Too many gone all at once

[My column for the June 3, 2015, Door County Advocate]

Any day that begins with digging a grave for a cat is probably not going to be a good one.

We accepted Codi into our home when she was about three years old, in 1999. A baby had been born into the household of one of Red’s co-workers, and the cat had an unnerving habit of trying to sleep on the little one’s face. So they chose between the baby and the cat, and we gained Codi.

She was stand-offish even for a feline. For a time my nickname for her was The Cat Who Hates Cats. But she settled onto my old dad’s chest when he came out for a visit and cuddled there for all the days he was here. Even a cat who hates cats is a sucker for a cat person.

Codi never appeared ill, just slower and thinner. She was still making the four-foot leap from the bed to the easy chair this past weekend, with no sign of pain, just weariness perhaps. When I found her Monday evening, it was like she had simply slowed to a stop.

“Well, doesn’t that just take the cake,” I said as I confirmed she wasn’t moving, weary myself – weary of saying “I’m sorry” to stranger and colleague alike, for our family who gathers each morning at 235 N. Third Ave. has lost a father and a father-in-law in recent days, as well as one of our own, Cheri Harris, last link to the Advocate’s founding family who was still contributing, compiling our To-Do List and At the Galleries listings every week without fail until last week. This past winter we lost two mothers too soon.

The losses go beyond our walls – Ducky Diefenbach, the cheerful old soul who frequently visited here to tease our sports guys and share his smile. The flowers left last Wednesday at the corner where he served years as a crossing guard were just the beginning of the outpouring.

Doug Blahnik, the familiar face of the Gibraltar Historical Society; Harold Wolf, a fixture at veterans ceremonies for years and years; John Maring, Nancy Keehan – so many familiar faces gone all at once. So many sad faces wherever we turn.

Yes, we celebrate their lives and all they gave to us, and we remember them with laughter and happy stories, but they’re still gone. Their journey with us has ended. And that still hurts.

A person gets tired of mourning when so many are lost at once. And so burying a cat, even a 19-year-old cat, is placed in perspective.

I’ve just finished rereading my favorite book, Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury’s spectacular tribute to the summer of 1928, which begins with 8-year-old Douglas Spaulding coming to the giddy realization that he’s alive in all that that means, and ends not long after Douglas realizes that all lives come to an end and that his life will be no exception.

This is a grim realization if you let it be. Better to relish the gift of life while we have it, take the best of those we’ve lost and incorporate it into the way we live our own lives.

In a poignant passage, Douglas’ great-grandma talks about how only the vessel he calls Great-Grandma is dying, and that she will continue to cook and shingle the roof through the work of the family members she leaves behind.

Thinking of it that way, it won’t be long before the loss doesn’t hurt quite so much. Knowing that doesn’t help much at the moment, but it’s a promise to cling to in the dark.

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WarrenBluhm

Wordsmith, journalist and podcaster, Warren is a reporter, editor and storyteller who lives near the shores of Green Bay with his wife, two golden retrievers, and a couple of cats.