Pumpkin, our friend and cat, died on Friday. She was an outdoor cat and was almost 18 years old, which I understand is about 16 years beyond the 2-year life expectancy of an outdoor cat. I learned a lot about acceptance, compassion, and love from Pumpkin, so in her honor and memory, I want to share a story with you.
Pumpkin was the daughter of our outdoor cat Snowy. Snowy died a few years before I got Parkinson’s. Snowy was the “hold me” loving cat. Pumpkin was not. I fed her every morning…that is, I put the food in the bowl while she kept her safe distance, and after I went back inside, she came to the bowl to eat. She was fed in our garage, just outside the kitchen door into the garage, and we always kept the garage door open 6-9 inches so she could go in and out for eating and hiding (it was her safe place from potential conflict outside).
The day after my Parkinson’s manifested in internal tremors, I went out the front door of our home to get the newspaper in the morning, and Pumpkin was there right when I stepped outside. And, she was meowing a lot. I looked around and saw no other animals, I bent down to try to touch her to pet her and calm her. As had been her behavior for 11 years, she would not let me touch her. Finally, I sat down on the stoop because I did not know what else to do.
Pumpkin promptly walked over to me, stopped meowing, rubbed her head against my leg, and climbed in my lap; she curled up and started purring. All I could think was “she knew.” And I started crying. I felt in my heart that she sensed my illness, and she came to sit with me and give me acceptance, compassion, and love. I petted her, hugged her, and told her very many times “thank you.”
This was our morning routine for nine months. On the day of my full recovery, I walk outside the front door just like every other morning, was greeted by Pumpkin, and sat down on the stoop. Pumpkin approached me, got very near me, and then she turned around and walked away. I got up and followed her, calling to her and letting her know that yes, I had my full recovery, but it was my turn to take care of her. She wanted nothing to do with it. She knew I was better and her work was completed.
However, as you know, in my recovery, I learned gratitude. So, the next morning when I walked out to get the paper, I sat in the driveway very close to Pumpkin. I told her how grateful I was for her taking such good care of me in my recovery, and I let her know that I imagined that she had been very lonely since her mother had died. I told her I would sit with her every morning for the rest of her life. I then slowly slid on my bottom until I got close enough to reach her, and she let me scratch her under her chin. And she purred. And I smiled.
That had been my morning routine with Pumpkin for the last 5 and 1/2 years. I would go in the driveway and sit. She would come not-quite-arms-distance from me and lie down, and I would slide over and scratch her under her chin and talk about life with her.
Another thing I learned from Pumpkin is letting go of fear. When you keep your garage door open at the bottom and the food is in the garage, the occasional raccoon or opossum will makes its way across the driveway and have meal in the garage. Pumpkin was not afraid. Occasionally, I would see her lying in the driveway and not flinch when one of these other animals made its way directly in front of her heading in or out of our garage.
To help me fight fear when I had Parkinson’s, on occasion, I would sit zazen in my driveway in the path that the raccoons or opossums would use. It helped me accept myself as part of nature and the Universal energy and to not be afraid of what might occur.
One morning last year, I happened to be looking out of the front of our home as one opossum was leaving the garage. You can see Pumpkin look at the opossum in the first picture and simply watch the opossum as it walked by in the second picture. As I said earlier, she was calm and accepting of the situation, and did not flinch. These are amongst the qualities that probably assist a cat in living outside for nearly 18 years. You may click the pictures to enlarge the images.
We had known for some time that Pumpkin was close to reaching the end of her “cat’s nine lives,” so when she died it did not come as a big surprise. She got to see our daughter Genevieve who was here for Thanksgiving, and she got to see our son Steven when he visited around New Year’s. And, she got to spend three weeks with our daughter Victoria who was home from college. Pumpkin died the day before Victoria returned to school. Pumpkin had hung in there long enough to spend a little time with every family member before she passed on.
For nine months of Parkinson’s, a part of my morning was spent receiving acceptance, compassion, and love from a cat known as Pumpkin. Pumpkin, I love you, and I am forever grateful for the important part you played in my Parkinson’s recovery.
Here is how I always will remember you:
So, in the end, there are many things I learned from Pumpkin, including acceptance, compassion, unconditional love, and no fear…not of life, and not of death. These are meaningful things for all of us.
Accept yourself and others.
Have compassion for yourself and others.
Find unconditional love for yourself and others. This is 2016…the year of love! Isn’t it?
Have no fear, not of life, and not of death.
And, be grateful. This life is a precious gift, and each and every one of you is worthy and deserving of a happy life. Be grateful for this gift of life, find joy and happiness in your heart, and find full recovery on your path. I am grateful to share this beautiful journey of life with all of you, my courageous friends.
You can do this.
You are worth it!!!
All my best,