What falls away is always. And is near.

Soot_Love Look. 2014

In this season of high summer the year is quietly turning toward the dark , and loss is heavy on my heart.

In mid-July, my companion Soot left us. He was twelve years old. Lap cat, fur slippers, familiar, magic-worker, sensitive, healer spirit. Best of cats. He was devoted to me, and I to him, since the first time we met and he, wild kitten, jumped into my lap and claimed me. My daughter had rescued him from a busy street in the middle of the night. She thought at first she was seeing a piece of white plastic trash blowing across the road. But no, it was a tiny kitten, starving, infested and filthy. He was almost all white except for dark tips on ears and paws. Because he looked as if he had been playing in the ashes of the hearth, he came to me already named Soot.

Kitten Soot

From the beginning he was my cat; until last year he wouldn’t sit on anyone’s lap but mine. He was very shy of people he didn’t know and would vanish when anyone came over; many folks didn’t even know I had a cat. But when I traveled away from home, I would return to reports of him yowling, in full Siamese voice, looking for me through the house.

Soot young 2006

If I was dawdling too long with after-dinner tasks, he would silently follow me around until I would light somewhere long enough for lap time. In summer he might instead lay on my feet. If I was in recovery from one of the surgeries or injuries I’ve had over the last many years, he was especially insistent that I sit down and rest. When the credits would roll at the end of our nightly movie, even if I hadn’t moved a muscle, he would jump down, knowing I was going to bed now. For various reasons, he did not sleep with us, but at times when I came home from the emergency room, or had simply been away too long, I woke to find him keeping vigil, nestled at my shoulder.

Soot_napping 2015

He loved to be around spiritual energy. He helped me make the labyrinth in the lower yard when he was still a youngster. As he mellowed with age, he would emerge from isolation and join us in family circle, holding the center next to the altar. And he would show up without fail when I went down by the creek to do my qigong and run the energy, sitting near me to get a bit of juju. He loved to be outside when the moon was at her fullest; those were the nights he would let me sit with him outside the door but declined to come in, preferring the sky full of moon.

Soot_Labyrinth Center

When armfuls of catnip came home from the community garden a few years ago, Soot was in nirvana. Later that summer, he was in a territory dispute with another cat who was bigger and meaner, in the back yard next door. He was getting his ass kicked by this cat, who had longer legs. I had dried all this catnip and in a stroke of insight, scattered it all around the borders of the disputed meadow. All fighting ceased and peace returned to the creek.

Soot_Afternoon Delight

The last couple of years Soot began failing, slowly at first, swinging between spells of lethargy and little appetite to periods when he would rally and eat ravenously. Thus began visits with our tender-hearted veterinarian, always accompanied by blood curdling cries on the way there and complete silence on the way home. Blood tests ruled out any treatable diseases and the only remaining diagnostics were invasive and dangerous. I made some hard choices but I chose what was right for him. In the end, I brought him home to his beloved creek.

Soot by the creek March 2017

When we gave him his own place in the house for nightimes, with two litter boxes and his food dishes, he went in every night without complaint. He seemed to understand. But in June he began hunting, catching and eating rats in the chicken coop, and spending some nights outside in his wild places. He spoke to me often with the silent meow.

Soot Meditating March 2017

At the last, he did come to me. I knew he was in distress and called my vet for the number of the mobile vet. I meant to hold him and ease his transition. But Soot went his own way. He hid, and I couldn’t find him. My heart broke then, that he was alone.

That afternoon, I knew he was gone when a full hour of qigong didn’t bring him to my side. But I have known in myriad other ways since. Death is so mundane. It is just absence. At every turn, or at my call, he was always there. Now he’s not. Over and over again, there is just an empty place, where once he was. I’ve cried a tsunami of tears, in the early morning, at dinner time, at bed time.

Guilt has stalked me ever since Soot began showing signs of illness. If the burden of life is love, then somehow the burden of loss is guilt. Was I doing enough to help him? Was I being a good cat mother? And at the end, why was I not with him, to let my river of tears gently carry  him on his way? It seems like every loss recalls every other loss, and we feel the pain of all of them. But none of us can prevent the death of our beloved ones, nor even necessarily ease it. They slip away. They slip away when we have left the room, or when we open the door and let them out, not knowing it will be the last time. They slip away because they must. Dying is a lonely business.  To paraphrase a song I love, “In the end there is one dance we do alone.”

Soot_ Blending In

I’ve not found him. This too was his choice. I understand now that he let himself be tamed, that I was his companion and privileged to be so, that he was only on loan from his wild life. His coloration always helped him blend in, especially at this sere season, and now he has blended in completely. He gives his vessel back to the earth. If I can’t know where his body is, I can know he is everywhere, just as every one of our beloveds is everywhere when they pass from this world. I sit by the creek and talk to him, and tend my little kitty altar, with my feelings and tears.

Soot Altar

So this Lunasa, season of seed and harvest, I remember my love. And I remember the Wheel. It turns, and it is implacable. Great Nature is indifferent to our mortal dramas and heartaches. She gives and She takes, in Her own time. All of us return to the earth; no one gets out alive. Wisdom offered to me in my deepest mourning said, death is magic. Without death life would have no meaning. Love would have no meaning. So I sit with this, at the ripening summer which at its fullest joy is shadowed by sorrow. It was always thus, and will always be thus. It is not uncommon when grieving to rail against what we believe in, whether it be a god or a philosophy, a religion or a way, and I am no exception. But there is nothing and no one to blame, not even myself. I did the best I could, I loved the best and deepest I could, and any missteps on the path were only that, the mistakes of living, without which life would be sterile perfection. I love the world and its magic. Because of course magic is hard and brutal too. Why should it be only light and love?

As often in the past, I turn to music and poetry and art to help me through this time. It pains me to write this account, but it also helps me. I felt my first ray of healing when I read someone else’s blog post about her loss, and I remembered how writing can help. In the worst stretch of grief when I couldn’t stop crying, I let myself have a session with my gifted massage therapist. I expected to cry the entire time, but instead, the opposite happened. Somehow when she touched me behind the ears, I remembered how I so carefully pet Soot when he had become so thin. I felt our soul connection then, and let in the glad memories, felt his spirit and the love we gave to each other, received a respite from the brutality of sorrow. Talking about it, after a while, helped too, though at first like any animal I too wanted to go to ground and not let anyone near me. I remember the happy times, the healthy times, because we tell ourselves that is what our beloved would want, to remember them well, not sick and suffering.

The title of this post is from a poem I have loved since I was not yet twenty, and have fairly memorized. If words can heal, these words do.

The Awakening

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.

by Theodore Roethke

Soot smiling on deck

And one more, because one can never have too many poems: A dear friend sent me this beautiful poem. I can substitute any of the wild creatures in my back yard for the spirit guides: the blue heron, the fox, the turtle, the deer. I can’t get past the second line without tears, but in the end, it brings me some comfort.

Song for the Dead
A Romanian folk poem translated by W.S. Merwin

The evening becomes evening.
No one will shelter you.
And at that time
The otter will come toward you
To make you afraid
But do not be afraid.
Receive her as your sister.
The otter knows
The order of the rivers,
The lay of the fords,
Will get you across,
Will save you from drowning,
Will carry you
To the cold sources
To refresh you
After the shudder of death.

Also before you
The wolf will appear
To make you afraid
But do not be afraid.
Receive him as your brother.
The wolf knows
The order of forests,
The grain of the paths,
He will lead you
On the level road
To a king’s son,
To paradise
Where life is good,
The hill for playing:
This is your place;
The field of peonies:
There is your heart.

{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Patrick Ferraro 08/01/2017, 5:31 pm

    Giving water to the dead. Your way with words releases my wounded soul. I miss him too.

    • Cari 08/02/2017, 6:20 am

      Ah, honey, I know you do. You gave him so much lovin’ too. You were so touched when he came onto your lap too last year. He was a lucky kitty to have so much love in his life.

  • John Cutrone 08/01/2017, 6:12 pm

    This is so moving, the harmony in the ways between you both. From my own experience, I can only say that you always have been and always will be well, and Soot, as well. Watch for him in different ways.

    • Cari 08/02/2017, 6:22 am

      Your words are like a balm to my sadness, John.

  • laurie doctor 08/01/2017, 6:23 pm

    If I were a kitty, I would want you for my companion. What a beautiful story, and how lovely and generous that you didn’t take away Soot’s wildness, didn’t tame him. He kept his dignity, knowing when it was time to go. I think most of us humans have lost this ability to walk gently toward death– “I learn by going where I have to go.” It must be heartbreaking not to be able to have been there when he died– what to do with the loss? But I admire so much your regard for his nature– not making him only your pet. May your absence be filled with presences. Those places you shared with him, the way kitties are connected to invisible things, I think you will find him there.

    • Cari 08/02/2017, 6:26 am

      dear Laurie, I am so comforted by your offering. So many now have blessed his memory that I feel him near. Thank you for helping that to be true.

    • Jane Robertson 08/02/2017, 9:20 am

      Laurie, your words are so lovingly stated. I cannot add more. And, Cari, I’ve had similar experiences with 2 wild cats. One (Mica who was all black and missing one eye) blessed me with 4 beautifully marked kittens, and later disappeared back to the wild. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

      • Cari 08/02/2017, 9:43 am

        Thank you, Jane. I hear more stories like yours and I see the bigger picture. I have two feral cats who several years ago I caught, had spayed and neutered, and now feed minimally to keep them on the property as placeholders and rodent control. They are too skittish to be touched, but one of them adored Soot, and I still hear his inquiring soprano meows in the evenings.

  • Roseanne 08/01/2017, 6:31 pm

    Reading this was painful and yet so beautiful, dear Cari. I’ve loved deeply each of our sweet creatures and felt their loss just as much. “Without death life would have no meaning. Love would have no meaning.” Truer words were never spoken. I wish you a lighter heart as time goes on.

    • Cari 08/02/2017, 6:30 am

      My heart is a little lighter when others help me bear it. As you have, Roseanne.

  • Sherrie Lovler 08/01/2017, 6:36 pm

    You write so beautifully. I can feel your love, your loss. Your sadness, your life. Thank you.

    • Cari 08/02/2017, 6:32 am

      Thank you, Sherrie. Bereavement breaches the walls of privacy like nothing else, I think.

  • Christina Schneck 08/01/2017, 7:55 pm

    Your post was touchingly poignant and uplifting. My two cats that I had close to 20 years left me over a year and a half ago. They touched my soul and will always be in my heart. I have two new cats in my life, who are bonded friends. They keep me focused, playful and comforted and I return the favor. Thank you for this perfect memorial to your Soot.

    • Cari 08/02/2017, 6:34 am

      You give me hope for a future love, Christina. But right now I can’t imagine opening my heart again.

  • Bee Smith 08/02/2017, 9:43 am

    So beautiful. So heart full. Thank you.

    • Cari 08/02/2017, 11:51 am

      Thank you, Bee. At first I thought to try and put this in a poem, but there were too many stories.

  • Marcie Higgins 08/02/2017, 11:36 am

    Hi Cari.
    I’m so sorry to hear about Soot. Your tribute to him is beautiful. It sounds like you two had a very special relationship. I’m glad that you were able to have this experience, even if that’s part of why it’s so hard now. Time won’t heal your wounds – but it will make them easier to bear.
    My love to you and Patrick.

    • Cari 08/02/2017, 11:53 am

      It’s nice to hear from you, Marcie. Sharing it is bearing it, I guess.

  • Carolyn Cushing 08/02/2017, 3:22 pm

    This writing is an immensity of deepest loss but also vast beauty and so full of love. Thanks for your sharing it with us.

    • Cari 08/02/2017, 3:37 pm

      Carolyn, you were the first to send poetry for my healing, and I am grateful for the beautiful poem I ended my post with. It reminded me of others that have also helped me.

  • June Maffin 08/02/2017, 6:43 pm

    “There is a season …” for our beloved companions (animal or human) to die. And yes, each one hurts.

    You wrote … “It seems like every loss recalls every other loss, and we feel the pain of all of them. But none of us can prevent the death of our beloved ones, nor even necessarily ease it.” Wise words, Cari – for all of the friends we meet on our journey of life … canine, feline, human. As you continue to bless others with your art and words and presence over the years, may you be blessed in ways you can’t even begin to imagine. And as you begin to heal from this loss, may you come to believe that Soot knew what he was doing at the end and that he did what he did out of love for you. Gentle cyberhug on its way to you.

    • Cari 08/04/2017, 2:39 pm

      Thank you, June.

  • Maria Orr 08/02/2017, 8:42 pm

    Thank you for this. I have not had a cat since I made the decision to put my beloved familiar Niniane down nine years ago. I can only imagine the pain of knowing she was gone but I wasn’t with her at her going; my blessing is that I was, and I held her tender body for hours afterward, and my friends drummed her spirit on. Thank you. Love is never lost.

    • Cari 08/04/2017, 10:06 pm

      I have thought I will never have another cat, but I wonder if that will be true.

  • cate 08/05/2017, 10:35 am

    Lost our beautiful boy Spencer to cancer in June and know how you feel.
    So sorry for your loss.

    • Cari 08/05/2017, 11:04 am

      Oh, Cate, he was so often in your beautiful photos. It’s so hard to lose these dear friends.

  • Sarah 08/17/2017, 7:13 am


    I saved reading this essay for a quiet time, and I’m so glad that I did. I am writing this on a foggy, late summer morning that is imbued with a sense of sorrow for both personal and community reasons, but you have reminded me of the gift of love, and of ways to move through grief. Your words are balm. I love the way you write- so clear, honest, musical, full of soul wisdom. Soot truly brought you, and now us, through your writing, an experience and reminder of magic. Thank you.

    • Cari 08/17/2017, 12:29 pm

      Sarah, thank you for your words and your friendship. It helps me heal to hear what you have written. I still struggle with grief, but am slowly beginning to move through it with perhaps more grace and acceptance. It’s never not a rocky road. May you be well.

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