Now I want to talk about Lola.
Lola came as a gift to me, I think, in my later life after Michou died, more than a year ago. I had not intended to get another cat.
But then I missed him. I realised how much the presence of a cat meant to me, and so I decided to adopt, feeling a bit guilty because of my age, would I be able to look after it.
I got onto the Cat and Dogs Home, found a ginger cat with one eye, 11 years old, a suitable age, but he was snapped up.
Then Lola appeared, beautiful, commanding. “She’ll soon be in charge” said Paula. Thirteen years old, so a good age. I put in a request and soon heard back that I could have her if I wanted, but I would have to wait a week whilst they carried out all their health checks.
That weekend I went away, back the following Sunday, to find she was mine. I only had to go up to them and inspect her, and I could take her away with me.
I had just come back from a Retreat exploring Death. It was my first contact with the outside world and other people since lockdown.
I felt she was a gift being handed to me on a plate.
My friend Jenny took me up in her car to the Home and we met Lola. I did not feel a great rush of affection when I first saw her. She WAS beautiful, rather stately, calm, did a lot of scratching on the scratching post. “OK” I said, “I’ll have her.” I had brought my cat basket and the carers placed her in it, together with a dark red blanket which they threw over the basket, and a couple of knitted squares, one purple, one dark red, which were hers. She was very calm, not a sound as we placed her in the back of the car and drove her back home.
“She’s very good” said Jenny.
Once home Jenny left me with Lola to get on with it.
I don’t think Lola was her real name, she never responded to it, but she never responded to any name. I ended up by calling her ‘darling’ mostly.
The idea was to keep her in one room to habituate her to a new place, but I did not feel I could do this. She ended up mostly in my bedroom. I laid out a beautiful teacloth with cats all over it for her on my bed, and she seemed to know it was hers as she always lay on it. What she also did was to sit on the low seat beneath the window surveying the room with a silent and commanding gaze. I guess she felt safe like that. It was her way of protecting herself.
When my friend Helen Clare came to visit, another cat lover, and went upstairs to inspect, she was astonished to find this commanding presence, completely in charge of herself and her surroundings.
The weeks passed and finally I let her out, with much trepidation. Would she come back? I even went out once or twice and carried her back inside. Then I got bolder and left her to it. One night she did not come back. I was frantic. My neighbour walked up and down the road looking for her. She sometimes came into their garden, he said.
A day passed, and a night. The following morning I heard a scratching at the front door. I went to open it. It was Lola! My relief was infinite. How did she know? What a clever little puss. She was very bedraggled, had been on an adventure, obviously. I brushed and combed her and removed all the brambles from her long hair. This was her only sortie and from then on I relaxed; this was clearly her home now.
She was very feisty, seeing off all newcomers with huge yowls which would bring me running out into the garden.
There was Ginger – huge, menacing – but not to her. She hissed and glared at him. I shooed him away. He was an old friend that I had had to see off with a water pistol. Michou had always run away from him, but not Lola.
Then there was the large tortoiseshell. More yowls. I would find him sitting on one end of the garden wall and Lola on the other, and they were glaring at each other. Finally he would slink away.
Lola always won. No wonder she had not lasted with the next door carer, who had a cat, who had looked after her after her owner’s death.
She was definitely in charge, as Paula had said. At first she ate everything, but then she became fussy. I tried out everything, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, which she would deign to eat.
She was not a lap cat and she did not like to be touched. If she was asleep and I tried to stroke her she would give a little mew of disapproval. She would also mew when I came upstairs, still in the bedroom. I became used to that little sound. I think it was an acknowledgment.
By this time I was her devoted slave.
She was so pretty, long silky fur, a white ruff round her neck, body part white, part black; a little white nose with a tiny black spot on the tip; her legs were all white, the hair was shorter here, rather like leggings. She was quite rounded and curvaceous, very feminine.
She would drape herself in fetching poses, her front paws tucked up underneath her chin, protectively, her lower limbs languorously spread out. She was a seductress.
I admired her beauty, took numerous photographs, did drawings.
She was beautiful and she knew it. I called her the Marylin Monroe of cats.
Gradually she came out of the bedroom and came downstairs. She became very curious, jumping up onto shelves, trying to get into cupboards, jumping up onto the big chest of drawers in the living room. This caused me some anxiety, as she would knock things over and I worried she would break something, my porcelain china bird.
In the evenings when I was watching television, she liked to jump up onto the chest, I would get up, again worried, and bring her down.Then she would sit on the end of the sofa looking intently at the screen. What was going through her head, I wondered. Or when I was at my computer, she would jump up on the table behind me, again looking intently, absorbing something, I knew not what.
Although so confident, she was at the same time quite diffident. When I was sitting down she would tentatively stretch out a paw onto my lap, then retreat again. Very rarely did she sit on my lap and then not for long. I did not know how to win her confidence.
When I was at my computer, she would often sit in the doorway, then she would withdraw and lie in the corridor outside, in her favourite protective position.
Sometimes when I was zooming with others, she would come in and curl herself up on the grandfather chair, where she could be seen. I was very proud of her then, she could be admired, she was mine.
But of course she was never really mine, not like Michou or Prittiwi had been. She had had another life, one I knew nothing about. She had been much loved, I am sure, she was so calm and confident.
She had various problems from the start – first an ear infection, then a skin allergy. I was able to take her up to the Cat and Dogs Home initially. I was fortunate to find a very nice taxi driver, Julie, who took me up and was happy to wait for me. From then on she drove me whenever I needed to go to the vets.
Paula was a great help, helping me to put drops in Lola’s ear, she was much calmer than I was. She was a dog lover, but she became as fond of Lola as I was, such was her charisma.
Came the day when I noticed a bare patch under Lola’s ear. It looked raw and needing attention. I took her down to the vets. At first it did not seem serious, but the vet decided on a biopsy.
It was cancerous. A growth just below her ear. What to do? This was serious.
My friend Jenny thought I should get a second opinion, made many suggestions.
I felt she was too old for an operation, I did not want to put her through that. The vet agreed, also saying it would be a very tricky operation, being so close to the ear.
We decided to let it be and manage her wellbeing. She was given antibiotics. I do not know if she suffered, she gave no sign, but then cats don’t. She certainly became more subdued, she slept a lot.
The growth below her ear was left open, it would dry up and then it would start bleeding again. This happened one night about eleven o’clock. What could I do? She was shaking her head and scattering blood everywhere. I rang the emergency services. I could either bring her in straight away, or I could take her to the vet the following morning. I sat up most of the night with her, trying to soothe her by my presence, and we finally both fell asleep.
Next day I took her to the vets. It was obviously going to be a matter of time before I would have to make the final decision.
The wound would dry up and life would go on, but always the worry behind it. It was painful to me to look at her wound, this pretty creature, still healthy, still full of life, but slowly being eaten up, how far was it progressing inside her ear?
The final moments came when I was on a zoom Retreat with the Bede Griffiths Sangha that I belong to. We met and meditated and chanted and shared readings on zoom three times a day. In the intervening time we kept silence, no television, no radio, no phone calls, reading if we must. It led to a very peaceful, tranquil space, a moment in time away from the world, with all its turmoil and upheavals.
Lola seemed very peaceful too, she slept mostly, and came in to be with me curled up on her chair.
Then on Monday, after it was over, she started bleeding copiously again. She was obviously distressed and so was I. I had already arranged for her to see the vet that week for her final visit. Both Kristanne and Jenny had mentioned a home visit. I rang the main vet hospital and was given a number which I rang – Cloud 9. It seemed appropriate.
They could come the following day. I had to make a quick decision. No time to think. I said ‘yes.’
The following day my priest Lore very kindly came at nine thirty. The vet would come at ten. I was full of sadness. Lola did not know – there she was, her beautiful, furry, cuddly self. I had to starve her, for she could not eat food. She did not seem to mind.
The vet arrived, Lola went out into the garden, was she running away? But no, she sat for one last time surveying her garden, then she came back. I picked her up and sat her on my lap. She lay there very peacefully, not knowing, purring. The vet gave her a little pin prick, a sedative. Slowly, slowly she fell asleep in my lap.
We picked her up, it was time, laid her out on her red blanket on the table, and the vet gave her her final jab. I sobbed and sobbed. Has she gone yet? Yes. Still I wept, heartbroken. The vet touched me gently on the arm. Time to let her go.
We wrapped her gently in her blanket, ready to be taken away to the Crematorium.
Lore had said a prayer and stayed with me for a while. She chatted, I would have preferred to be quiet. The vet departed, it had been very gently and sensitively executed. A man from the Crematorium arrived and took Lola away.
Then Lore left.
I felt bereft. There are no words for it. I felt like a murderess. Had I done the right thing? Should I have tried harder and got another opinion? Had the operation? Saved her life?
I had had her such a short time, under a year. Of all my cats, I had tried hardest to look after her. I saw where I had failed with my other cats. Prittiwi, my first, I had dragged her around with me, ignoring her wails; Michou, not looking after his teeth properly when I should have done. With Lola, I had done everything I could do to look after her.
Slowly my grief subsided, I felt the loss but in a gentler way, and now I have felt the urge to write about her, bring her to life again, immortalise her.
My friend Jenny wrote a most beautiful poem for her which I feel sums her up in her entirety. She was other worldly, a creature from another dimension, come to grace me with her presence for a short space of time. Thank you Lola.
A few weeks after Lola died, Jenny came to scatter her ashes in the garden with me and she read this poem.
What journey brought you here?
Did your ancestors dwell among golden citadels in ancient starlit lands?
What were you seeing with your jewelled eyes? Was it a memory or a vision
of a new kingdom?
What story were you telling? What message were you sending as you watched
us in perfect stillness.
You shone your bright light among us, performing on earth’s stage dancing and
lovingly teasing us with your balletic, feline moves.
You found the perfect audience to love and applaud you in your final act but
now the earthly curtain has come down.
Go lightly, sweet Lola, and dance among the stars.