Our Helpers

I lost a dear, dear friend on December 30. It was pretty much the big bang finale slap in the face to an epically hard year.

Yall, my cat died. 

I never fancied myself a cat person. (I always said I was a Bubba Person. Yes that’s my cat’s name, you can thank my Daddio for it.) Many of my friends don’t even know that I had a cat. So believe you me, I, along with my family who witnessed it, was pretty dang shocked at how his death absolutely rocked my world destroyed me.

I have Frasier in my head tellin’ me, “Now you know…” stands up straight, stares off in middle distance, sips fine sherry, “it’s never reaaallly about just the cat…”

Umm. Of course I’m a Frasier nerd. 

As a lot of you know, I was previously engaged to a close family friend that I grew up with. He was my first crush/obsession/love. Our romance was highs & lows, hot & heavy, made for the screen kinda thing. I called off the engagement in dramatic fashion & literally left him fading in my rearview mirror framed by gentle Florida mist & tall pine trees. I will never get that image out of my head. 

My sister always said that I “love big,” & I gave everything to him.

I drove 19 hours home to Texas, chain smoking, empty & broken.

I moved back in with my parents, my safety net. I had my buddy Hunter Trek with me, aka, The Original, The One & Only, my little beagle that I had for 13 years. But he was not enough, I needed more. At the time I couldn’t quite put into words why, I just knew I needed animals around me. One day I came home from work & itty bitty Colonel Bubba was hiding under the bed with his bright sea green eyes. And so it began. 

Like I said, I never had a cat, so I didn’t know how they worked. Puppies run to you & beg for attention. So this creature was a fun, new animal to learn. I laid on the ground all night long talking sweet words to him, cooing, coaxing him to come out from underneath the bed. He never did that night & that was ok. I can’t remember how long it took but he learned to trust me & I proceeded to “love big” in typical Ellen fashion, poured my broken pieces of a heart into his furry chest, & together Bubba, Hunter & I, created a smellie, furry haven.

That’s my legs happily squished in the middle.

I quickly moved out of my Mommie & Daddie’s house to an apartment in good ole’ Uptown Dallas where I entered into my “Dark Days.” I am 35 & just now starting to have breakthroughs about this difficult time in my life. And I think that finally happened with the passing of my Bubba Love.

During my Dark Days, I was unmediated bipolar, fresh off a broken dream engagement, living alone, drinking alone, drowning in the night. I say this with all honesty, I would not be here today if it was not for Jesus & my animals.

I would be in psychosis land, pure insanity, where I truly felt demon possessed, pacing in circles through my apartment. I would walk in a room where Bubba was & my mere presence would make him purr. This fact humbles me to this day because again, I have very little understanding of cats, Bubba being my only experience with one. They really are amazing creatures. His purr was loud yet calming. It would immediately pull me out of my darkness, my endless loops. I would stumble to him & bury my face underneath his neck in that little curve where it meets his collarbone & take a deep, deep breath. He would purr louder. I would collapse into him (he graciously would stay sooo still, & for some reason purr even louder), cup the back of his head with my hand, hook my thumb around his ear & take another deep breath. And another. Minutes, hours, moons cycled, the clouds shifted, he would take it all. All my suffering, all my intensity, all my confusion, my shame, he would take it all & give me in return deep, calming breaths.      

When we lose an animal, we can’t help but reflect. Why? Because we recognize that it is the end of an era, the closing of a chapter. We connect this beloved creature with the places we’ve been, the significant milestones in our lives. Dirty apartments to first shiny, new homes, our animals are there, scratching the floorboards, staining the carpets, leaving their mark (the lasting bits of them that interestingly enough, we will remember with fondness when they are gone).

The passing of loved ones to the welcoming of new, hopeful life, our animals are beside us. Some of the greatest moments of joy were perhaps witnessed by & shared with these mysteriously divine beings. 

And probably some of the deepest, most profound moments of suffering? Your animal was there, supporting you, comforting you, maybe when no one else was, in a particular way that no human ever can.

His death was slow & painful to watch. He stopped eating & quietly wasted away.

You would think this would mentally prepare me for his passing. But I was not, I repeat, I was not ready to let him go.

Throughout our 14 year relationship, I can count on two and a half hands how many times Bubba Love stared deeply into my eyes for an extended period of time. His sea green eyes always transported me right to my ultimate happy place, the ocean. 

He would let me look in his eyes for as long as I wanted but most of the time, he would stare at my forehead or eyebrow, not directly in my eyes. If I were to take a guess, I think it’s because direct eye contact with that lil’ fella was intense & special. Because it was so rare, it was even more special. Have you ever looked deep in the eyes of a cat? My cat friends know what I’m screamin’. Cat’s eyes are mysterious, mystical & downright beautiful. Truly other-worldly, there’s a universe inside them, swirling gas, rings & spheres. If I were to get even more hippie-dippie on you, I would compare my Bubba’s eyes to the *inside of a salt-water molecule.

The night before he died, I was lying on the bed petting him when the energy shifted, it was tangible. He stared deep in my eyes for a solid 20-30 minutes. My heart was so damn hardened from the long year of pain, & as the moments clicked by, the layers softened & finally the much needed tears, the release, came. There are no words to describe the experience.

When you spend so long with an animal, & nurture unspoken communication, you come to the place of being able to read moods, mannerisms & maybe even minds. He knew me, I knew him.

Bubba Love knew it was his time & even to the very end, he was giving me strength, helping me let go. 

Our last day together we spent the whole morning & afternoon in bed cuddling & watching tv. There was nothing left to say, only moments to savor. I went to see a friend, & in that time, he crawled under the bed & fell asleep one last time. 

His death hit me really hard. The force of it was confusing.

Suffering came out in wails & shook me. 

Again, Frasier in my head, “It’s never really just about the cat…” 

Andrew & my Dad set up a funeral in the backyard & yet again, I was not mentally prepared for what awaited me. 

They decorated the grave with flowers & gently laid his body in the fresh dug earth. Us city folk are so removed from death. Our animals die, then we leave the vet’s office.

I was forced to see his once warm & soft body, now cold & stiff. 

Forced to accept that my helper is gone.

There it is, the wave of emotion, the moment of awareness.

And again.

When I look at my Bubba Love, I remember. I remember my Dark Days & the nights & the confusion & the searching & the shame, ohhh the shame.

With Hunter’s death first, & now finally Bubba’s, it is officially the end of that season of my life. I am a new creation, I am redeemed, I can let go, move on.

To top off the drama, my Father had a vase of lilies for me to put over my Bubba before they laid him to rest.

Lilies, innocence, forgiveness.

I stared at them, frozen, unable to move.

There it is again, the wave of emotion, the moment of awareness: I have to forgive myself.

I reach out, take the lilies, hover over the grave, stare at my Bubba, my past flashing before my eyes, the shame gluing the flowers to my hand, & somewhere my Daddie’s voice drifts in quietly, “Just let go Ellen… just let go.” 

It’s the end of an era, the passing of a season. And the beginning of the next.

That night in bed, the first night without my Bubba Love, I was surrounded by Andrew & the girls, but I felt alone (the theme of 2019). I kept automatically, subconsciously reaching for Bubba, my safety blanket, & when he was not there, the aloneness hit me fresh & anew.

That lil’ cat was a constant reminder for me to take my deep breaths. His purr would immediately activate a long inhale & peaceful exhale. His little frame would lovingly carry the weight of my stress. My helper, my constant companion.

That night I took a deep breath all by myself.

And then, the new Ellen, the older Ellen who has come through intense suffering & seen the other side, remembered that I am not alone. I never have been. Even in my Dark Days, through the watches of the night, I was not abandoned. My God sent to me a helper in the form of a sea-green-eyed cat when I was too young to truly understand that I can tap into the Source at any moment. Even without the audible reminder of a purr from across the room. My Father will simply speak to me in new ways: he will remind me to take deep breaths when I hear the wind through the palmettos, or the crunch of my feet on dry, winter leaves, or when I see the sun shift & briefly light up the grass, flashing it Kelly green. 

Or if I lay real still in bed at night with my eyes closed, relax my throat, soften my shoulders, I just might remember that even though God can send helpers in many forms, he sent the most powerful One of all, that lives inside my very own form. And if I just pay attention, He’s speaking to me lovingly, beyond words, in a particular way that no human, no animal, ever can.

When your helpers pass on, remember there is an Eternal one who will never leave you or forsake you. He is with you always, through the long watches of the night.

4 thoughts on “Our Helpers

  1. Ellen, this is beautiful. I’m not a cat person, either, but we’ve had cats for the entire 48 years we’ve been married because Glenn is a cat person. I remember when my sons’ first cat died after almost 18 years I grieved more than I ever thought possible. Maybe it was watching my boys grieve; maybe I was more deeply attached than I realized. I love the ending to your story about the One, neither human nor animal, Who can help us beyond all.

    1. Thank you so much Debi. Gracious it is so good to hear from you! Yet another personal blessing from returning to this space, reconnecting to you ❤️
      It was interesting observing Andrew’s reactions to my animal’s death, it sounds very similar to yours. When our loved ones hurt, we hurt. Especially mothers. My mama says to me in my dark moments, “I wish I could take your pain from you, & feel it instead.”

  2. Very sad and very sweet. As the keeper of two old cats myself, I realize I won’t be any more ready when their time comes than I am now. However, having lost enough people in life, I sort of know what to expect.

    1. Sigh. I hear you. It’s hard to know how to prepare yourself for the loss of someone you love so much. Grief can impact you in such interesting ways & bring up long hidden core wounds. Just like I learned with the passing of my Bubba Love. It was so hard, but so necessary. That mess needed to see the light & get processed through! I feel so much freer now.

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