Feel the rain on your skin
no one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
Over and over we heard the words of this pop song like background music beneath our sadness as we rode uptown in an Uber. We were on West End Avenue, our way home—without our boy.
The Sundance Kid died on Friday afternoon, August 3, 2018. I felt the raindrops on my skin as if they were tears from the sky. It really felt as if the sky was crying.
We walked in the rain until we found a shoe shop with umbrellas. One for Tom, one for me. We walked toward the far end of West 57th St. We walked away from the animal hospital and toward the new green living apartment towers we like to fantasize about moving into.
Ohhh, we can begin again, Shed our skin, let the sun shine in.
At the edge of the ocean we can start over again.
Another pop song...we talk of California... Santa Monica.
Somehow we were pulled to walk to the water, toward these towers on the Hudson River—one of the few places you can feel sky, space, and see light on this rock called Manhattan. We knew it was a way to comfort ourselves, here, in the rain, in our pain.
We knew there was no way to move away from our feelings, no place where we could go and they would not be felt. So we climbed into an Uber and made our way back to Claremont Ave. We were going home without our boy. The rain stopped somewhere on the drive up West End Ave. The air felt less heavy. The sky began to clear a bit. Space for the emptiness.
I look down the long hallway, where Sunny kept retreating to cry by the door when we first moved to Claremont Ave. That was eight years ago. He was seven when we moved here. He was only 15 the day we put him down. We always thought he would live longer. Our previous cat had kidney disease for years and lived until he was 18. Our sweet Sunny boy was diagnosed with feline lymphoma six weeks ago, and he started retreating to that long hallway. Again. He sometimes slept under a small red bench that we kept there, close to the door. He went to this same door we first moved here--and it seemed like he wanted to go back to our old apartment.
Sunny is gone, and now there is another huge hole in my heart. Our hearts can have many holes and still beat. How is that?
My mom has miraculously rallied back to life and I feel immense gratitude. Life is like that. Sorrow, joy, emptiness and fullness all rolled into one. My mom had a gall bladder infection that almost killed her in late February. Then a bad bout of pneumonia in April. The doctors told us that she had a few days to live, or a couple of weeks at best. She went into hospice. I said goodbye. And said goodbye again. That was in April. She has made what appears to be a complete recovery, is back to her old self and celebrated her 94th birthday on June 23. We just saw her. She said "They tried to kill me but I wouldn't let them!" with a wicked grin. I said, "That's right, Mom. I will see you in December!"
It might seem cliche to say but my husband Tommy has been my knight in shining armor through all of this and more. He is always there by my side as I deal with my elderly mom. He was there when my dad was sick, and when he died. He wears his armor and steps up to the plate of difficulty time and time again but we both know nothing can really shield his big soft heart. He said he needed to be strong, for our Sunny, as we left for the animal hospital, on the day we were to put Sunny down. I told him, "Sunny knows your heart. Be as you are. That is who we love." It is how we love.
Tommy was so vulnerable that day, and in the days since. This is his strength. His love of of our boy was visible everywhere in his body that awful day. I looked at him as we held our boy, I let myself take him in. In his sadness, his softness. I watched as he told Sunny how much he loved him, as he poured his heart into our little orange and white boy. I have never felt so much love.
We both told Sunny, over and over, what a good boy he is, and how much we love him. We cried and kissed his white fur, his tiny black patch of fur, and all his orange places. As we pressed our faces into his he began purring. Tommy then held him to his chest and said, "this is where you belong." I said, "Yes. That is where he belongs, that is where I belong. I hope I die there, too."
Tommy said, "Honey, he is purring!" as Dr. Lee gave him the tranquilizer. Then came the dose of whatever it is that stops that mysterious beating of the heart. How short and temporary is this beating of our hearts? Why does a heart beat in the first place? And where does this thing we call life go when the beating stops?
His body folded in on itself and deflated in Tommy's arms as the life left. It left. I don't think either of us will ever forget that moment. That boy. That love.
I am grateful for this love and this sadness. I am grateful for the love of my husband and our animals. For the love of my mother and dear departed father. I am grateful to be able to give, and feel love. I am grateful for my body for having these feelings. This year has had more than its fair share of feelings. I marvel at how much our hearts can hold. How soft and tender they are, how expansive.
Sometimes I think there isn't anything more important in this life, in this world, than this tenderness. This simple joy of love. And the feeling of the rain. The rain on our skin.
Photos: Carrie Owerko, Jamey Welch