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Finding some magic?

As I mentioned the other day, I needed to get a photograph that met the “magical” theme for the film photography contest that I’ve been taking part in this year. So today, I went out and made a few pictures that I hope will allow me to enter something suitable. They’re a pretty literal take on the theme, but I’ve not had the time or (mostly) the inclination over the past couple of weeks to do anything else. Anyway, I hopefully have three photos to choose from – I’ll try and get them developed tomorrow in order to meet the deadline on Tuesday.

The weather has so far been pretty awful this weekend. The UK is being battered by storm Arwen, which has brought strong winds, cold temperatures, and lots of rain and snow. Some parts of the country have been reporting gusts of up to 100mph and, sadly, there have been some deaths as a result of the conditions. We woke this morning to lower winds than we had overnight, but with a coating of slushy snow. Had it not been for my need to get a photo for the competition I’d have been very likely to have stayed tucked up in the house where it is nice and warm.

At the last minute I decided that I’d wear my hiking boots while out. My wife and son were heading into town, so I got a lift from them and was dropped off at the location for my picture-taking. As soon as I left the car my feet were submerged in inches of cold, waterlogged slush. Had I worn my trainers then my feet would have been soaked and frozen within a matter of minutes I think, so I was grateful for my boots. This was my first trip out with a camera since we lost Stan a couple of weeks ago and, if I’m honest, my mind wasn’t fully on the task. Nontheless, I still shot 11 of the 12 frames of medium format film in the camera, and will use the final frame tomorrow – possibly a portrait of my dad if the weather isn’t too bad and he visits in the morning. If my dad doesn’t visit, then I might photogrph my backup prop for the photo contest instead – a £2.99 Harry Potter eraser that I bought from Blackwell’s bookshop. I think most of the photos on the roll will be quite mundane, although one is of a big flock of pigeons perched atop tram power cables which I’m quite interested to see.

My son (who came into town with us) was supposed to have had his second Covid vaccination this morning but we received a message saying the appointment had been cancelled – presumably due to the bad weather – so we’ve had to re-book that for a couple of weeks time.

Another photo of Stan to close off the blog. This was his idea of helping me get on with work by trying to fall asleep in my arms. Love him.

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Magic needed urgently

I’ve spoken on this blog before about the film photography competition that I take part in. It’s run on a photography forum I’m a member of and is a friendly contest, with no prize other then the pleasant feeling of being the winner. I’ve not won the contest before, although I’ve finished up near the top on a number of occasions. This year, with two months still to go, I’m currently in the lead and have a reasonably good chance of prevailing if I make and enter good photos. My problem at the moment is that I don’t have an entry for November yet, and there are only five days left to do so.

After losing Stan, my mind has been far away from photography over the past couple of weeks and, if I’m honest, it’s still not really there yet now, but I don’t want to drop out of the contest at this stage. It doesn’t matter at all if I do or don’t, but it would still feel nice to win, or even just complete the course. And if I’m sucessful and manage to win, it can be for Stan.

So I now need to find a photograph that meets the theme of “magical” in the next few days – including getting it developed and scanned. I have an idea of something I can do, although I’m not sure how good it is – it feels a little obvious – but it might be a case of needs must. I could use a photo I’ve taken throughout the year and try to finagle it to fit the theme – this is allowed in the rules – but I’m not sure anything I have comes close to being a good fit anyway. Whatever I decide though, I need to get on with it.

My emotional state is continuing to improve day-by-day, and there’s now more of an underlying sadness to how I feel, rather than the pain that was so prevalent at first. I fully expect it to flare back up again from time-to-time – grief is like that, it never really goes away, you just learn to live around it, but for now I’m feeling a little better than I did.

Stan never liked riding in the car when we had to take him to the vets, but he would always hop in the car when he saw the doors open – usually when we were unloading shopping. He once got locked in the boot for a couple of hours when he’d jumped in without being spotted one time. These are the memories that I will treasure (although I wouldn’t ever condone shutting cats in cars!).

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Moving at different speeds

My wife asked this morning about when we were going to put Stan’s casket containing his ashes with those of our other cats. As I’ve mentioned before, these are sat on a shelf in the garage. This might seem undignified and a little uncaring, but it’s just the place we’ve put them when our grief has diminished over time. We know exactly where they are, they are the markers of the cats, but they aren’t the cats themselves (even if they contain their earthly remains). The cats live on in our hearts and minds. I know some people keep them indoors on a shelf or somewhere, but after a while, in our case at least, this would start to feel like something of a shrine given we now have caskets for six cats.

I’m not ready to put him in the garage just yet though. And I think that last sentence gives a clue why. I’m referring to his casket as him. I know it isn’t him, but part of me still feels that there is some sort of emotional connection there beyond a simple reminder and and marker. I’m much more sentimental than my wife, and it take me time to move forward in thsese situations. I thinks she sometimes thinks I’m making it worse for myself being this way, but it’s the way I am and I have to do these things in the way that feels true to me.

Each day continues to be a little easier than the one before though, as I knew it would, but there’s still a deep sense of sadness and loss hanging over me.

I’m typing this up having just returned from a trip to the cinema to see Ghostbusters Afterlife. I enjoyed the film a and it was a proper sequel to the original movies from the 80s, and much better I think than the attempted reboot that came out a few years ago. Perhaps there’s some nostalgia points boosting it for me given it’s not far off forty years since I saw the original with a bunch of kids from school at the long-since-closed Gaumont in Sheffield’s Barker’s Pool. Whether it’s this nostalgia, Hollywood heart-string pulling, or my present emotional state – or probably a mixture of all three – I don’t know, but I found the film quite moving at it’s conclusion. There are also, in these Marvel Cinematic Universe days, a couple of extra scenes during and at the end of the credits. Most people had left before the mid-credits scene, and I was the only person remaining in the auditorium for the scene at the very end.

Here’s Stan on a folding chair on the patio back in the summer. My wife had been sat there, but Stan soon took up residence when she moved.

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Feeling lonely

One of the things that has come from the grief of losing Stan has been a sense of loneliness. This isn’t necessarily a new feeling – it’s something I’ve felt before – but Stan’s loss has resulted in it resurfacing. I think most people probably think of loneliness as affecting those who are physically alone with no, or limited, contact with others, and that is certainly a major reason for the emtion. Old people are often the ones we think of as being most affected, particularly when they lose their spouse or other long term companions and friends, including their pets. It is to be expected in these cases and there are lots of charities and good caused that seek to help in these situations.

Sometimes though , there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason for loneliness, and there can be the awfule sensation of being alone, even when surrounded by others, sometimes even your family and close friends. I don’t know if this is a common sensation, but it’s one that I feel from time-to-time, a sense of being lonely in a crowd. It’s a very sad feeling to have.

I think Stan’s loss has brought this to the surface for me because, as I’ve already said in recent posts, he was a largely constant companion. He wasn’t with me 24/7 or anything, but working from home he would generally appear throughout the day, looking for attantion, getting into some sort of mischief, and definitely making a play for some of his treats whenever I ventured into the kitchen. While he did these things with other members of our household, it was usually me who was there most of the time, and I think he imprinted himself on me as a result. And now those little shared moments between the two of us are just mine. I can tell others about them, but the other member of that experience is no longer here. It’s not like I would reminisce with him or anything, but there was still that sense of shared experiences.

As a result of feeling lonely I feel that I’m reaching out for contact more than I would do normally. While these blog posts about how I’m feeling are acting as therapy by getting it out there, I’m also hoping that it touches others in some way, both because maybe it might resonate and be helpful to someone else somewhere, but also because I’m putting down little markers that I’m here, showing that I’m alive I suppose. I’ve been much more active on one of the forums I frequent online, posting in topics that I might normally have not paid much attention to, and I’m listening to the radio while I work (a big benefit of working from home!) – well, perhaps not listening fully – I still have to work and the amount of focus I can put on doing that or paying attention to what is being broadcast is limited by my multi-tasking abilities – but having the sound of conversation and that sense of life in the room is quite nice. It’s a bit annoying having to keep muting it whenever I need to go on a call but, you know, there are worse things. For now it’s good to have that sound around the place.

Here’s Stan doing one of his favourite things (it so often seemed), which consisted pulling himself around the bottom of the sofa using his claws for grip. He would generally get a bit of a telling off for this, although there was never any noticeable evidence of damage. Oh to be able to rub his belly right now. x

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Day by day

I’ve noticed, over the past few days, noticeable signs that I’m starting to feel a little bit more like normal. I’m not close to being back to my usual self yet (and I will always be forever changed now anyway), but the movement is in that direction, which I am glad about. As I’ve said a number of times over the past few days, that raises it’s own set of guilty feelings where I feel bad because I’m feeling a bit better, like it means I don’t care enough. I guess that this is normal too.

I still feel pretty bad when I wake in the morning. I feel like I want to go back to sleep because when I’m asleep I’m not grieving, at least not conciously so. When I wake up though I’m soon hit by the fact that it’s another day without Stan being there. The thought of going downstairs is painful because now, instead of opening the door to the utility room and being greeted by his little back arching up to be stroked before being fed, he’s not there. In fact, none of his things are in there any more. And it’s the same at nighttime – that same loss of routine. I miss saying goodnight to him, knowing he was safe before I went upstairs to bed. It’s affecting me a little less each day, but it’s going to take time before I reach whatever the new equillibrium will be.

While I’ve spent quite a lot of time this week reading articles on pet-loss grief, one thing has occured to me about how the type of animal you have lost can have quite a profound effect on how it affects your life. I misss my interactions with Stan, the daily routines, doing the things I enjoyed, and the things he enjoyed, seeing him in the places he liked to sit and sleep. One of the things I’d not really considered before is how the loss of some animals can bring with them a whole other set of losses. Dog owners talk about how they suddenly lose all the interactions they would have when out walking their pet, and there must be other examples with other animals too, perhaps not seeing the other people at the stables where your horse or pony was kept for instance, or purchasing the food for an exotic pet from a specialist store. These don’t diminish how I’ve been affected by the loss of Stan, but in some ways, the independent nature of cats can mean that these other relationships and interactions are reduced in some cases.

Here’s Stan sat atop a cushion on the sofa at the back of the living room. He would often choose to sit here if I was sat reading a book or something. I miss the way he would follow me around the house very much indeed.

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Holding on to things

After writing yesterday’s blog post, I had a shower and then went downstairs. My wife was sat on the sofa with Stan’s casket on her lap. She asked if Id like to sit and hold him, which I did, and I immediately broke into floods of tears once more. While the casket contains Stan’s ashes, it also feels like a real connection to him as he was. It can never be the same, of course, but that sense of it being him is still there.

At the moment he follows us around the house in his casket – in my office while I’m working, in the living room when we are downstairs, and then on my bedside table overnight. I’m gaining comfort from this but I know that it will not be something we do for the long term. Either I will grow around my grief and not feel the need for that physical connection, or I will need to stop myself from doing it as it will make it more difficult to move forward with my life. I’ve tried to think back to the loss of our previous cats, but cannot remember if I treat their caskets in the same way – they definitely stayed in the living room for quite some time, but I don’t know if we moved them around the house with us in the way we are doing with Stan’s.

Again, this comes down partially to that increased sence of spirituality that I sense at times like these. I want there to be some follow on after our lives come to an end, and dearly hope to be reunited with loved ones again. And it’s this sense that there is something more that can make it more difficult to move forward. A sense of guilt (again) that if we start to move forward that the one we have lost will know and somehow be saddened by that. I think that this is just part of the healing process – my mind knitting itself back together – and that if our loved ones are looking on at how we are coping, they will absolutely know how much we loved them and that we wish so much that they were still with us, happy and well.

My wife and I went out for our lunch today to a garden centre not too far from where we live (we’d take our sons but they have little interest in such trips if they can avoid them). We had sandwiches, shared some chips, and got a couple of pieces of cake to take home with us to eat later (the boys already have a chocolate cake in the house – we don’t exclude them from treats!). While we were in the restaurant we noticed that it was dog-friendly, and a number of people had their dogs with them. I thought it would be difficult to see other people with their pets, but I’m glad to see them happy with their animals. It’s a nice thing to see.

Here’s Stan on my office chair. The chequered bit is my shirt, the white bit my ass. He would sometimes squeeze into the gap between me and the chair back, occasionally twisting his head around for a stroke or a chin-tickle, making me quite uncomfortable but very happy to have him there. I wish so much he was here doing it now.

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Ups and downs

It feels sometimes like I’m starting to feel a little better, that some of the rawness is easing a little, and that maybe there’s some light at the end of the tunnel somewhere. And then, all of a sudden, that disappears and I’m back to feeling pretty desolate again. I’ve been looking at pictures of Stan and they make me smile. They make me smile with a big helping of sadness just now, but I’m smiling nonetheless. In the cupboard where we keep the mugs in the kitchen, up on the top shelf, is an “I love my cat” mug that is personalised with his photograph. It makes me smile and think how I love him, but it also puts a big ol’ lump in my throat just now too.

This morning I went into the utility room for something or other, which is where the box that my wife has put all his possessions inside still sits on the counter. It’s sad to look at that, but this morning it was the draining-board beside the sink that got me. It’s where we laid his body wrapped in a towel after we brought him back to the house after the accident. One glance and the terrible feeling of loss came back in an instant and there I was, blubbing again. I’m still beating myself up about the things I might have done differently and that would have changed events. It’s very hard not to do so.

I think the tears help. They release the pain and allow me to function, like the overspill on a dam they stop me breaking further. I don’t know if people think that it’s soppy for a grown man to be wearing his heart on his sleeve like this, but I’m finding that it helps to talk about how I’m feeling. I think that, day by day, it will get easier, and at some point my guilt will instead be that I’ve not cried or felt as sad, and that somehow that means I don’t care as much anymore. But that won’t be the case, I’ll never not care, it’s just the healing process.

I spent some time today reading a cat-owners thread on the web forum I frequent. I’ve spoken about Stan’s loss on there and how I’m feeling. I searched the thread today looking for posts from other people who had lost their cats in similar circumstances. I’m not sure if that seems weird, but I find that there is comfort to be taken from shared experiences in cases like this. Knowing we’re not alone in what we are going through makes the experinece a little less lonely somehow. That other people felt similar sadness, loss, and guilt when they lost their cats makes me realise that these are normal emotions (even though I already knew this anyway). I guess you take your comfort where you can find it.

I’ll close the blog today with another photo of Stan being Stan. We bought a new toaster a few weeks ago for our new kitchen and I left some of the polystyrene packaging on the table. It didn’t take long for Stan to find his new place to sit. 🙂 xxx

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Goodbye Stan

Yesterday evening our lovely little cat, Stan, was hit by a car and killed. We are bereft.

I miss him so much and feel guilty at his loss. People who read this blog may know that he was hit by a car once before, a few months ago, but happily made a full recovery. Following that, we decided that we would keep him indoors at nighttime as, given he was dark furred, and that is the time when people seem to drive faster on the road that passes out house, that he would be safer if he only went out during the daytime. We would make sure that he couldn’t get out in the evenings but, as the days have shortened into autumn, he would still go out for a short while during darkness but would then come straight in when we shouted his name or, more often, by himself.

Yesterday evening I last saw him asleep on top of a box in my office and thought he was safely indoors. Unknown to me he must have come downstairs not long afterwards and gone outside before we closed up his catflap. A short while after that we heard a knock at the door and found a lady looking very upset, asking if we had a small black cat called Stan. When I said yes she told us that he’s been struck by a car and had died. My wife and I ran out to him and it was awful to find him just laid on the grass verge beside the road. I think I thanked the lady for letting us know but, to be honest, it’s all a bit of a blur. My wife was distraught and I think I was in shock.

We wrapped him in a towel, carried him back home and my wife, our two sons who still live with us, and I said our goodbyes. After that we placed him into a box and put him in the garage overnight where it is cool. I felt so bad doing this and had a paranoid idea that perhaps he was just unconcious and that we’d abandoned him – so much so that I had to go back in the garage and check later to make sure and put my mind at rest.

This morning we took his body to the vets. I didn’t like doing this, but if felt better to be doing something than leaving him in the cold garage all weekend – that felt undignified and not what I wanted for him. On Monday morning we will need to contact the pet crematorium for them to collect his little body for cremation before we can have his casket of ashes returned to us. Stan is the sixth cat we’ve had the privilege of having be part of our family over the past thirty years but the first we’ve lost suddenly like this (and also the youngest). He will sit at rest beside his brothers.

I think Stan might be the last cat we have, at least while we live in this house. The thought of putting another at risk, and the worry we would have every time they went outside, is not something I think we could bear. His loss, and the thought he might be the last cat we have for some time is terribly sad, and hard to think about. Time heals though and I need to concentrate on the joy he brought us. All cats are individuals and Stan was no exception. He was the only cat we’ve had who’s method of getting attention was to gently nip and scratch my ankles and lower legs. This could be very annoying and sometimes painful, but I would rarely get cross with him – it was just the way he knew how to get things done. I have a number of small scars on my legs as a result of his attentions and I am now so grateful for them – I’ll carry his marks for the rest of my life – but I wish he were still here to scratch me afresh.

I miss you so much Stan. I don’t know how this universe works, but I hope we might be together again one day. Love you always little man.