Maureen was elderly, extremely frail and, through some convoluted family dispute, my only link with my deceased grandfather. I'd never had the opportunity to meet my grandfather, but I was keen to learn about him, so one Saturday morning, Stuart and I bought a bunch of flowers and knocked on Maureen's door.
That day, we made an unexpected and lasting friend. Many afternoons passed sipping Riccadonna, nibbling biscuits and surrounded by the photos of my grandfather’s life: cherished friends, places, and beloved pets.
One Boxing Day, we invited Maureen to our home to share lunch – thus beginning an annual tradition – and she, excluded from pet ownership by age and frailty, was overjoyed to meet our pets. Enter Bones.
Orange and prone to indolence, Bones was a shameless smoocher with a purr like a chainsaw. Spotting our elderly visitor, he turned on the Ol’ Boney charm and Maureen was immediately hooked. Her poor arthritic fingers massaged his fur and as her eyes grew damp, his joyous purr made her giggle like a girl.
But time inexorably passes, and each Boxing Day Maureen became more bent and more frail. Then finally, with Bones on her lap and a glass of Riccadonna at her elbow, she told us that she'd booked herself into a nursing home. This was a very brave, heartbreaking move for Maureen to make, but she knew in deep down that she was no longer able to take care of herself.
Maureen often said to Stu and me, "I'm just waiting to be with your Grandpa. I talk to him every night and tell him it's getting closer to the time that we'll be together again." She wasn't trying to make us unhappy or fish for our sympathy - it was a simple statement of this is where I'm at and I'm okay with it!
So we began visiting the nursing home and were sad witnesses to Maureen’s rapid decline, and only a month after moving in, we could tell the end was drawing close. One day Stu and I decided to do something just that little bit naughty - and I'm not ashamed.
We were making our usual Saturday morning visit to the nursing home, but this time we took a surprise. We knew we'd find Maureen in her room, so as quickly and inconspicuously as possible we marched down the corridor - with Bones in his travelling carrier.
I'm so glad that we did. That day, we found Maureen tired and faded, counting down her remaining hours, but unaware that we’d brought a surprise visitor. I quietly shut Maureen's door while Stu opened the travel carrier.
Bones emerged into unfamiliar surroundings but within a heartbeat, his huge purr vibrated through the room and he began working his magic, igniting that familiar spark in Maureen’s eye. She began to laugh and he curled around her chair and rubbed against her legs. We put him in her lap and he snuggled against her.
At the end of the visit, we hated to take him away, but the longer we were there, the more likely it would be that we'd get caught. Then of course, we did get caught. As we were carrying Bones back through the nursing home, we were spotted by a resident who called out and wanted to see the pussy cat.
How could we refuse?
Other residents began to gather and wizened hands reached eagerly for a pat. Even some shy ones approached, asking his name. Others stood back, watching, smiling wistfully, remembering - perhaps a long ago pet of their own?
Eventually, a nurse said decisively, "That’s it! We’re getting a cat."
We were not to know that it would be the last time we saw our dear friend, but when I think of Maureen, I think also of Bones. He too is gone now, but his legacy remains in the indulged tabby at Maureen’s nursing
home, bringing much delight to, and being thoroughly spoilt by, those who linger in the sunset.
|Maureen, celebrating on Boxing Day|