Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A chapter closes

How can I tell you this . . . ? There's no easy way.
Shortly after Easter I said goodbye to Rupert.

It all happened so quickly. Within weeks of being diagnosed with cancer of the lymph gland, my incredible, loving, courageous companion of eighteen years had gone.

How can one small creature leave so large a hole . . . ? No, I won't even attempt to answer that question.

This hole has extended its reach far beyond London. Messages of sadness and sympathy have been coming from as far afield as Australia and the United States.

Rupert was loved by so many people, more people than I would ever have thought possible.

"He should have an obituary in The Times," said Susan . . . and she wasn't really joking.
Any why not? Has any other cat explored the highways and byways of this island with such enjoyment and verve?
Scotland . . . Wales . . . Devon . . . Cornwall . . . the Lake District and East Anglia, even the Isle of Wight.

Seated, confident and happy, in the passenger seat of the car, Rupert watched the world go by . . . knowing many routes as well as I did! Woe betide me if I drove past the homes of his favourite friends or failed to stop for a satisfying wander in Richmond Park. And which of Rupert's friends would forget his vocal indignation when, at the end of a happy visit, I would tentatively suggest that it was time to go home!

But his life was infinitely richer than a succession of journeys and visits. Has any other cat, I wonder, enabled children with Special Needs to experience the reassurance and pleasure of feline friendship . . .

. . . has any other cat made frequent, much-appreciated visits to nursing homes and hospitals . . .

. . . sat quietly and attentively through services in the great cathedrals of Ely, Salisbury and Winchester . . .

. . . become a familiar, much-loved figure in country hotels . . .

. . . been blessed with both incurable curiosity and an infectious and irrepressible sense of fun . . .

. . . been invited to participate in a book launch at The National Portrait Gallery . . . and celebrated his eighteenth birthday in fitting style with a pub lunch?

I could go on. But, even as I list Rupert's qualities and achievements, I know that I am ignoring his greatest gift . . . his ability to make friends, and to make them on a grand scale.

If I'm to be honest, there was never any real doubt as to who was the dominant partner in our relationship.

"How's the boss?" friends would enquire.

But his was a benign and highly intelligent dictatorship, one to which I willingly and happily conceded. Far more important was the fact that the boss and I loved each other, a love that was to be one of the great blessings of my life.

The silence he left was infinitely more profound than the mere absence of noise. Numbed by the loss, I removed his many belongings. Rupert had always loved to lie on the sofa in the sun. His favourite blanket had been placed directly below the window. When I took away the blanket the sofa looked tired and shabby. Even worse, there was a hole in the fabric directly below where the blanket had sat. My spirits plunged even lower . . . no Rupert . . . no blanket . . . just a hole. A hole which seemed to symbolise so much more than worn upholstery.

Kind friends - also mourning his loss - were wonderfully supportive. They phoned and visited, brought gifts, sent emails, and wrote moving cards and letters.
I was deeply touched and heartened. Flowers filled the flat. An unusual gift came from Anna, a friend who teaches colour therapy. Anna had chosen to send a beautiful stole in soft shades of pink, blue and gold. It might, she said, bring new energies to the room, and she suggested I draped it over the furniture.

I looked at the folded stole . . . then opened it out and measured it against the sofa. To my surprise, it was the perfect length.
Very carefully, I stretched it to its fullest extent . . . it completely covered the sofa, from the hole at one end to the cushions at the other. The sun shone in through the window and the colours shimmered in the spring sunlight.
Where Rupert had been . . . where his blanket had been . . . where the hole had been . . . now lay this beautiful gift. A gift that raised my spirits every bit as much as Anna had hoped it would.

Anna had known nothing of Rupert's blanket, far less of the offending hole. Unwittingly (or with Rupert's help?) she had chosen to send the perfect gift.

Life goes on . . . a new chapter has started . . . but the chapter that has just closed is dedicated to Rupert. If I can't express just how much he meant to me, just how grateful I feel for those eighteen years of remarkable, loving companionship . . . well, it doesn't really matter.

He knows.