and giving me sweet head-bumps but he was one of two and I hadn’t really envisioned getting 2 cats.
The guy returned and told me that my form was approved. This was good news but my head was spinning. I was hungry, overwhelmed and indecisive. I asked him if I could think about it and return another day. He said of course.
I went for food and talked it over with my friend. Then I chatted to my sister about it on Voxer. And then to another sister. I decided to sleep on it and return another day.
A week later, I returned to Cats Protection. This time, I was prepared. I went in with an open mind, low expectations and a full tummy. This was a lot easier. Instead of seeing lots of vulnerable cats in cages, I noticed that in fact, quite a few cats had a “reserved” sign on their window. This meant that someone had chosen them and would return tomorrow to collect them. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? Also I noticed how clean the place was and how contented the cats looked. Many were curled up sleeping. I was also really pleased to see that Darcy and May – the two longest residents - had been reserved.
The ginger cat was all over me again. Rubbing up next to me and giving me gentle head-bumps. That was it. He had chosen me. He was one of two. Curled up in the corner was his buddy; a black cat with a glossy coat. I petted him gently and he curled around appreciatively, encouraging me to rub under his chin.
“That’s them,” I said. “They’re the ones”.
The Cats Protection guy smiled happily and off we went, saying that we’d return first thing in the morning to collect them. I had to rush and buy a second carrier as I only had one.
My excitement was sky-high and I was grinning from ear to ear. I also decided on names: “Toots” and “Soots”. “Toots” because that’s what I always used to call Snowy. And “Soots” because he was black like chimney soot.
That night felt like Christmas Eve – the excitement of knowing that the next morning I’d be collecting my new gifts.
The following morning I loaded my 2 carriers into the car with building excitement. I thought of the number of times this had happened – the day Snowy arrived in his cage carried by Paula. The day Ann carried Snowy’s body in her arms to her car. And now, the day 2 new cats would be carried in.
At Cats Protection, the staff looked jubilant. I think they were as happy to see 2 cats getting a forever home as I was to get 2 new family members.
A nice girl sat and took me through some paperwork. I was impressed by all the detail. Every date that each cat had been neutered, vaccinated, wormed and flea treated. Microchip details, insurance details, the whole heap. This was the first I learned that the black cat only had 3 legs but it made no difference to me. The wee critter needed a home and I would provide it.
One of the Cats Protection staff took the carriers and said she’d return with the cats. They were both meowing loudly when they returned. Obviously both were scared and wondering what was going on. I tried to talk softly and gently to them. When I put them in the back seat of the car, I placed their carriers in such a way that they were both facing each other. This seemed to calm them down and they settled on the journey home.
Safely inside the house, I opened the carriers and let them step out and find their own way around. They found the beds in the walk-in wardrobe. Snowy had used these when he didn’t like the sound of the bin men. And now Toots and Soots had discovered them too.
By the evening, after having time to relax and having been given tempting Dreamies and some cat food, they branched out into the living room and lay on the chair next to me. Having each other for company obviously seemed like a big advantage. They curled around each other which seemed to comfort and calm them.
For the first few days, we were tip-toeing around each other. I was trying to give them space and not to make any sudden or loud movements which would scare them. They, meanwhile, were hiding in the wardrobe most of the time until they started to trust that I wasn’t going to hurt them. In fact, they started to realise that I was the lady who would feed them and clean up their poop! After a while, they began to lie on the bed, or on the cushion on top of the chest of drawers. I felt so calm and contented having them around. Cats create a vibe in the home that is just so relaxing. I don’t know if it’s their ability to fall asleep at any time, or their soft purring sounds, or the way they look so cute when they’re curled up in a ball, but they’re a joy.
I kept thinking about Snowy though. I noticed little differences between each cat and I realised that the 3 year bond with Snowy will never be replaced. But slowly, we are getting used to each and that bond will grow too. When I see Soots hop along on his little 3 legs, my heart melts a little. And Toots follows me around with an inquisitive little face that is full of so much character. I love them, my two little rescue fur babies. xx