I made the decision to move to Omaha many years ago, but when Isabelle, my feline companion for 20 years, passed, I moved into high gear on making it happen. I vacillated some, wondering if I should stay in Minneapolis because of Oliver’s perilous health and his fantastic veterinarian.
I also agonized over leaving my friends, my work, and the house I had bought. In the end, the thought of being near family, being debt-free, and not having to worry about the upkeep of a house won out, and I began preparing to move. It was January, 2017, and I set a date of May 23 – the day after my last opera performance of the season – to move.
I did not consult Oliver, because cats can’t talk. But as I started sorting my belongings into sell, toss, or keep, Oliver was with me. He was always a cat that liked to be in the room with me, unless it was summer, and then he usually liked to be on the back porch (as did Isabelle and I).
As I got rid of furniture, Oliver moved his perch accordingly. Since Isabelle was gone, he began to dominate the bed cuddling. I would often wake up with him sleeping next to my head. When I got rid of the bed, and started sleeping on a smaller-than-twin mattress, he was constantly trying to find ways to sleep next to me.
On our last day in the house, I packed the last of the belongings into my car. I gave Oliver some gabapentin to calm him on the car trip, and put him in his carrier. I did a last check of the house, crying at the blue paw prints on the floor of my bedroom. Isabelle had tracked them when I had painted it.
Once in the car, I let Oliver out of the carrier. I had decided to see if he travelled better outside the carrier, since inside the carrier he meowed EVERY SIX SECONDS. I figured in a crash, the carrier wouldn’t do him much good, but out of the carrier, he might be calmer.
I was right. Oliver stayed in the carrier at first, and eventually settled into a comfy position plastered against my right leg, where I could put a hand down and snuggle him. He never slept, but he purred a lot, and did not meow in distress every six seconds. I fed and toileted him about three hours into the trip, and we both arrived safely in Omaha.
Oliver and I had been in Omaha over the winter holiday, and he had been great. This time, he decided the litter box was unacceptable and started peeing outside the box. I moved the box, and he seemed to approve. He and I were downstairs, separated from my sister’s two cats, and we were pretty strict about the segregation at first. Eventually, my sister and I tried integrating our cat families, with mixed success.
Oliver and I were good. I still missed Isabelle, but Oliver was such a comfort. His bright personality kept me company as I unpacked. His sweet meow and purrs welcomed me when I’d come home from exploring thrift shops, and later, when I was going back and forth from the hospital and rehab centers to visit my mom. We celebrated his 14th birthday. He slept by my head every night.
And then he didn’t. His illness flared up, and when Oliver didn’t feel good, he became very catlike and would hide. This time, the illness won. It took a few months, but eventually (and suddenly) I had to let him go. I didn’t get a last day with him, to give him his favorite foods, or to cuddle him. I just had a few moments where I told him how much I loved him and would miss him. I thanked him for saving me after Isabelle died.
I wondered how I would get by without him, just as I had wondered about Isabelle. My two animal companions were my family for over 20 years, and I was bereft and lonely. I had my human family close by, but the bottom line is, no one can understand my relationship with them, and no one can grieve for me.
Omaha the second time around was so much better with Oliver. I have had great experiences and adventures, and will continue to do so. But I don’t think I’ll ever get over the happy feeling of sharing things with my two favorite souls before sharing them with anyone else.
I’m trying to adopt a philosophy I first heard in Camelot (the musical). I had the privilege of performing this musical with the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre (one of my favorite performance venues in the Twin Cities). I found great wisdom in the words of Merlin, taken here from the book, The Once and Future King, by T.H. White:
“The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”