She sat watching me closely. Her eyes followed my every move. If I went to another part of the house or outside she would follow me. By the end of the day she had grown tired and tried to second guess where I would head next. Finally, having grown too tired to bother following me, she curled up and slept. Unless I was gone too long in which case she would seek me out looking in all the possible places until she found me. I guess there was a certain level of predictability in my movements given we had lived together for eight years. As far as I was concerned she was my best and closest friend. Not that I was a recluse. Not at all. I just related better to animals. Always had. Humans probably thought me an eccentric.
She came into my life as a little bundle of cuteness when she was just six weeks old. She had been nicknamed Little Miss Bossy due to her feisty nature. So small she fitted neatly into the palm of my hand, she never made it into the big league. What she lacked in size she more than made up for in personality. And as far as she was concerned size was over-rated. Hers did not limit her. I named her Missy. She had become matronly at eight years old. Little whisps of grey fur around her lips blended in with an otherwise beautiful silky blond fur that flowed over her body in soft waves. Perky ears, small black button eyes, and a curly tail provided the finishing touches to her appearance. Despite her mature age, her behaviour remained that of a feisty teenager. However, it was tempered with a gentleness. Highly sensitive and intuitive she mothered and nurtured rescue animals with great tenderness.
Missy arrived a few months after Laurie died. We had no children. Laurie was a gregarious soul with many friends and acquaintances. However, our circle of mutual close friends had been small. After his death they all slowly drifted away and eventually stopped calling. I have never bothered to find out why. Perhaps they had been more his friends than mine. Truth be told I did not miss them. A loner by nature from childhood I have always been happiest with my animal friends. The only person I was ever close to was my husband. We were soul mates, both passionate animal lovers. Being independently wealthy all our lives enabled us to immerse ourselves in wildlife rescue work.
Laurie, a trained and skilled veterinarian, owned his own business . After I had finished my training as a vet nurse, the first job I applied for was in his animal hospital. That’s how we met. It was pretty much love at first sight. Six months later we were married. We quickly became jaded with the humdrum everyday vet work. The pretentiousness of some owners who wore their pets as status symbols upset us both. Having talked at length about our dreams, visions and if only’s, we decided to bite the bullet and convert our hospital into a wildlife rescue centre. There was an increasing demand and need for this as people became more environmentally and wildlife friendly.
The change was pretty seamless as Laurie had negotiated for other local vets to take over his regular clients and work. They in turn would refer all wildlife rescue work to us. Generally this kind of work put enormous pressure on vets who were expected to have expertise in discrete and unusual species as well as providing for their care and rehabilitation for free. They were only too glad to handball it to us. Having done that, several also expressed an interest in gaining some expertise in the field and assisting at times when we needed extra hands on deck. Everyone was happy.
Over time as our reputation grew, we attracted sponsorships, training grants, schools included us in field excursion programs and work experience placements. Our work expanded to include teaching secondary and tertiary students and postgraduates who wanted to specialise in wildlife work. We established breeding programs for endangered species. A wildlife sanctuary was opened on our own substantial holding of rural land. It included a long term rehabilitation program for animals that required more long term care before being ready for release, if ever. Those that were not capable of returning to live in the wild stayed for life in habitats that resembled their natural homes as closely as possible.
As Laurie neared retirement age, we again discussed our options for the future. Both of us wanted to slow down. We still wanted to stay involved in some hands on work. Laurie started the long and protracted negotiations for sale of the business. It had to go to someone whose heart was in the right place. Suitable new owners were found. We stayed on the Board of Management as lifetime members.
We sold our home and moved to live on site at the sanctuary. It remained ours. Management of the property and its staff was contracted to the new owners. Our involvement in the work at the sanctuary was totally at our own discretion. The new arrangement was perfect for us. We worked when we felt like it and had time off when we didn’t. There were many places we had both wanted to visit but had not had time to go as our business got busier and more demanding. Now we could. And we did. Still young and fit enough to enjoy it we travelled extensively knowing that the business and sanctuary were in good hands.
Laurie, I had noticed, fatigued more easily than he used to. He became more reluctant to travel. Unlike ever before in his life he took to sleeping in late and having day time naps. I begged and pleaded with him to go and have some health checks done. Perhaps he was just run down and needed a tonic, I reassured myself. Eventually he agreed. The news was not good. He had advanced pancreatic cancer with secondaries. The only treatment that could be offered was palliative care to make him as comfortable and pain free as possible. I was devastated. Laurie had suspected the worst and seemed to take it in his stride. Unbeknownst to me he had already had discussions with his lawyer, the business owners and his doctor. Plans had been put in place to make sure I was cared for and everything would continue smoothly after his death. The end came very swiftly as it does with this kind of terminal illness. I was widowed before I had had time to come to grips with his diagnosis.
The suddenness and shock of it all numbed me. The next couple of weeks blurred into a frenzy of funeral and other necessary arrangements of which I have little recall. I do remember people being concerned that I did not cry. Truth is I was too numb to feel much of anything at all. One day fell into the next endlessly. Everything felt surreal and I was the observer. I threw myself into a frenzy of work after the funeral. First I cleaned the house from top to bottom, inside and out. Years of collected ‘stuff’, including all of Laurie’s clothing and things that no longer had a place in my life were discarded or donated. I fell into a dreamless exhausted sleep at the end of each day, waking up feeling just as exhausted. Meals were had out of habit. They had no taste. It was simply fuel necessary to keep my body functioning.
When I had finished cleaning the house, I started on the garden. When I had finished with the garden, I started on the several large sheds. Having cleaned all of those to within an inch of their lives, I sat back and looked at what else I could clean. It was vitally important that I clean. A visceral urge that had to be satisfied. But there was nothing personal left that I had not cleaned. So I turned to the sanctuary and started to clean there. It was at this point that I was approached by the sanctuary manager, Steven, who gently asked if he could speak to me privately over a cup of coffee in his office. Reluctantly I agreed.
Having cleaned myself up, I knocked on his door . He opened it and invited me in, seating me on the comfortable leather chesterfield. The coffee table had been set with steaming cups of freshly brewed coffee and hot, buttered scones with cream and jam. My favourite. I thanked him and realised with a jolt how much I missed these simple pleasures. Laurie and I had sat down just like this at least once a week for a leisurely afternoon tea and chat. Suddenly his loss hit me like a sledgehammer in the chest. The dam wall burst. I gasped and collapsed into a weeping mess. Great howls of despair emerged from deep within that I did not recognise as my one even though I knew they were. It was my primal scream of loss and grief. It lasted a long time, I think, but then I had lost any sense of time.
Holding me in his arms, Steven gently stroked my hair and whispered words of comfort as he would to a child. Slowly the weeping lessened to an occasional sob until there was no more. In a strange way I felt lighter and the world seemed to have come back into focus. Looking Steven in the eyes I thanked him and said I had needed to do that for a long time. He just nodded. And brewed a fresh cup of coffee. In silent companionship we shared afternoon tea. He then rose and retrieved something from a box behind his desk. Coming back to the sofa he sat down next to me and put a little bundle of fur in my lap. Her mother had died at birth, he told me. She had been hand reared here at the sanctuary and was now ready to move into her forever home. The staff thought I might like to adopt her.
With trembling hands I reached down to pick her up. As I lifted her so I could get a closer look, she wagged her curly tail and quickly licked my nose. She was adorable. I hugged her close to my chest with tears pouring down my face. And I had thought there were no more tears left in me ! The little puppy climbed up to the crook of my neck and snuggled close, licking my neck. Just like that we had bonded for life.
Once again I thanked Steven. He said it looked like we’d get on just fine. Steven showed me out of the office gently closing the door behind me. No more words had been exchanged. All that was needed had been said and done.
Missy took over my life. I poured out my heart and soul to her. She kept me company at night, curled up by the side of my head. She quickly learned to read my moods and matched them with hers. Missy had brought enormous healing and love into my life. We established an easy routine into our days, waking early and breakfasting on the veranda when the weather was fine. After the housework had been done, we would head off to do the daily rounds in the sanctuary, helping out where more hands were needed. Occasionally we would bring home one of the animals that needed more care and tending. Missy turned into an excellent nurse, mothering and gentling the wounded creatures to wellness. Life was good. My relationship with Steven and his staff developed into an easy, non-intrusive friendship. I was at peace and deeply content.
© Raili Tanska
First posted Sept 8, 2015