An Orphan….At Any Age

March 14th, 2014 1 Comment

Bodega Bay - Salmon CreekAt age 57 my mom had passed away, my brother had become my roommate, and I had the most precious friend in the whole world, my kitty Chelsea.  Without a doubt she and I were soul mates, and I truly did love her unconditionally.  It’s rare to have such a feeling, but when I lose anything, or anybody, that I love, it leaves a hole in my heart.  I walk around with that empty place inside until something comes along to fill it.  It bothered me that one day Chelsea would leave, and so might my older brother.


I’ve never been an orphan, in the same sense as the children we think about who, for whatever reason, have no traditional family.  When I was young I would occasionally wonder where my real mom was.  Would she ever come to pick me up and take me away to our beautiful home near a warm beach, with palm fauns rustling in the breeze. We would have picnics with sand sprinkled fried chicken.  My imagination knew every inch of that beach, and that mom would be happy watching me run into the water, then scamper back to shore when the waves would rise up to grab me.

Patiently I waited for that mom until I became a teenager.  She didn’t come to pick me up.  It wasn’t so easy for me to accept that I had only one mother, and it wasn’t the one I played on the beach with.  I’ve often wondered how my life would have turned out if I had that other imaginary mother, the one who knew how to love me, and how to have fun.

When my real mom passed away I felt a lightness of being that I had never felt before.  Oh, I was sad that she passed away, but I would have preferred that she had just gone away.

My brother lived with mom before we succumbed to moving her to a convalescent hospital.  They were dreadful housemates. Neither was easy to get along with, and made each other miserable.  Mom accused my 60 year old brother of climbing the six foot fence between her patio and the adjoining one, in the wee hours of the night, to cavort with the neighbor lady. This was absurd and, but she was convinced.  Being mom’s roommate was a rude awakening for my brother, but he went for the roller-coaster ride, and hung on for dear life.

On weekends, mom was mine to tend to.  Fortunately I had a hedge, and a neighbor lady was as old as mom, so she didn’t accuse me of cavorting with her, but my food was too salty, and generally complained about everything I did.

Somehow we all managed to hang in there with our routine, but after mom started falling, we decided it was time to put her somewhere that she could be better attended to.  After several months in the convalescent hospital, mom did pass away.  Her doctor said it was colon cancer, but from her complaints of pain nearly two years earlier, I believe she had a slightly punctured colon that the doctor never investigated.

Four months after mom left us, Chelsea ran away.  It wasn’t like her not to come home at night.  She loved me, and we always went to bed together.  Something was very wrong, and it continued for several days.  I’d looked all over the neighborhood, but she had disappeared into thin air.  Coincidentally, the next day a work crew came to replace the skirting surrounding my mobile home.

While outside I asked the crew to keep an eye out for a gray and white kitty thinking she may have run under the house.  Once the old skirting had been removed, I asked the workers to bang along the side of the house to see if the noise would shake her loose, and it did.  Running out from under the house she headed for my neighbor’s driveway.  I rushed over to get her, and was stunned by her appearance.  It was obvious that she was very sick.  Fighting her resistance, I brought her home, and called her doctor.

Her body was extremely dehydrated, and her eyes were nearly crossed. She had transformed into a creature I could barely recognize, and it frightened me.  Her doctor immediately put her on an IV drip, but made it clear she needed a thorough exam as soon as possible.  I followed him back to his clinic and was literally numb when we arrived. God can’t do this to us. I had just lost my mom.

Chelsea was diagnosed with, among other things, cancer of the spleen.  Fortunately mom had left us with an inheritance.  The money, in conjunction with many months of vet visits, and the subsequent surgery to remove the spleen, she survived.  I remember her doctor saying her life was saved by a miracle, and a great deal of love, which I came to accept as the most powerful medicine.

The rest of life had entirely escaped me during this process, but once I was assured that Chelsea would live, I had to come back to life too.  It wasn’t so easy to take up where l had left off after mom passed away, but I was extremely thankful that I didn’t lose Chelsea.

There wasn’t anyone in my life, relationship wise, and the only relative I had left was my brother, and we were never close. We lived together, but the interior distance was immeasurable.

My friends coxed me to check the personal ads in the newspaper.  What seemed like the answer to filling the hole that had begun to form inside of me, was in their eyes, a boyfriend.  Maybe it was something to consider, but my heart wasn’t in it.  My heart was nearly empty having loved my kitty back to life.

One day, prior to the Christmas holdiay, I was sitting on my couch, quietly reflecting on what would make me feel like taking part in the world again.  The only thing that came to mind was a family, a real family.  I thought about the fantasy mom I had when I was younger.  I still wanted her, and all of the things that family meant to me.

I felt like an orphan, and I wanted to put an ad in the personal column for a family, not a boyfriend.

My friends thought this was funny, and deep down they were convinced I was nuts.  No, I told them, I had lost most of my family, and life was different.  I felt a loneliness I couldn’t explain, and one they couldn’t possibly understand.

Christmas came and went, but it was rough.  Jer and I did our best to have a traditional experience, but it was empty, even with the tree lights, presents, and cooking the customary turkey.  Mom and dad were missing from the dinner table. Our lives had changed forever.

Jer, Chelsea and I lived together for a number of years, but when the company I worked for moved north to Petaluma, I decided that I’d lived in a tin can long enough.  I put my mobile home on the market, and was fortunate to find a qualified buyer within six months.  The escrow would close in 30 days, and I needed to find a new home.

After looking tirelessly for a place in southern Sonoma County, I finally found, and settled on, a townhouse in Santa Rosa.  It was a two story unit, and Jer had difficulty climbing stairs.  I was in a quandary.  There were a lot of plusses about this unit, and one big minus.  I had to make the tough decision to tell my brother that I was going to make an offer, and that I wanted to move alone.

Jer became pretty undone with my choices and decided to move back to Oregon. He felt the cost of living would be lower, and he wasn’t going to consider any options.  It was a rough time for us.  I held tight to my decision, and so did Jer, and we parted ways.

There are no perfect solutions in life, only compromises I guess.  It would have been in both of our best interests for Jer to be close by after the moves, but it wasn’t in the cards, so I had to accept the reality and make the best of my choices.

Although Chelsea moved to Santa Rosa with me, she only lived for five months.  She had reached an amazing age of 17 when it was necessary for me to have her put down.  It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced, but it was an act of mercy. All of her ailments had become untreatable and she was fading quickly.

It brings to mind the comments my friends used to make. They knew when that time came it would be the most difficult thing I would ever experience, and it truly was. That day I lost the love of my life.  It’s been over nine years since Chelsea left me, and I cry whenever I think of her.  It still breaks my heart that she left without me.

Jer adjusted to his move in time. He found a small apartment that he could afford, made a few new friends, and his life continued.  He came down once to join my 60th birthday celebration, stayed for a week, and left, for good.  The stairs, that I knew would be an issue for him, did turn out to be a real struggle, so I knew my home wasn’t the best place for him, and I’ve know it was the right place for me for the past 10 years.

At this point I was really alone.  My brother was over 8 hours away, and no Chelsea.  My home was lovely, and quiet.  The stillness, when I came home after work, was almost more than I could handle.  The idea of looking for another kitty was in the back of my mind, but I tried very hard to keep it there. I was free, but unbearably lonely.

I began looking for a substitute for Chelsea a couple of months after she left.  My heart wasn’t really in this process, but I couldn’t abide coming home to an empty house.  I went from shelter to shelter, town to town, kitty to kitty, and one day I spotted a Chelsea look-a-like.  The first time I picked her up she bit my hand.  That unwelcome response should have alerted me, but for some reason it slipped past my awareness.  She was pretty, with beautiful eyes, alert, and only 10 months old.  All good signs…..but she bit me…and I adopted her anyway…she looked like Chelsea.  We would be fine.

We’ve been together for 9 years, and Paris Rose is still biting me, but she still looks like Chelsea, so I have reconciled that she is who she is, and I’ve since given up hope that I have a replication of the kitty I loved so much.

About four years ago Jer finally lost his battle against cirrhosis of the liver.  He had started drinking very heavily about five years after his move.  I could hear it in his voice during our Sunday football phone conversations.  I tried, a couple of years earlier to intervene, but with no real benefit to either of us. My heart suffered another blow.

A dear friend of Jer’s and mine drove me to Oregon to settle his affairs, and bring his ashes back to Santa Rosa.  It was a very difficult trip for both of us.  We had both loved him in the best ways we could, but lost him to the disease.

Life has its twists and turns, ups, downs, and heartbreaks.  My story is probably not so unusual. We all love, and we lose, and then we gradually collect the pieces of ourselves and slowly put ourselves back together, hoping things fit right.

Looking back, I felt like an orphan when mom passed away, but I still had Chelsea, and Jer.  When they were both gone that feeling became much stronger and more defined.  There is nothing that will ever replace one’s family, regardless of what that looks or feels like.  It’s something you only get one shot at, if that.

We are tasked with how to redefine our world when we’re really alone in it.  What do we do to fill the holes?  I consider this often, and I try to find viable ways. I look for new things to occupy my thoughts, and new people to spend meaningful time with. I tell my stories, and set them free.

I know it probably sounds a little strange to still want to post an ad in the personals looking for a loving family, but I have to admit that the thought still occurs to me.

No, I’ve never been an orphan, in the way so many children are, but I think I know, at least to some extent, how they feel. I think they feel lost, and want a normal way of life, which a loving family could provide.

With that thought in mind, I’m sharing my story as much for the orphans of the world, as I am for myself. I think we have the feeling of being short changed, and set apart.. I also believe that there is hope for all of us.  I believe that the Great Spirit looks out for us, and brings us love in ways we may not recognize right away, so we need to pay attention a little harder.  When it’s there in front of us I hope we acknowledge it, and open our hearts to receive it.

Maybe we need to redefine “family” and accept that even though we may not have it in the sense that I was familiar with, there are ways to create the spirit of it.  I hope that I’m justified in my thinking, and that I’ll embrace it when it’s present.

While you read this personal story, please consider those who are alone in the world.  You may never be able to comprehend how it feels, and the challenges that we face in our lives, but you might consider reaching out, especially during the holidays, and inviting us into your heart, and even into your home…give us a safe and warm harbor.  It may help to heal our deepest despair.


© Shari Adams

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