Let's Just Think

Driving Mr. Nate

Driving Mr. Nate
Driving Mr. Nate (Just like his mom, he falls asleep while reading design magazines)

This is Nate. He’s my 10 y/o cat named after Nathaniel Hawthorne. He’s extremely affectionate and is wonderful at giving head bonks whenever you pick him up. When he sleeps, he snores, and it is one of the most soothing sounds I have ever heard. He’s a wonderful little guy.

“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The last face to face conversation I had with my mom was about Nate.

Once after visiting her, I gathered my bags to drive back home to New Hampshire. On this day, she said she wanted to help me carry my bags downstairs. I thought this was strange as normally I always gave her a hug and a kiss and left her in her room – sitting contently with her coffee and Sunday New York Times. But this time, she wanted to walk downstairs with me. I told her that she didn’t need to, that I would carry my bags and Nate in his carrier, but she insisted. I told her “No I have it”, “No, I have Nate”, “No, you can’t carry that, it’s too heavy” (I know how I pack – mom not so much). But she continued to persist so I gave in and handed her my boat bag with the computer, some clothes, and food in it. It was the lightest of everything I had.

Once we were downstairs I reached for the boat bag she was carrying and said “Okay, I’ll take it” as I was going to carry everything to the car and say goodbye to her at the front door. But again she said, “no, I’ll wait here with Nate and the bags, you go get the car.” I was thinking “what the heck?” – never in my life did it occur to me that this would be the last time I would see her.

The worst part about the memory I have of this day was that throughout my 25-year career in healthcare, I saw this all the time! – People waiting for their loved ones to leave and then the next thing you knew, they would die. That there always seemed to be this strange dynamic with the way they interacted with each other that would make you (or them) think “wow, that was weird..” and then they’d be gone.

One time, during the early 1990’s ish, I was in my office at the addiction treatment center where I worked in Connecticut. The phone rang and it was one of my patients, William, calling to tell me he was going to be in the hospital for a few nights longer then he thought. He had an “opportunistic” infection. He was a most amazing and insightful young man who had developed an addiction to cocaine, which along with his anxiety and depression had compromised his AIDs – symptoms, care, and medications.

As I listened to him on the phone, I was amazed by how much he was telling me about what he wanted to accomplish once he had completed our program. “I want to be an AIDS educator,” he told me. “I think I can really help a lot of people and the thing that I really want to tell them is ‘don’t ever think that it can’t happen to you’.” I was inspired by our conversation and told him “don’t worry, just feel better and I’ll hold a place for you”.

The next morning I arrived at my office and listened to the voicemail from his nurse at the hospital who informed me he had died around 4:00am that morning.

I knew that dynamic – and missed it – again and again and again.

So on a bright, sunny Sunday morning in early February of this year, mom helped me load Nate and my bags into the car and watch as I wrapped the seatbelt through the handles on Nate’s carrier while I told her how quieter he was when he sat in the front seat next to me. I didn’t even think about how strange this all was – which still baffles me.

I gave her a hug and a kiss said goodbye and never saw her alive again.

“Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nate had not always come with me when I initially went to visit mom on the weekends but I when I started driving back and forth more frequently and staying a little longer, I decided not to leave him alone. So back and forth we drove to and from Rhode Island every weekend.

A few times mom would ask “why don’t you leave him here with me?” “Mom – I’ll be back next weekend,” I said.  I think for her it was like being able to visit with the grandkids and spoil him while the parents were away. But the more significant thing was the fact that she also had her cats, Callie and Trey staying with her. As the Assisted living facility where she was staying only allowed one pet, we had to negotiate for the other.

I said to mom “really, the last thing we need is for the med nurse to come in in the morning and see three cats… the goal here is not to get evicted”.

“They won’t evict me”. she said, defiantly.

But Nate always traveled with me, sitting in his carrier quietly as we’d listen to audiobooks while trying to avoid heavy traffic during the Sundays when the Patriots played.

And together we were all settling into our more comfortable routine and it seemed like mom was settling into being back on the island – her home and spending time with friends she had not seen in years.

I never expected her to leave so soon and I miss her every day.

This grief thing? – not a fan.

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