My Mom passed away last Fall, and Angie and I went back to San Antonio for the services, to help out where we could, and to just be with family. There’s more I can say about the whole experience, but that can be for another post.
On the day we were getting ready to leave to go back to Los Angeles, I was trying to process everything I was feeling about Mother’s passing. I was feeling pretty shaky while packing, and we decided to just chill for a while on the porch of the lovely cabin we were staying in. (Thank you Kate and Robert so much for making that happen!)
I have been in therapy for a few years, beginning right around the time of my Father’s death, and it has helped me immensely. My therapist Cynthia has not only helped me figure out where my flavor of anxiety/depression comes from, but has also given me tools to deal with it when it pops up. So I decided to ask Angie to help me use one of those tools.
This one involves pretending your current self is having a conversation with your younger self. Anxiety can arise when the primitive part of our brain feels like it needs to try to keep us out of danger. It’s where dread and catastrophizing and worry about the future comes from. But it can often be something that was learned in childhood when relating to your parents and family, and can stick around long afterwards, affecting all your relationships. The technique is designed for you to re-assure your child-self that they are safe, that you don’t need them to worry anymore. When I’d done this before with my therapist, I could feel what I call the “pit” in my stomach start to loosen.
Well, right now, I had a “pit”.
So I asked Angie to play “younger me”. Like a lot of people, I went by a nickname when I was young, and switched to my given first name after I got older. It’s a long-ish story (which I did tell at Mom’s services about how she was stubborn and was going to call me that name no matter what), but suffice to say that when I was younger, I was called Scotty. So I (Gordon) wanted to tell my younger self (Scotty) that he was safe, his mom was o.k., and I didn’t need him to worry anymore. I wanted Scotty to say to Gordon that he didn’t need me to protect him anymore. Pretty easy, and for some reason, it helps to hear it said out loud. Makes it true, I guess.
Angie and I had never done this before, so I gave her a couple of suggestions of what I wanted Scotty to say, but it can be confusing, because both characters are me, so who “I” or “you” was got a little mixed up. So finally I said out loud what I wanted her (Scotty) to say to me (Gordon), to the affect that Scotty didn’t need Gordon’s protection anymore, and it was o.k. to let that part of my past life go.
As I said that phrase out loud, I looked over across the small yard to the gateway leading to Robert’s back yard….
There sat the white cat.
Before we go any further, understand that I have no idea what ACTUALLY happened. I’m not religious, not particularly spiritual, and not one to believe in the supernatural. I like things that are provable and demonstrable. But I try to maintain a scientific curiosity, knowing for a fact that there are things outside our understanding about this existence. I’m not arrogant enough to think I know what it is. And I have had a couple interesting and unexplainable coincidences happen here and there in my life, but nothing powerful. Whatever this really was, all I know is how it made me feel, and it was powerful.
When I think of my mother, I often associate her with the cats she had. I’m pretty sure that for as long as I’ve been alive, she’s never NOT had at least one cat. She had dogs, too, but always with a cat or two.
I don’t know if it was my mother’s spirit in the cat, or whether it was an animal spirit guide (we’d just watched “Coco” a couple nights ago, about Day of the Dead), or whether it was simply a cat that had come into the yard because it knew Robert’s dog wasn’t home, and wanted to investigate what was going on at the guest house.
But, in my shock of seeing that cat seemingly appear just on the other side of the threshold of that gateway, what it felt like at that moment was that Angie and I had spoken something true and real and deeply profound about me and my relationship with my recently departed mother. That she heard it on her way to the other side, and decided to stop by to let me know that it was o.k.
All I could say was “Hello, Mom.” The cat sat there, peacefully, first looking directly at me, then looking around. Fortunately, long enough for me to pull out my phone and photograph the evidence. If not for that, I might not have believed it happened at all. Soon, the cat peered back over its shoulder into Robert’s yard, and then walked away. Call of the other side?
Still shocked, I got up and hurried to the gate to look through. There sat the cat at the far end of the yard, looking over its shoulder to me. My thought was, “she’s going away, but taking one last look.” Sending one last thought of love and comfort. A couple more photos, and then she was gone.
I sat back down, stunned. Angie had witnessed all this too, and came over to hug me. Suddenly, it was like a switch was turned inside me. The impact was instantaneous and overwhelming. I cry-laughed HARD. Like I’d never done before. Like all that anxiety and sorrow and loss and existential childhood pain poured out of me. I must’ve said “Wow.” about 573 times that afternoon. I kept calling it the Ghost Cat, and saying how amazed I was that it appeared like that. I’m still blown away. Plus I’m not even sure if I’m still mourning. It’s like my mother gave me permission to not.
It felt like an end. The end of the dread. The end of the worry. But more than that. Like my mom was allowing me to stop hanging on to the anxiety that came about from my upbringing. The end of having to emotionally protect my child-self. The end of Scotty trying to protect me too, allowing him and that anxiety to finally rest.