*Adeline and her cats names have been changed
I named her Adeline because when I said goodbye to her for the last time I got in my car and a song called ‘Adeline’ by The Dip came on as I drove away.
And so to me…and now to you, she became ‘Adeline’ as she took her last breath.
I know I have to change her name to protect her identity, but it feels somewhat wrong as throughout her life she was so unapologetically herself.
Strong, determined, stubborn. Adeline was always going to do things on her own terms and in her own way. She knew what she wanted and equally, what she didn’t want. You could rely on her to be honest and say it how it was. Even if you thought she needed help or assistance or something extra, you would have to wait for her to be ready, when the time was right for her.
Underneath the strong exterior lived a kind hearted, generous and open woman, so incredibly passionate about the simple things she loved in life. Adeline lived alone with her 5 cats.
Over the years Adeline fostered hundreds of cats, she made friends for life from people she met through her fostering. She had a treasured photo album that included every single cat she ever fostered. Her own cats were all from the same litter – bar one, Daisy, who was a sweet and dinky little tabby who had sleepy eyes and was the baby of the bunch.
You could therefore say that Adeline was the ultimate cat lady. But she was no stereotypical spinster – she lost her husband a few years ago, they adored each other but never had children. Her cats were her babies.
They were her world and she was theirs.
Her second love was crochet, she was always working on some colourful creation, and always showed you her work with such pride, often created to benefit animal charities. Adeline sat in her chair with a cat either side and a crochet blanket in progress and this was her idea of heaven.
Her garden was her pride and joy. Full of flowering beds, rows of colorfully filled pots and a greenhouse that appeared active even though I knew she didn’t make it out there much. I would walk passed the haze of blue forget me nots and I knew early on I would never forget Adeline.
She grew many roses in scarlet and ice cream shades and made a point of only growing heavily scented roses in her special garden.
But Adeline didn’t step out into the garden much in the time I knew her. She was too unwell and too breathless. I know she missed being out there and I enjoyed sitting in her conservatory with her where she could still enjoy the garden.
The house was adorned with several chiming clocks, cat memorabilia in the form of ornaments, illustrations, tea pots and biscuit tins. Wind chimes musically swayed in the wind from the open door of the conservatory.
There was always a cat fighting for your attention, the most friendly and affectionate cats you could meet. Always desperate to jump up onto my lap when adelines lap was full.
Adeline shared stories and photographs from her life. She showed me a photograph of her at a party in the 1960s. Perfect movie star waves skimmed her shoulders. A full length satin white dress with a slit up the side, revealing effortlessly but perfectly arranged legs that when on for days. She had a cheeky smile and all the other people in the photograph just seemed to fade into the background.
She held onto her glamour until the end and she was always dressed for my visits, in cosy jumper and a dangling necklace adorned with a metallic butterfly. In her last few days her frail body did disappear into a large fluffy dressing gown but the diamanté still glistened on her slippers.
She always greeted you with an unforgettable smile. A look of gratitude on her face, she was someone you were able to share a sense of humour with. She hated pressure and being pushed into doing things she didn’t want to do, so I learned to address her reluctance with a sense of humour, which she welcomed.
Adeline didn’t take well to having to have more help at home in the end. She was too unwell to go to her own bedroom and refused a hospital bed to be delivered for her comfort and ease. Instead she insisted on spending her days and nights in and out of consciousness in her recliner chair surrounded by cats and her visiting friends with Eric Clapton songs often playing on the television.
It was in that recliner chair that she took her last breath. She just went to sleep in that chair with the cats on her lap and didn’t wake up. That’s where the morning carer found her. She was peaceful and it was almost ‘cat like’ of her to wait until no one else was around before she left this world, with strength, courage and fierce independence, just as she had lived her life.
In the days before she died, Adeline insisted on planning her funeral. She had instructed the celebrant to ‘not waffle on’ and insisted that the songs she had chosen were played in full. The short ceremony shared just enough of the wonders of her life and an appreciation for who she was. The curtains closing around her tiny coffin to ‘shine on you crazy diamond’ by Pink Floyd.
A crazy diamond is exactly what she was. The perfect description, and the perfect song choice to show that Adeline knew herself and what she brought to this world, and she was proud to be that crazy diamond.
Adeline’s brother, whom I had never met, wrote to me to ask me to attend her funeral, which I gratefully accepted. He expressed gratitude to me and my colleagues for taking care of Adeline in her final days but he made a point to tell me that ‘in the end’ she saw me ‘more as a friend’. Despite this, Adeline will never know how much she gave me as ‘my friend’.
She taught me to find acceptance.
That being alone is ok.
That being childless is ok.
That you can ‘die alone’ but still be immensely surrounded by love.
That you can have 5 cats and still be respected and loved by all and not be ‘the crazy cat lady’.
Adeline loved those cats and they loved her. All 5 cats were 18 years old and all looked youthful. Her smallest tabby Daisy doted on her and she remained curled on Adelines lap even after she had died and she stayed there until the funeral directors came to take her away.
She was my patient and there was the appropriate level of disconnect, but I remember having to call the doctor several times to request medications and assessments for her and the receptionist at the GP surgery asking me if I ‘knew her personally’, as though that must be the reason I would go the extra mile for a patient. This irritated me somewhat, as far as I was concerned I was just doing my job and being an advocate for my patient which is what I was trained to do.
But sometimes you do have to shout a bit louder for those patients who live alone and don’t have family around them. If Adeline could shout, I know she would about what was right and was important, but she quite literally lost her voice. I know she wouldn’t have needed any kind of advocate earlier in her life.
Adeline was one of the special ones. I was honoured to have met her, cared for her and helped her to fulfil her wish to die in her own home with her beloved cats.
I’m honoured that she considered me her friend.
She will never know the indirect wisdom, courage and assurance she gave me just by existing and being who she was. At a time in my life when I recognise how fast the world goes round, how short life can be and how far away from the goals we challenge ourselves to achieve can feel sometimes.
Adeline taught me that there was not the substance to my fears that I believed there was.
That you don’t have to conform to life’s expectations or follow the road you think you should from a societal perspective.
That being authentically you is not only admirable, but the perhaps also the key to our happiness.
That you can be remembered fondly for eternity, for just being exactly who you are, not just for what you achieve in your lifetime.
That love and kindness wins, and our relationships with animals are even more precious than I ever thought I knew.
That is only takes a small presence to make a huge stamp on the world.
That’s a whole lotta lessons from a little lady whom I hardly knew. That’s presence, that’s a huge stamp, and that’s how I will always remember Adeline.
‘Time’ Alan Parsons Project ( played at Adelines funeral)
Goodbye my love
Maybe for forever
Goodbye my love
The tide waits for me
Who knows when
We shall meet again, if ever
But time keeps flowing
Like a river (on and on)
To the sea, to the sea
Image by Patrycja Kwiatkowska