The last few weeks have been a little tough: I needed to let go of my 13-year-old cat Madrona. She had been diagnosed with liver cancer in the summer, and over the last few months I watched her body diminish until it became clear her time had come. I still can’t believe how much I cried.
In an odd way, though, it felt good to cry, to feel this love so strongly in the body. So often, love becomes a murmur in the background; now it had become a waterfall.
A strange coincidence happened, too. While I was in the vet’s office on Madrona’s last visit, my cell phone rang. I didn’t answer it, and didn’t even look at the message until the next day. It was the rescue organization, Happy Tails Happy Homes, calling to say they had a little dog who very much needed temporary foster care.
So, a hole opened up in my home, and an animal arrived to take up some space. This little guy, Gizmo:
He was adorable in every way, but scared and confused. He settled down pretty quickly, and caring for him took my mind off Madrona for a little while. He was adopted just a couple of days later, to an elderly couple who wanted nothing more than the ultimate lap dog.
When he left, the kitty-shaped hole Madrona had left behind loomed wide, and waves of grief washed over me again. Now this little girl has shown up, Tiny:
Rescued from a puppy mill, Tiny doesn’t know much about humans, and even less about the outdoors. She likes to skitter away and hide. My dog, Abbe, isn’t too happy about having to be the mature one around here, but she’s doing her job, showing Tiny where outdoors is and what one does there. Tiny’s going to need some time and patience, but already she’s started wagging her skinny tail and taking treats from my hand. She asked nicely to be let up on the couch, and we sat together a long time, my hand stroking her belly.
In the meantime, Madrona’s ashes sit on my bookshelf, flanked by a picture of Quan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion. I pass her several times a day and say hello. I think about the word “foster” and what it means, literally “to help grow and develop.” In this way, perhaps I was Madrona’s foster child: in her temporary care as she witnessed me evolve over the last 13 years. Her life span marks my entire time here in Bellingham, Wa: moving from a scared and lonely new professor at Western Washington University to a more confident place, a little more sure in how I fit into the world.
How have your animals marked the time spans of your life? How have you been fostered?