By Tilly Smith Dix

This tapestry of life will often throw us an unexpected cross stitch, just to show us we are not in control, even when our intentions are good and our attitude positive.

Never have I realised it more than in recent weeks, when my devoted little shadow, trusted confidant and foot-warmer, fell ill and I had the choice to keep her comfortable for as long as her deteriorating body and now fragile disposition would allow.  She was not to suffer or endure pain just to keep her with me for selfish reasons.

The vet agreed this was the best choice for Cathy. He prescribed antibiotics to at least clear up her bladder infection. She deserved a dignified passage onto the Rainbow Bridge when she was ready.

Brave, feisty, pretty Cathy, who lived rough for some time until the day she decided to take me up on my offer of a haven. Always a remarkable communicator with her favourite human, she made it clear on the morning of 26 July 2021 that she wanted to end her journey on this earth. She was now in pain and she was losing the use of her front paws. Her head would also unexpectedly quiver.

In the wild, she would have chosen a bush in a quiet corner in which to fall into that quiet place, where pain would shift her into that outer body elevation, so she could simply float away to escape a condition that was irreversible. Stage four kidney disease.

         Pictured above, eastern spine bills, crimson rosellas, and plenty more colourful bird species on view through the window, where Cathy would spend her winter days on a warm bed. In summer, she’d stroll in the garden with me. The feather on her face floated down from a tree, where a juvenile rosella was expressing its glee. Cathy found it entertaining to play with that feather.

Instead of that bush, she chose to no longer eat and made it clear she wanted to crawl under her favourite blanket in the sun on the bed but she did not wish to see daylight. She wanted the dark of the blanket over her head.

Cathy always had a healthy appetite and until a few days prior, I could still bribe her with some extra cooked chicken, brown rice and sweet potato, in which I could camouflage her arthritis meds.

Now, she merely wanted to be warm and comfortable, after briefly looking out of the window, as she did most days, moaning at the birds outside one more time, before her choice of bush could be crept under.

I respected that and called the kind, caring veterinary team at Coldstream Animal Aid, where the staff had become accustomed to her grace as well as her excellent communications skills. She’d also made it clear to them, especially over the past weeks, she would tolerate certain procedures and prodding only if her trusted human could be with her. They respected that.

And so, after several weeks of palliative care, when the electric blanket was kept on low to keep her comfortable 24/7 to ease her arthritic aches during a cold wet winter, she made it clear she had no more fight left to remain by my side.

She had been on a natural product for arthritis for some years but as she was eating so little towards her final days, she could not consume enough food to absorb the prescribed dosage to ease her body aches.

I promised Cathy I’d not let her suffer when she had had enough and she soldiered on, albeit now walking in a geriatric, unbalanced manner, shaking her little head as if she had Parkinson’s disease. Never fond of being picked up, she now signalled she needed my helping hands to lift her onto and off the bed.

For several weeks, this smart little cat seemed grateful for the step I’d built for her with shoe boxes to ease her ascent and descent from the bed. No longer did she want to utilise her own beds, strewn around the house. She wanted the human bed she shared most of the time, where it was warm and her view through the window into the garden was unhindered.

Even on her final day on this earth, she showed dignity and wished to walk to her litter tray to do her business. However, she had stopped grooming herself and the sad smell of death started to not only emerge from her breath but from her rapidly declining little body. Even then, she was still a beauty.

Staying with her during her departure from pain and disease, assuring her of my love and gratitude for her intelligence, devotion, love, and often straight talk, was no walk in the park for this human. It took all my determination to speak to her calmly, lovingly, and reassuringly until she let out her final sigh with her little face in my hand after that second, lethal dose of anaesthetic. It broke my heart but hopefully, it eased her journey, knowing she would always be loved and never be forgotten.

Palliative care is tough on us humans. We ensure our pet is kept comfortable and happy. However, observing their deterioration, day by day, is heartbreaking. A fellow animal-loving friend said, “our pets don’t know they are sick. They only know they are loved.”

On a sunny day, after some torrential rains on the country estate where I lived in South Africa almost ten years ago, she arrived on my doorstep and requested permission to enter. I invited her in and from that moment, the wild, seemingly feral cat and I shared an amazing bond of trust. I’d watched and tried to coax her to take shelter in my home during those heavy rains, when she got flushed out of the drain where she had been living for some time. It took several days for her to think about my offer and come to my door. She proved to be a highly intelligent and well-mannered little diva.

However, she did not like being touched, her trust in humans had obviously been tested and she was adamant. I respected that and we just conversed.

She would rub against me, and lick my feet with gratitude after I’d fed her. She seemed proud of her achievement when I showed her, once, how to use a kitty litter tray. I told her how smart she was for catching on so fast as this adult kitty had obviously never used a litter tray.

Exhausted after living so rough and being abused by local farm workers, who believed cats were sent by witches to cast evil spells, which I tried to educate them about as being old-wives’ tales, Cathy would sleep all day in the soft little bed I provided for her in the sun in the bedroom. At night, she’s sleep close to me on the bed.

Late afternoon she would stroll into my home office and often sit on my desk. She seemed fascinated by the computer. In fact, she seemed fascinated by most things I did. I was her chosen human, and she was going to observe my every habit, it seemed. Even the girly things, like doing my hair or make-up, getting dressed, taking a bath, seemed to intrigue her.

I’d brush my teeth, and she’d jump on the bathroom counter, and attempt to drink water from my glass or, her personal favourite, straight from the dripping tap.

When I took her to the vet for a check-up and her required shots and microchip shortly after we adopted each other, it was discovered she had indeed been someone’s pet as she had been spayed. The vet agreed, her fear of being touched could have stemmed from being physically abused. However, by now, she was comfortable with me picking her up and stroking her.

Having her ears and chin scratched resulted in amplified purring. She was also gracious in allowing the vet to go about his business touching her when I was with her and talking to her.

The stories about Cathy are endless as she had a large personality and never failed to show her appreciation for being given a loving home. She used to take walks with me, her choice, and stay at my side. She’d find twigs and drop them at my feet. I’d throw them and she’d chase after them, like a little dog. If she sensed danger, in particular a dog that was on the loose, she’d dash straight home and await my return.

Not keen on strange humans, she was inquisitive, though, if I was conversing with people. So, she’d join in and acknowledge they were welcome if I approved. The neighbours miss her interaction, with me and Cathy on the porch, chatting over the fence with them.

These are the neighbour’s she’d also ignore if I was away for a few nights and they’d feed her. On day one, she’d pop from the bedroom to welcome them. However, once she realised it was not me, she’d return to the bedroom. After that, she’d only eat the food they’d leave for her in the kitchen once they’d mad their departure. Awkward, right?

Eating chicken without her quietly appearing in the hope of a treat, which she always got, is torture. However, how to deal with grief? Keep doing those everyday things that so poignantly remind us of our loss. Eventually, the pain lessens but the memories never fade.

The very hens next door she wanted no part of, would cluck away when I’d deliver some of my fresh food scraps. Cathy would wait at the neighbour’s gate for my return and complain about my chatting to the chooks. I’d then stroke her, she would seemingly reprimand me for interacting with the enemy, I’d reassure her, and we’d have a companiable stroll back into the house. This little cat has left a huge void.

Cathy also had a keen eye for footwear. She made no secret of the fact that my new discounted bunny-face slippers were not meeting with her approval. She’d stare at them, look up at me and march off. I’d replace them with my trusty old wool slippers, would stroll up to her, and she would rub her little face against them. Ever the clear communicator.

I also had several gifts of stunned juvenile snakes, which she would drop at my feet in my office during those early years! Luckily, they were in shock or pretending to be dead, so I’d scoop them into a kitchen container with some ventilation, until I could deliver them back to the bush by early evening, when they’d start showing signs of life!

Brace yourselves, there will be plenty more stories about this incredible, brave, determined little cat and I’m also working up the courage to add chapter two to the initial story from Cathy’s assumed perspective, which was published on this blog under Tales from Home some years ago…

I had looked forward to moving to my new home, where I hoped she would spend many a day napping in her private little garden space, but the angels had other plans for this little trouper, who lived to age 16 or 17, the exact years of which the vets were uncertain.

Cathy had survived a tough life, abuse, a move across the waters with me, chronic pancreatitis, FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), for at least 7 years, arthritis, a 10ft fall from the sundeck (by rolling off when snoozing some years ago), the extraction of three teeth, several catfights to defend her home, where neighbours’ cats came to pick on her but sadly, the sudden onset of stage four kidney disease could not be reversed.

The first indication of the disease was frequent urination, drinking more water than before, and having two seizures, apparently brought on by the advanced stages of kidney disease.

Sadly, that devastating storm in June caused Cathy enormous stress. She seemed okay after a few days but a week later, we had wild winds again and that seemed to be a catalyst as the next day she had her first seizure, which seemed like a stroke. For several minutes she could not move her left front leg and looked at me pleadingly.

I called the vet and the blood tests revealed she was sicker than we suspected. The vet indicated the results were unexpected as Cathy still behaved in a robust manner.

Feeling helpless and wishing I could have done more to help this loving little pet, I am told, is normal. It is part of the grief and loss we suffer when we lose something so dear to us. Eventually, I will only remember the joy and love this devoted little cat brought into my life. Getting playful and rolling at my feet with joy when I listened to music that made me sing or dance.

Acceptance is often difficult. I miss our walks around the garden, with her chatting and me responding. Her sniffing the heated mat under my desk, indicating she was feeling the chill and I needed to turn it on. A creature of habit and a fast learner. I complied with all the love and care she deserved.

Cathy did grant me enough room for my feet, though, after spreading herself comfortably on that heated mat. Whilst enjoying the finer side of life, she was always ready for a chat and to show adoration and gratitude. A happy girl but never keen on other animals.

The welcome I got after a brief trip to the shops or running errands, was heart-meltingly sweet. Running to me, chattering, rubbing, and insisting on my hands scratching her under her chin. Ah, and did she love getting groomed! That soft brush, at first seemed suspiciously threatening to her but within seconds of our first grooming session, she was hooked on the tender care.

So, to now help me through this journey, I imagine my old Tiger, a large, robust, yet gentle cat I had the honour of spending 16 years of my life with before his body succumbed to kidney disease, arthritis, and cancer, to guide her and show her around that magical garden in the sky. To chase butterflies but never harm them.

Not simply a part of my past but a part of me, Cathy’s ashes will accompany me to my new home, where I am certain her feisty and communicative spirit will guide me to the spot in which she would like to be remembered in years to come.

My gratitude to my wonderful friends, fellow cat lovers, who have gifted Cathy’s individual cremation to me as a token of their caring hearts, and my family, and dear friends and neighbours who knew her and sent flowers to celebrate her vibrant personality, is endless.

At first, on arrival in that special place for our pets in the clouds, Cathy would have been cheeky with Tiger, I’d imagine, as she did not enjoy the attention of other animals but, being the gentle giant and charmer he was, I bet he now has convinced her of his genuine affection and devotion, as they had both basked in the light of my devotion.

I was lucky enough to have been honoured by their love, loyalty, and strong personalities.

So, even when we have a good life, we still need to deal with loss. This is my way and I hope my story will help you when you need to do the same.

Memories of Cathy come flooding back, constantly. The day a neighbour’s chook (hen) came strolling into the garden and walked straight past her. The look of total consternation on Cathy’s expressive little face was priceless. I could not stop laughing. She did not approve.

That look changed to pure fury when I spoke to the hen and picked her up to return her to the neighbours’ yard. Miss Cathy did not like to share her human with other animals.

Music has the power

It was during this labyrinth of grief I flicked channels to find a distraction and came across Echo In The Canyon, a documentary about the musicians who created amazing sounds when living in Laurel Canyon, California, during the hippie era. A place I visited and found fascinating years ago.

Featuring Jakob Dylan, son of Bob Dylan, and directed by Andrew Slater, I loved this authentic journey of a time when some of the most poignant music of our times was written and produced.

Be ready for an epic musical treat, which reverberated across the planet, by such iconic performers as The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas & The Papas, and the like. Interviews with Ringo Starr, Jackson Brown and Michelle Philips will entertain you, I bet.

So, this is how I came to discover Jakob Dylan, a musician-songwriter, and actor in his own right. I am now a devoted fan. So, to Cathy, I dedicate Goin’ Back, performed by Jakob Dylan and Beck, and Go Where you Wanna Go, performed by Jakob Dylan and Jade, originally performed by The Mamas and The Papas.

If you remember some of these musical geniuses, you’d love Jakob’s videos on YouTube…

I bet you’ll also enjoy Dedicated to the One I Love, such sweet echoes from the past…

Say cheese

A brief relief from lockdown resulted in a scrumptious lunch and vistas of the Yarra Valley’s verdant hills, green pastures, and cheese-producing goats at the Yarra Valley Dairy.

The cheese and charcuterie platters have not lost their charm and the local wine choices did not disappoint.

Ask for the cheese hotpot, on this day, it was gruyere with onions. So French, so delicious and the fresh bread was irresistible. So was the duck terrine. The goat and dairy cheeses, bottled calamata olives and other delicacies from the bijou deli won’t disappoint either.

Sofa spud

My latest sofa TV binges comprise The Leisure Seeker, with superb acting by Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. Suffice to say this is a bitter-sweet, deeply moving film about an ageing couple. Have the tissues ready.

I became so engrossed in Late Night, starring the incredibly versatile Emma Thompson, I cheered when things turned out right! A feel-good binge, you’ll thank me later.

For Leonard Cohen fans, the sensitive documentary on his love for Marian, Marian & Leonard, Words of Love, will touch your heart. No spoiler alerts. A beautiful love story indeed.

Series I’ve enjoyed whilst escaping the realities of lockdown and depressing world news, include The Good Witch and Virgin River. Catherine Bell, whom I enjoyed watching in JAG years ago, will bewitch you, whilst every woman I know would love to marry James Denton, whom we all secretly crushed on years ago when he was the male lead in Desperate Housewives.

As for Martin Henderson, true blue Kiwi actor as Jack in the Canadian production of Virgin River, he gets my vote as leading man this round. Hoping Season 4 follows soon!

Travel plans

Never has travel seemed more alluring than now, after seemingly endless lockdowns and feeling imprisoned in our homes.

Local travel beckons, whilst many of us are reluctant to travel abroad for now. However, planning a local getaway and being a tourist in our own countries, is healing therapy.

Travel in South Africa is always a treat and while most international travel would be on hold for now, this means locals get to experience the best of the best – and reduced rates!

Pictured above, endless fun for all ages as well as corporate team building facilities at Sandstone Estates in the Free State of South Africa.

Steam, heritage tours and a walk in the country

The Sandstone Walking Tours have proven an ideal getaway for visitors in need of the fresh, mountain air and magnificent surrounds of the Free State. Starting at the Waenhuis Café, small groups adhering to social distancing rules proceed on a walk down memory lane, which includes viewing:

Military vehicles, the tractor display, an ox wagon shed, steam and vintage sheds, vintage machinery, the vintage workshop, the main workshop, the stationery engine museum, a rolling stock shed, and the Sherman tank shed.

From Corporate team building to executive getaways, product launches and weddings, to year-end functions, television, video and photographic location shoots, Sandstone Estates cater for a myriad of interests. Some of the most recent group visits have comprised student, club, and tourist group outings.

Fancy a scenic trip to the Lesotho border in the BSA Rail Car, a 1910 classic Edwardian Rail Car, or perhaps the Wickham Rail Trolley, depending on numbers in your group…or perhaps an ox wagon or military vehicle ride afterwards?

Affordable accommodation for 32 guests, with options ranging from camping facilities, complete with an ablution block @R380-00 per stand per night, to six self-catering Victorian Cottages, which sleep 4 guests in twin-bed rooms, offering fully fitted kitchens and shower-bathrooms @R1,980-00 per cottage per night, including VAT. Railway cottages @R425-00 per person per night. Braai facilities are also on offer.

Call Mariette Palmer on 064 752 3852 or 051 933 2235 or email: mariettep@sandstone.co.za  for enquiries and visit www.sandstone-estates.com for further details.

Safari bliss at Tau

Waking up to the sound of a lion’s roar, a jackal barking, a cacophony of birdsong, or elephants trumpet…

Feeling chilly? Nothing a hot cup of chocolate, a rusk or muffin, perhaps with a dash of a warming Amarula Cream, won’t fix.

This is how a morning safari starts at eco-friendly, family-friendly, malaria-free Tau Game Lodge in the Madikwe Reserve, only hours from Johannesburg. 

The five-star lodge is enclosed within the reserve, resulting in guests being subtly fenced in, while game roam free. This is also a birder’s paradise.

See the mesmerizing Tau live webcam at http://taugamelodge.co.za/main-lodge/live-webcam/

Current rates:

Special daily rates start at R4,800 per person sharing, valid until end September 2021 – contact reservations for weekly and monthly special offers and packages –  +27-11–4668715

Rates include:

One night, 3 meals and 2 safaris, as well as refreshments on safari drives.

www.taugamelodge.co.za

Style it up

Winter has been long, cold, and often wet here in my verdant Yarra Valley. However, I’ve always loved winter as one could layer up, style up and do plenty with some basic outfits.

Spring, I hear, is on her way but for now, she is hiding behind the late winter chill, giving me plenty reason to snug up in some of my vintage and more recent wardrobe choices, especially mohair and woollen coats.

Pictured above, styling old with new. Acquiring current styles but understanding the versatility of a garment, will result in longevity. Much of the styles utilised above are from my vintage closet, with some new additions of soft corduroy pants and mohair knits. The image at the bottom features current stylish pants at Witchery Fashion, and an elegant longline white blazer from Zara.

Cheers to the good life, dear friends. It may drop a stitch or sadden us at times but in the end, there is plenty to lift our spirits – starting with nature, fashion and the love of those folks who truly care, and our animals. Oh, and don’t forget the bubbles…

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