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Robin Olson's blog

The Haunted Images

One of the first memories I have is of standing in the dark, in the basement, inside a tiny walled off darkroom, next to my mother. The only light was from an enlarger as it illuminated the easel below it. I could see an image appear in negative under the light. I tried to recognize what it was. It appeared to be faces, but I didn’t know who the people were. They looked like smooth gray stone carvings while the sky behind them was eerily black. In the silence, my mother turned a knob to focus the image against the white of the easel, then she adjusted the easel to line it up so the image wouldn’t be crooked. She fussed with the crop, lowered the enlarger slightly, then turned it off.

All the light that remained was the dim glow of a red safety lamp as she continued on. My eyes slowly adjusted. I could barely see my mother reach into a box marked KODAK containing a thick black plastic sleeve. She removed a small piece of paper. She was careful to tuck the end of the sleeve down and close the box when she was done. I wasn’t sure why she did that.

She placed the paper under the easel frame and lowered the criss-crossing metal bands to hold it in place. She flicked the enlarger light back on. This time it buzzed for a moment, then shut off automatically. She removed the paper, then placed it into a nearby tray filled with acrid smelling clear fluid. She rocked the pan gently, back and forth, using rubber-tipped bamboo tongs to push the curly corners of the thick paper under the fluid, evenly coating every inch of it.

What I saw next was magical. I was transfixed, staring at the blank paper as it shimmered, very slowly an image began to emerge upon its surface. What had looked so alien to me just moments ago was beginning to reveal a familiar scene. Faces appeared. It was our family, but in grayscale. My father and mother stood squinting slightly in the bright sunshine, protectively flanking my brother and I. We were standing in our back yard near the plot of blooming sunflowers my mother had planted that spring. It was daytime, not night. We all had smiles plastered on our faces. You always had to smile for the camera, right? So we did. We were the most perfect American family, smiling away.

But we really weren’t.


Photography is in m DNA. My grandfather operated movie projectors in theaters in New York City in the 1930s. My uncle Bill took up photography when he was stationed in Germany during WWII. When he came back to the United States, he gave my mother one of his old Argus cameras. Perhaps it was just having a camera and having little kids that drew my mother to learning about photography. It wasn’t simply point-and-shoot back then. You had to understand F-stop, shutter speed, film speed, film types, paper types, chemicals and more. Since my mother was a scientist (and probably a genius or at least had a very high IQ) I don’t think she struggled much with learning the ropes.

Memories of my childhood always include my mother with a camera either around her neck on a big leather strap or with her old Yashika twin lens reflex carefully balanced in her hand.

I was constantly told to “go stand on that cliff edge or by the stream or near the TV showing flickering images of the moon landing.” Or “form a group” (when company came to visit) or “stand up straight and suck in, chin up.” I did what I was told, at first, but over the years I began to deeply dread the intrusion of the ever-present camera watching my every move. It was as if there was a fifth person in our family, an annoying person, who was always in our business, and I mean always.

My mother documented anything and everything from a shockingly large bowel movement my brother took, to me moments after I had spread Lassar paste and talcum powder onto her newly created woven art panels, instead of taking a nap, to our cat Yukio’s lifeless body surrounded by candles after he died, to my dad recovering from surgery in his hospital bed. Today we think nothing of this intrusion. In fact, we embrace being on camera. We show off how fabulous our life is through our carefully retouched images—but this was in the 1960s. There was no social media or even computers. Only our neighbors had color TV.

I don’t know why my mother was such a rabid documenter of all things. I have a hunch she used it as a way to control situations. She could walk into a place where maybe she didn’t belong, but she had a camera, a commanding tone, and confidence so no one got in her way. We had to listen to her. We had to form that group. We had to look happy when we weren’t. We had to create her vision of whatever she thought we were supposed to be.

She’d spend evenings creating photo albums after she printed out the best images. She’d clip out newspaper articles or save birthday cards or other bits she could add to each page. She not only wrote captions for each photo, but she told a story or wrote something funny. She carefully labeled and organized each and every roll of processed film. She did scrapbooking before it was a thing-40 years ahead of her time.

Then, of course, she would debut the album and we’d all look and point at ourselves and squawk about how bad we looked or we’d laugh at each other or what she’d written. Over the years we’d use the albums to settle disagreements about something that happened. Mother had documented it so we had proof. To settle an argument meant simply running upstairs into the spare bedroom, scan the collection of albums, organized by year, and choose the one that would decide who was right and who was wrong.

When it was a dull, snow day, we’d grab a few albums and reminisce as we looked over the pages. We’d see how much we changed, growing so tall or so fat or so old…they truly were a detailed timeline of our lives.

Eventually, cameras felt like a natural extension of my body, too, since I was often the one taking the photo when my mother needed to be in the shot. By the time I left for college I was making images, not forming groups or trying to document things. I was far more interested in how my ability to see things changed when viewed through a camera lens. I could photograph droplets of water as they left the garden spigot, but before they landed on the ground. I literally froze time, then could take time to examine the nuances in a moment that would otherwise go unnoticed. It was fascinating.

I could tell a story through images.

I attended the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, where I majored in photography. I wasn’t certain what I’d do with that degree, but creating images was my passion. By the time I graduated, I was developing color slides, 20” x 24” color prints, I had gallery shows at the college and I was one of the senior staff photographers. I was making studies in light and shadow, of form and shape. I eventually realized I wanted to do more than be a fine art photographer because I loved to write and I loved typography so I studied graphic design.

I still have a bag full of cameras and lenses, and heart filled with the joy of having a career as a creative director, and I have my mother to thank for some of that.


In 2006 my mother died. It was unexpected. She’d hidden how sick she really was so when I drove to her house to check on her, it was a terrible blow to find her on the floor in the living room, already gone. Photography was so ingrained in me I was tempted, for a moment, to take a photo of her lifeless body, still dressed for work in a turquoise blue cotton shirt and white pants. But I quickly realized that even though she would have wanted it, I was not the kind of person to do that kind of thing. I felt repulsed that I even considered it.

As the Executrix of my mother’s Estate. It was my job to figure out what to do with all those photo albums…all 140 of them…and all the carefully marked shoeboxes of negatives…and some slides…some super 8mm movies…

I didn’t have space to store the albums and negatives, so my brother and I agreed that since he had the space, he would take them. I would take the slides and other media since it was rather limited. I’d be able to come visit or borrow an album so I could scan a few photos. All those times I was annoyed, I didn’t want to be photographed, and here I was feeling awful that I wouldn’t be able to see those images again so easily. Most of my life was documented on those pages and those of the rest of my family, many whom are long gone.

The albums are a precious archive of our little family. Maybe those fake smiles weren’t so fake? Maybe I could now start to believe the vision my mother had of her family after all?

But it didn’t work out that way.


My brother and I are on the outs. We never really got along very well to begin with. There was either a battle for our parents affection or a battle with each other. As an adult it mellowed into a somewhat friendly relationship, but it was never as close as I wished it could have been. Even with my mother begging us to always get along and always be a part of each other’s lives, it just didn’t happen. I didn’t even see my brother for 10 years after my mother died, and he lives only a few miles away.

And then, on my birthday in 2018, my brother shows up at my door with his second wife. I was completely stunned and began crying, not sure if he was there to shoot me or hug me. I wrote about it HERE, but the short version is, he was there to tell me he got his DNA report done. It showed something none of us expected-we’re not FULL SIBLINGS. He’s my half-brother.

I was devastated; rage consuming me about my mother with no way to say anything to her about it. I’d been completely betrayed by her. How could she not tell us? How could she see us not getting along and not say a word? My father was long gone. He would never find out, so what was she risking by not telling us after he died? Was she so worried about her phony family image that she forced us to look like a solid unit when we weren’t? Nearly two years after finding out the truth about my brother, I am still unable to process this nightmare. It makes me feel like my life is a lie.

In my heart, I wished for a close relationship with my brother. He’s just about all I have of a family, but now even what little I might have had is cut in half.

But what about the photo albums? Maybe I shouldn’t even care any more.

I’ve tried to let go of needing to see these images. I do have memories and no one can take that away from me. I want to convince myself that’s all I need, but then I recently heard the news that my brother moved away. He and his second wife are selling their house in Connecticut. He didn’t even tell me. What is going to happen with all the photos?

Why do I even care?


Being able to see the photos ignites memories that have slipped into the dark recesses of my mind. I am haunted by what has recently been revealed about my family. Perhaps there are clues in the images if I look hard enough.

I fear it will also hurt, maybe even break me, to see those images. Is it a documentation of betrayal and lies or are there kernels of the "real" family there to discover, too?

But I can’t see the photos. Maybe ever again. My brother moved away without a word. Before I knew this, I contacted a company that specializes in scanning photos and film. Just to scan the pages of the photo albums, not each photo, would be nearly $15,000. I knew it would be expensive, but that’s a deal breaker for me. It doesn’t include scanning the film or negatives either.

I’m trying to let go of this need to reconnect with my past. I have a very few photos from my childhood. Maybe that’s enough. I can’t fix what’s broken in my family. I have to let go.

Then, a few months ago, my nephew came over. We were going out for dinner, but first he had to bring something into the house for me from my brother. He gave me two HUGE cardboard boxes that contained plastic shoe boxes. Inside each shoe box were a handful of paper envelopes. Inside each envelope were film negatives. ALL the negatives from ALL of the photo albums were in those big boxes. At first, my heart sank. What would I do with negatives? Thankfully after a quick check, they appeared to be in good shape, but how could I ever see the images again?

The boxes sat in my dining room until a few days ago. I knew I couldn’t afford to have the negatives scanned. It would be just as costly to do so, when in truth, I wouldn’t even want every negative scanned because there were plenty of images that were under or over exposed, or just not great photos. The best were printed out and used in the albums, but I have no idea which negatives should be scanned.

Sam and I rented two storage spaces. One was for the contents of his mom’s apartment and one was for our things. We were just about to take the boxes to the storeroom when I had an idea. I have a scanner, but it’s only for paper-or so I thought. I wondered if I could scan the negatives. I figured I’d try before we sealed the boxes and put them away.

I chose a shoe box marked 1966. Inside the first envelope, marked November 1966, were holiday portraits of my family. I couldn’t see much detail but the negatives were large, 120mm. Some were color and some black and white. I opened the lid of the scanner and discovered there was a board on the inside cover. I removed it to reveal a second light source. That way the scanner could scan a negative. I was so excited I couldn’t move fast enough to give it a try.

©1966 Feminella Family. The first scan, quickly color corrected.

I didn’t worry about dusting off the scanner or the negative. I desperately wanted to see the images. I set the software to scan at a very high resolution and let it rip. It took a few minutes, then suddenly the image opened in photoshop. What I didn’t know is the scanner converted the negative into a positive. Right before my eyes there appeared a portrait of me, my brother and my dad in our holiday finest. There was some damage to the film and in one exposure my eyes are closed. I didn’t care. I was transported back in time as I looked at the images. I remembered wearing that dress. We went on a trip to the United Nations and I wore that dress. It was very stiff fabric and scratched at my skin. The shoes were too tight. I don’t remember many outfits over the years, but that one really stuck in my head.

My hair was cut short. I looked like I might have a mental disability because my eyes were slightly crossed (later fixed by surgery). I wasn’t thrilled seeing that, but what I did love was seeing my daddy. He looked tired, maybe resigned to his life. Maybe just tired from being around little kids. He had a good grip on us, probably because my little brother would have run off if he didn’t have a firm hand on his waist. My father was wearing his wedding ring. He stopped wearing it in the 1970s after he had an accident in the garage and cut his fingers. He could have worn the ring once he healed, but he didn’t. My mother didn’t wear hers, either. She’s not wearing one in the photo.

I wear my dad’s ring now, on my right hand. I don’t know what happened to my mom’s.

Excited now, I wanted to scan more and more images as fast as I could. I began to formulate a plan. I’d have to buy a separate hard drive since the first scan was already a huge file size and multiplied by thousands more… hard drive. I’d also have to mark off which ones I did and be prepared to only scan a few from each month because it was going to take a very long time even if I just did that. So lots of careful organization was going to be needed, too. I really need to plan this all out.

I chose a few more negatives to scan. One image was a portrait of my parents on the front lawn of their home in Nanuet, NY (still 1966). We must have moved there not too long before the photo was taken. My mother’s hairstyle is helmet-shaped. My dad is standing stiffly in his drab suit. They are smiling for the camera, but their eyes are not smiling. The photo doesn’t tell me how they were feeling or what they were thinking.

©1966 Feminella Family. Judith and Joseph Feminella, aka my parents.

I fast-forward in my mind, knowing what will become of them. How they will fall out of love. How my mother will want a divorce by 1986. How just before she leaves my father, she has a stroke. How she never would be free of him, of us. How he would take his life in 1999. How she would die alone in 2006.

But in the moment that photo was taken they still had over 30 years to right that ship and have a different ending. I wish I could have warned them. I wish I could have helped them make better choices. It makes me heartsick. I wonder about my own life, my own choices. I wonder what my future self would want to tell me about how I live today.

Then the scanner connection suddenly died. I turned it off, waited, turned it on again. The software kept crashing. The scanner is old and worn out. I wonder if it’s for the best that I have to stop after only scanning a few images.

The next day I try again. I’m able to scan only 4 images before the scanner fails again, but one of the images is a treasure. It shows my entire family circa 1966. It’s a very rare image that depicts both sides of our family-the Italian/Austrian side and the Russian Ashkenazi Jewish side. Back then it was not acceptable for these two cultures to intermingle. There was always an uncomfortable split between the sides of the family because of it, growing worse over the years.

©1966 Feminella Family. Christmas with my dad's side of the family (left) and my mom's (right). 

But I get to see them again. That’s what matters now. In that moment, captured 54 years ago, we were a family. Now there’s proof. We were all smiling and happy, maybe as happy as we could be in that awkward setting. Seeing the image comforts me and leaves me anxious and greedy for more. It’s as if I saw enough photographs, the images would blow the dust off my memories, and make me whole again.

I’ll never know the truth of my family by looking at photos, but I can choose how I feel about them. I can feel haunted and desperate or I can remember the love and joy that too often fell between the frames. There are no photos of me making my mother laugh so hard she fell backward in her chair, then hit her head on the dishwasher (she was mostly unscathed), or of my father and I as we sat on the ugly brown suede modular sofa, while Johnny Carson was on the TV in the background, during one of our heart-to-heart conversations about life.

The photos are the last traces of the people I loved and one day all that will be known of me will be what is seen in photographs, too.


The Long Road Home

I’m in a hamster-wheel, spinning, spinning, spinning. Every day is the same, every moment a repeat of the previous. That’s how my life has felt these past eighteen months.

My partner, Sam, moved to New York City to care for his mother, after she’d fallen and it was discovered she was severely septic. She was hospitalized for over a month. Sam went to see her every other day, at first. The 90-mile drive from our home in Connecticut could be brutal. If he chose the wrong time of day, if the weather was poor, or there was a car accident, the 90-minute drive could stretch into many hours. Then add another crap-shoot-ETA to make it a round-trip meant most of the day was spent driving. How was Sam supposed to make a living? How were we supposed to have a relationship or manage our home if he was gone all the time?

After that first month, the hospital moved his mom across the street to a rehab facility and Sam continued making the trip to NYC to see her. Even though he was exhausted, and our finances were taking a hit, was by her side. Without warning, the rehab released her. We had to scramble, not sure what to do with her because she wouldn’t get the care she needed to live independently in her apartment, and Medicare would only provide a health care aide for so long.

We made the painful decision for Sam to move in with his mom to save on travel time, and so he could look after her until we figured some things out. We knew his mom did NOT want to go to rehab ever again or into a nursing home. I had to agree. The rehab place was out of a David Lynch film but, not in a quirky, entertaining way. Sam had to set up shop in his former childhood bedroom, where he'd try to work. We bought him a new twin bed, but there was nothing money could buy to help him feel comfortable returning to that apartment.

We hoped it would only be “for now.” I feel awful saying that we all thought, even his mom said as much, that she wouldn’t be with us much longer. If that was the case, then Sam should maximize his time with her and I’d stay in Connecticut to continue to operate our non-profit rescue, Kitten Associates, take care of our 9 cats, continue working as a freelance graphic designer, and take care of the house.

It was going to be tough on both of us, but frankly, in a lot of ways, it was a welcome break. We hadn’t been getting along that well for years. The constant stress on our relationship, never having a vacation in over 10 years, never even having a break for a weekend away, turned us into hamsters, spinning away in our wheels. We did what was expected of us and everything else fell to the wayside.

Our feelings for each other waxed and waned, but it eventually got so bad before Sam left, that I slept in the foster room with the cats for months rather than be anywhere near him. It got so bad I began taking a hard look at what I could do with my finances, where I could move, what sorts of home I could afford. The answer was pretty bleak. I wanted to leave, but I just couldn’t do it without seriously risking becoming homeless.

Sam’s mom falling ill helped us shift gears. The first few months of being apart most of the time, began to open our eyes. We started to see what the other brought to the table, how we depended on each other, and that no matter how bad things got, we still had a heart-connection.


I remember the morning Sam left. It was late October 2018. I had just walked up our steep gravel driveway to check the mailbox and was now heading back towards the house. Sam was driving slowly up the driveway to exit at the street and begin his journey. We met halfway.

I looked at Sam as he rolled down the window of his car. I told him I loved him (not something I easily do). It felt like my whole world was crumbling without his support, but there was also a sense of being grateful he was leaving. We really needed a break. The only problem was, neither of us knew when it would end.

I choked back tears as Sam and I had our final kiss goodbye, but there was also a pang of guilt. I felt relieved. Finally. The balloon of stress popped. Time for peace and quiet. At first, I even enjoyed the solitude and freedom.

This was my “before” life, life before the COVID19 pandemic changed everyone’s world. Life for the past year and a half without Sam became a deep, dark rut. Feed the cats. Clean up after the cats. Make cat food. Run cats to the vet. Try to figure out what was going on with the cats. Medicate the cats. Do more test to the sick cats. Euthanize one cat. Weep hysterically over losing my cat Spencer months later, but as bad as it was, who could have predicted what would happen next?

I tried to keep the house tidy. I did some work here and there. I put seeds out for the birds. I fed myself (not very well since it was just me to feed). Though there was a sense of relief to be away from Sam, over the months there was a softening of feelings between us.

In a way, we travelled back in time to the days when we didn’t live together, when we only saw each other on weekends. Sam lived in Brooklyn with his young daughter. I lived in Connecticut. With shared custody of his daughter, Sam couldn’t see me very often. It was perfect because we were only together when we both had time to have fun. We never had to do the laundry or cut the grass or take the recycling to the dump. We went to the movies. We went out to dinner. We stayed in hotels and had..ummm…a nice evening.

While it wasn’t exactly the same, our communication was what was familiar. We spent more time texting or talking on the phone. We missed each other. We were kinder to each other. We realized we’d been taking the other for granted for a long time.

Meanwhile, Sam struggled to care for his mother. She was 89 and physically, she was in poor shape. Mentally she was still sharp as a tack, which wasn’t always so wonderful. She’d rudely point out to Sam that his belly was getting big (her words: fat). She’d climb into her wheelchair, roll it to the next bedroom where Sam fitfully slept, then rammed the door with the wheelchair and yelled at him; “Where is my coffee and New York Times?”

It was only 7:30 AM.

We both were overwhelmed by our own responsibilities. I would have a melt down about once a month. Sam did his best to come home and help out, but he could only stay a day or two. Once I stopped only thinking about myself, I began to see how my complaining left him with absolutely no space for him to manage the stress he was facing. I had to work on being more compassionate and have faith it would be okay one day. He was flirting with having a nervous breakdown from the stress. I couldn't add to that. A few months ago, I began seeing a therapist so I could learn to communicate better.

You have to understand that Sam did not have a great relationship with his mom. He was a dutiful son, but where there should be love in his heart, was only resentment. His mother never let him talk about the fact that his dad abandoned them when he was a kid. She never asked him how he was doing or seemed to care. I get it. She was a single woman with a child, trying to make a living in New York City in the 1960s and her entire family was in Arkansas (and weren't too thrilled with their rebellious daughter). It couldn’t have been easy. Sam was not in an environment where there was much, if any, love. His mother was angry, frustrated, probably scared.

She would get home from work and didn’t have much left to give to her son. He had to keep his head down, stay out of trouble. I don’t know how Sam managed to not go completely down a road that would land him in jail. He’s done a tremendous amount of work on himself over the years. I’m lucky. I get the good guy. I get the guy who cares about others, more than himself. The guy who is completely devoted to the people he cares about. While he may have reluctance to open his heart, we all do. It’s scary. But he leans in and cuts through that.

I’m proud of him, but having to face your mom, who you’re not the biggest fan of, day after day…that’s tough.

As the months passed, we both sagged in our misery and raged in our frustrations. We couldn’t travel anywhere together and it was very difficult for either of us to travel on our own. We just worked, did what was asked of us, did our best. We were both fed up, resentful and emotionally exhausted. We prayed for a break, even if it was just a few days away, but Sam’s mother continued to beat the odds (yes, it’s a nice way of saying she didn’t die).

In January of this year, Sam’s mother turned 91. We were in the midst of building an apartment in our basement for her so she could live with us. The plans were done, we had a contractor. With an apartment it meant Sam could come home full-time. The plan had been to start sooner, but we decided to put it off until after winter was over. His mother had been mostly stable (with a few more UTI/septic scares) so we thought we could delay the starting date.

In late February, Sam flew to Denver for a business trip. To say he was at the end of his rope being away from home and caring for his mother was an understatement. It meant I wouldn’t see him for two weeks, instead of the usual week separation.

I told Sam to have a good time, to take a few extra days if he could to just have a break. I was miserable, but knowing he had a chance to be happy made me feel better. He had someone caring for his mother all day long and she had been able to be on her own at night. It would be fine, right?

Sam got sick.

Sam was barely in Denver before he started to feel awful.

He was sick in a way he had never been before. He had a fever, deep cough, terrible body aches, was vomiting. He hurt so badly he could not sleep. Though he laid in bed for 10 hours, he slept for 2.

He complained bitterly about the awful hotel he was in. It was too far from any amenities and he didn’t have a rental car. I started to reach out to friends in the area to see if they could bring him to a doctor, but Sam couldn’t go. There was no time. His flight left at 5 AM.

I asked him to change his trip home and extend it out so he could recover. He tried. The airlines were not cooperative at all. The new flight would be $600 more and be a 10 hour trip instead of 7 hours (and that was bad enough as it was). It didn’t help that the hotel was horrible. Why stay?

I tried to convince Sam to at least not go back to New York City-not go back to the apartment. “Go to a hotel.” I said. “Stay away from your mother.”

It made sense, but Sam was out-of-his-mind-sick and did what we both knew was wrong. The next day he flew to New York. He barely made the drive from the LaGuardia to his mom’s apartment. I don’t know how he made it he was so ill. He knew his health care aide would take care of his mother. He was going to hole up in his room and try to sleep. His mind was spinning. He was so ill he couldn’t deal with “one more thing” and collapsed into bed. I had to wait and hope from afar that I'd hear from him soon. It was torture not being able to go to him and bring him home, but he warned me to stay away.

I know we’re going to get a lot of grief about this, but that was BEFORE social distancing, before COVID19 was spreading across the United States (or so we thought because we now know it was already here in ever-building force). He also knows not to touch things and he stayed clear of other people. He traveled with his hand sanitizer. He did his best to not make a bad situation a lot worse. Let’s not forget, clearly someone else on the outgoing flight didn’t take any precautions because Sam got sick from them.

News of COVID19 was just coming to the forefront. We were both worried about Sam’s mom but initially figured he only had “the Flu.”

Sam refused to come home; protecting me from getting sick. His home health care aide took care of his mom while Sam tried to recover. I begged him to go to urgent care and get tested for flu. He went, complaining that they didn’t take his insurance and that the Doctor would not test him saying that tests were only about 70% reliable and back then there was no discussion of testing for COVID19 at all. He was told he had the flu and go home with some medications and rest. Meanwhile, I was ordering and shipping out everything I could think of to help Sam get better, teas, homeopathy, cookies (of course), cold medicine, vitamins.

We don’t know what Sam had, but his mother got sick, too. Thankfully Sam was able to get her Tamiflu quickly and he felt she did recover a few days later. We thought the worst was over.

March 5, 2020. Sam had a horrifically painful toothache. With his immune system tanked from the flu, his face became swollen and hot from a simmering infection filling the right side of his sinuses with pus. I offered to get him a referral to a dentist in NYC. It was barely two weeks since he’d first gotten sick and it wasn’t really safe for him to come home.

But Sam was exhausted and in pain and missed the cats and missed me and was just “done.” Sam was “done” in a way I never heard in his voice before. I did everything I could to support him from afar-to soothe him and remind him it would be okay. We just had to stay strong. A little while longer. Sam decided to come home. He would see Dr. David, and me, and the cats, if only for an afternoon.

Since his mother had gotten the flu, she had become weakened to the point where she could not make it to her commode. Sam had to hold her over the chamber pot and she often couldn’t aim very well. He got the bulk of her mess on his shoes. Sam was doing load after load of laundry while he was still sick. We both realized his mother needed more care than he and his aide could provide. We knew as soon as he was feeling better that we would have to find a nursing home placement for his mother until we could finish the basement apartment.

So Sam drove home. It was the first time I’d seen him in weeks. His face was grey. It was swelled up on the right side. Though he was happy to see me, I could tell he needed a lot more than a few hours at home. He needed sleep— good sleep, not tossing and turning while having to get up every few hours to tend to his mother. It was the first time I was really worried about him having a far worse medical problem then a toothache. He still had a lingering cough. What was next?

Maybe he would have a nervous breakdown or maybe he’d have a stroke. All I knew was this couldn’t go on any longer. It had been too big of a price to pay-on our relationship, on Sam’s health, on our souls.

The infection was very serious. Dr. David suggested Sam see a dental surgeon so they could sedate him, but Sam knew he couldn’t wait. The tooth had an old root canal repair that finally failed. An infection had spread to the point where Sam would have to be on 4 doses of antibiotics a day for weeks to combat it.

He also had to have his tooth removed.

Sam held my hand during the procedure, but he was too afraid to squeeze it when the pain radiated into his head. Instead he waved his other hand, indicating when the pain was too much. It was awful. The infection prevented the numbing medication from working well. The tooth broke into a few pieces, so Dr. David had to dig and twist and yank the rest out. It took an eternity.

Once the tooth was out, Sam was exhausted. He said the pain was so bad he almost cried. There was no way he could go back to his mom’s that night. She’d have to fend for herself. He spoke to the aide with a wad of gauze in his mouth. She would hold down the fort, at least during normal business hours. I know he struggled so much with the guilt of needing to be there versus wanting to be home and just rest. We both knew that things could go sideways, but with any luck he’d be back in New York soon and all would be well.

The aide took over the next day and Sam, reluctantly left late that afternoon, making the long drive to New York City. The aide was leaving the apartment as Sam arrived. She said things were status quo and that his mom was resting. Okay, maybe things would finally calm down now.

About an hour later his mom woke up. Sam went in to her room to check on her. She was making funny sounds. He texted me about it, saying maybe he should get his mom to the Doctor the next day. I reminded him that when his mother got septic, she stopped making sense and to call 9-1-1 right away. I got a bit bossy with him about it, knowing he was reluctant because his mother was terrified of being hospitalized again and would be reluctant to go.

Sam dialed 9-1-1. Two ambulances and a fire truck showed up. One crew came into the apartment, assessing the situation. They put his mom onto a specialized chair (instead of a gurney because the elevator in the apartment building was too small for a full bed). Sam was right behind them. Just as they got into the elevator, his mom collapsed. The EMTs tried to revive her, then began doing CPR in the entryway to the building. They continued as they loaded her into the ambulance and drove the mile or so to the hospital. I’m not even sure how Sam got there.

There’s a special room right outside the ambulance bay where the EMTs and Doctors could continue their efforts to revive Sam’s mom, so they didn't have to stop doing CPR...but she didn’t wake up.

Sam texted me about 30 minutes later: “She’s gone. No cell service here.”

At 12:05 AM on March 7th, Sam’s mother was pronounced dead from a cardiac arrest.

It was a rough night. Sam was in shock, stunned at how fast his mother died after being stable for so long. He didn't want me to come to New York. He needed time to process what happened. I wanted to offer my support in some way so I stayed up most of the night making a spreadsheet/to do list of everything we were going to have to do. Twisted as it may be, I was glad my parents had died years before because I already knew a lot of what had to happen next and focusing on work kept me from falling apart.

I found a funeral home and contacted them. I began figuring out how we’d have a service, where it would be, who would cater it, what Sam needed to do (get a haircut, buy a suit, call her church…). Sam went back to the apartment in a daze.

The reality began to sink in. It was over. His mother was gone. No more worrying about her. No more criticism. No more uncomfortable silences. Though over the past twenty years she constantly called Sam to race to her side for one thing after another, at all hours to care for her, even after he finally move in with her, she never appreciated it. I know she just died. I should be more compassionate, but a flood gate of other emotions rose to the surface, too.

She never welcomed me into the family. She was friendly and seemed sweet and we got along, but I never felt included. Strangely enough, Sam didn’t feel included either. He had a painful relationship with his mother and it was over now. He was a dutiful son to the very end. No one could have asked for more.

He could come home. For good. Soon.

Sam coming home wasn’t in the way we had hoped. We wanted his mom to be with us, in her own space within our home, but it didn’t happen. We felt badly about it, but mixed in with the sadness was guilt. We felt relieved, and struggling under that was a small, fragile seedling of joy.

We. Were. Free.

We would have a proper memorial service. We would clean out her apartment. We would say goodbye with all the love and respect we could muster, and then we would go on a fucking vacation, soon.

But then COVID19 came to town.

We were able to follow Sam’s mother’s wishes by having her cremated. We were working on contacting her friends and getting the memorial service worked out, but the news was scary. COVID19 was showing up beyond China and Italy. It was in the United States. It was in New York City. Schools were starting to close in NY and our home state of Connecticut. Social distancing wasn’t the norm, but we both realized we couldn’t have a memorial service.

It seemed completely unfathomable, not only disrespectful, to not have a funeral, but most of his mother’s friends were elderly, in the high-risk group. I felt like a horrible person for even suggesting such an idea, but more and more people in NYC were getting sick.

We were probably one of the first families that could not have a funeral service for a loved one.

We just couldn’t risk it. We cancelled the plans for the service and promised ourselves that we would build a memorial web site for her for now. That maybe in a month or two we could have a proper service. We'd have to wait and see.

So we focused on getting the apartment cleared out, but Sam was heartsick and felt rushed. I could tell that he needed time to be alone with his feelings and that meant spending more time in New York to sort through what was left of the 50 years of stuff his mom had accumulated. I offered to go, to help speed up the process, but more and more people were getting sick so he urged me to stay home.

Meanwhile, Sam’s work as a web developer ramped up beyond imagination. He barely had time to grieve. One of his clients is a multi-billion dollar hospital group and of course they had a lot that needed to be done.

We kept at it as best we could. We were two days away from the movers arriving when we found out a building resident had COVID19. Sam had just been there the day before, trying to get things finalized. He came home that night and we talked. We were still allowed to come and go from the city, but social distancing was beginning as more of the tri-state area was tightening travel restrictions. Moving was considered “essential” so we could move, but…was it worth it? The tenant with the COVID19 was in quarantine, but that didn’t mean the rest of the building was safe to be in. At the time it didn’t even occur to us that Sam might have had COVID19 already.

If we didn’t clear the apartment, it meant the contents were in jeopardy. It meant paying a very expensive rent for who knows how long. It meant this wasn’t over, as much as we wanted it to be. It also meant we were risking our lives and the lives of the movers to be in such close contact.

It wasn’t worth it. We postponed the move and let the contents be. Maybe the landlord will cut us a break. I doubt it. It doesn’t matter. We have to be safe, first and foremost. The building Super thanked us for canceling. I think we were all relieved.

So Sam came home, truly home. Our short-lived feelings of freedom and joy have been replaced by frustration and anger. We both know that as crazy as all of this is, at least we’re together again. There are so many ways this could have gone so so so badly…his mother could have survived, but would have had to go to a nursing home where she might have died from COVID alone. She might have been stable, but Sam would have had to continue to care for her, then not not been able to come home AT ALL...FOR MONTHS or LONGER.

Maybe I sound like the most heartless person in the world, but I’m grateful things happened the way they did. If it was her time, then Sam’s mom did us a favor. Neither of us wanted her to pass like that, but if it had been even a few days later, we would have had a very tough time even getting her cremated! I can’t believe we live in a country where that is an issue! I can’t believe we couldn’t have a funeral. It feels as if she didn’t really die. She’s still in Manhattan. She’ll probably call to ask Sam to help her with something soon.

Sam and I went for a walk around the neighborhood not long after his mother died. We were both listening to podcasts, soaking up some sun as we walked along. We reached an area where the unruly road finally flattens out and there being only a few trees, the sky really opened up. Sam touched my shoulder to get my attention. He pointed upwards towards a huge bird soaring overhead. We stopped to watch it for a moment.

The curious thing about it was it was circling us, watching from above. I’ve walked this same path over a thousand times and I’ve never had a bird circle me. We realized it was a juvenile eagle, not yet emblazoned with a cap of white feathers. It began to fly away, so we continued our walk. A moment later it returned, flying lower, still circling. I was amazed by the sheer size of the beautiful raptor. I wondered aloud if it was a sign from his mother. Maybe she was saying thank you for caring for her or that she loved us or that maybe she forgave us for being happy to be together again.


And what’s life like under “stay home, stay safe” after not even being around each other for nearly two years? I’m cooking. I’m baking. I’m looking after Sam. He’s helping me take care of the cats. We bought a new bed just before the big lockdown, finally trashing our 19-yr old wreck of a mattress so we're finally getting decent sleep. Though we had to give up on our very short-lived dreams of going on a vacation or moving away, we’re together, and we’re friends again, and we learned a valuable lesson. We DO matter to each other. We still want to be together. In fact, I think that’s been the theme of our entire, multi-decade relationship. We want to be together, but the timing has often been flat out terrible, yet somehow we never let it stop us.


This morning I felt lousy. I felt hot, feverish. I’ve had a mild cough for weeks, but no idea why. I admitted to Sam I was feeling funky and he took a step towards me to feel my forehead, but I stepped back, not wanting him to be close to me if I was getting sick. Fear made my gut twist. We were busy doing our morning cat feeding/chores, but I excused myself to go take my temperature.

It was low, too low, like I have an infection or something else. I took my temperature again and it was about the same. I was relieved that I didn’t have a fever, but maybe a low grade temperature was a concern? Did I have COVID19? Probably not, but how Sam and I are coping was illustrated moments later when he came into the bedroom looking very stressed.

He furiously motioned with his hands, making a gesture as if he was taking his temperature, at the same time he struggled to get the words out fast enough. He finally blurted out; "What was the result? Do you have a fever?" I shook my head no and he quickly came over to me a grabbed my hand.

I’ve never seen him so animated before. He had tears in his eyes as he said; “I’ve dealt with terrible things in my life, I was in New York City on 9|11, the tragedy here in Sandy Hook, I saw my mother die...but this (he locked eyes with me)…you…I could not take it if…

I cut him off. I couldn’t bear to hear the words. There was so much love and grief and sincerity and passion in his words that I couldn’t let Sam finish because I would completely fall apart if I heard them. I felt the same way, too, about him. We’d been on a very long journey, finding our way back to each other, and today we reached that destination.

We’re home, at last. Now we even have to stay home, it’s the law. Through all these trials, we at least made it this far. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know if we will fall ill or die or if Sam already had COVID19 and is immune. We think that might be the case, and one day he’ll get an antibody test and we’ll know for certain.

Although my day-to-day life still has a hamster-wheel quality to it, it's a good thing. I enjoy seeing Sam every day. We now have a wild turkey that comes to visit when I feed the other birds. He makes me laugh because he "gobbles" aloud and he knows I'll stop what I'm doing and get him some sunflower seeds to nibble on. While I still have to care for my often-annoying cats, I finally have the space in my heart to cherish the comfort they give me, too. I have a great life, even if I never get to go on vacation for another ten years. I have what matters.

The Day the Magic Died. Farewell Lil Bub.

On Sunday, December 1, 2019, we lost a magical being who took the form of a perpetually tiny tabby cat with extra toes, beaming bright green eyes, and a toothless mouth that left her bubblegum-pink tongue hanging out. Her name was Lillian Bubbles, aka Lil Bub, and she was only 8-years old.

Over the past 6 years I’ve been fortunate to have crossed paths a time or two with this marvelous creature and her Dude, Mike Bridavsky. You can read about some of my exploits in Forever Bub and Lil Bub’s Lil Book Review.

But this isn’t about rubbing shoulders with a celebucat, it’s about far more than that. It’s about living in a dark world where a magical being alighted from beyond the reaches of our planet. This being gave us hope for a better world and she even showed us how to make it happen.

©2012 Robin AF Olson. Being anointed by Bub.

Bub wasn’t just an ordinary cat. She was celestial in origin. Where she came from we will never know, but wherever it was it was a place where we’d all like to live. Bub’s world sparkled with mirth and simple joy. She wasn’t a cat who got cross (okay, maybe one time when she met Grumpy Cat). She was a cat who made friends with everyone (okay, again, maybe not GC, who tragically also died earlier this year).

Bub had a Buddha-quality about her. She was peaceful, serene, even in a room with hundreds of anxious fans waiting hours to spend a moment to be near her. She posed gracefully, and if the fans were lucky, she would anoint them with a squonk

(Bub didn’t meow. Her sound was referred to as a “Squonk” by her Dude, Mike).

Bub travelled the world, but always yearned to return to her home planet one day. But she loved her family on Earth so very much that she decided to stay as long as she could, but Bub being, well, Bub, meant that her specialness didn’t perfectly fit with life on our planet so she struggled a lot, especially at first.

Thankfully her Dude got her the best earthly-treatments possible so she could continue her message of Magic. She reminded all of us that we can make this world however we want to. We can succumb to living on a filthy planet filled with hateful humans or join Bub in her loving world of friends of every shape and size, one where everyone gets along. Where we’re buoyed by knowing that Bub is with us.

Our world was a better place because of Bub, but so very sadly, Bub needed return to her home planet a few days ago and now we’re reminded of how bleak this world is without her.

I admit to crying a lot. I went to bed in tears. I’m crying again now. Bub wasn’t just some guy’s cat, she was a beacon of love and light that was so powerful you couldn’t help but be awestruck by her. She taught us how being different is what makes each of us special. Because of Bub, too, so many cats got a chance to live thanks to her Lil Bub's Big Fund.

Lillian Bubbles was a tiny cat who made a huge impact on millions of people. Now it’s time for us to take her message and to keep Bub’s spirit alive.

Her Dude always encouraged Bub by saying “Good Job, Bub.” Now I’d like to suggest we say something to her, too.

“Thank you, Bub.” Thank you for being you. Thank you for reminding us the world can be a beautiful place filled with love, to stay open-minded, and be outgoing and friendly to everyone.

I encourage all of you to look around and find something kind to do, something to honor Bub. Let’s show Bub her message wasn’t lost on us, even if our hearts are broken, and even though we’ll all miss her so much.

Thank Bub by rescuing or fostering an animal in need, by donating to your local shelter, by helping someone who is struggling, by simply smiling to a stranger. We have so much power to do good, let’s do a Good Job for Bub.

And to Mike Bridavsky and his wife Stacy and their children and other pets, I am so very sorry that Bub had to return home. I hope, in some way, the loving messages you’re getting give you some measure of comfort. That seeing the impact Bub made on the world keeps your heart filled with love. That when you look at the night sky, if you look carefully, you'll see Bub in the stars. Her beacon still burns brightly in all of those who loved her.

Thank you for sharing her with all of us.

and...Good Job, Bub.

Postcards from Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge Ch 5

Dear Mama,

I want you to understand something that’s going to be difficult to hear. I knew I was going to die. I know you were seeing the signs that my time was coming one day, but I could feel something was wrong. I could tell that my time was coming much sooner than you realized. I wish I could have told you, to spare you the shock of losing me. In truth, I knew I was going to die the last time we saw each other. I was grateful that it would be painless and quick for me, and that you didn’t have to see the vets trying to re-start my failed heart. I’m sure imagining it is bad enough on you.

I love you so much. I wanted for you to not have to make the choice for me. I didn’t want you to see me like that. I didn’t want you to have to hold me and ask me to stay with you a bit longer. I just couldn’t. I was older than you thought. My heart was in much worse shape than you knew.

I applaud you for all you did for me. You watched me so carefully, always racing me off to the vet, never balking at the costs, even though you went without things you needed so many times. I couldn’t have asked for a better mama. I really couldn’t.

I hope you understand that I was in a tough place. I wanted to stay with you more than anything, but I also knew if I had to leave you, that I wanted to spare you the worst of the suffering. You didn’t have to see me waste away. You didn’t have to come home and find me already gone. You didn’t have to syringe feed me (and man, you would have hated that and you know it!).

We all make choices. We all see things differently and make different choices. I did the best I could for you. I know the only thing you really wanted was for me to be with you always, and as we’ve spoken before, I am always with you, just not in the physical sense.

I see your tears, even after a month. It pains me so much. I know you took the small wooden box that contains my ashes, to bed with you one night, and cried yourself to sleep again. If I could take your pain away, I would. Please don’t despair, mama.

There’s something that I could do for you. Your friend Karen realized it before you did. She recognized my message when you didn’t even realize it. She’s a great cat-mom, too, at least that’s what her cats told me.

After I passed away, I spoke to the gerber daisies you planted in the flowerbox this spring. You really got a raw deal when you planted them; the first flowers you’d planted in ten years. How it wrecked you when in less than 12 hours, the squirrels had eaten the flowers, leaving only the green leaves. You even saw one running off with a flower in its' mouth. Part of you gave up you were so angry and frustrated. Yes, you dug up the remaining flowers and moved all but one of them inside because you didn’t have enough pots. Most of them either died or never flowered.

You got pissed. You sprinkled lemon pepper all over the surviving plant that was outside. The squirrels left it alone. As the summer went on, they didn’t bother with the flowerbox. Instead, they went in search of other food sources even though you feed the birds every day and leave out a bit of seed for whoever wants it.

It wasn’t fair that you did all that and never saw a flower blossom again.

So I asked the daisy to bloom for you. The buds began to develop the day I died. There wasn’t just one flower, there were two; a symbol of our relationship. They were a bit ratty looking at first-kind of how I looked when we first met. But as the days passed, they began to fill out, nearly glowing from their effervescent hue. It was my way of saying; I’m here, I love you, and don’t give up on being happy again. Don’t give up on loving another cat as much, or even more, than you loved me. It’s ok. My love for you will never change and I know you feel the same way.

©2019 Robin AF Olson. 

Our lives pass in the blink of an eye. Why waste it crying when you could be loving someone? You can still honor me every day, with every pink candle you light, with every memory of me that leaves you smiling. And you can be the brave and strong mama I know you to be, and find a way to lift your head up again, to dry your tears, and to find that your heart still beats and can feel love again.

Love always,

Your “baby-man,” Spencer


Postcards from Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge Ch 4

My Sweet Boy,

I’ve been trying to work up the nerve to write your Memorial, but I can’t look at photos of you for too long without losing it. Photos will be the key to show just what an amazing creature you were and I have thousands of photos to look over. So far I managed to look at about 100 before I just couldn’t look any longer.

Yes, they bring up happy memories, but mostly it leaves my heart in ruins. Tomorrow will mark three weeks since you died unexpectedly during a dental procedure and the pain is worse now than when you died. I keep feeling like it’s been long enough that I haven’t seen you. You should be home by now, but I know that’s a foolish wish. I know you can never come home again.

Thank you for your letter. Of course you’re right about us having a connection that lasts beyond the constraints of one life. We always have been together, just in different forms. I should have understood that better when I joked about how you always had to “tuck me in” every night. You acted like my mom. Maybe you once were?

You’d sit on my pillow and purr so loudly into my ear there was no way I was going to be able to sleep. You’d purr away while I gave you some skritches, but after about 10 minutes you’d get up and walk to the foot of the bed and lay against my leg. It was your way of saying goodnight. The last time you did that was late in April. I cherished it every time you did it. I knew that one day no one would tuck me in and I was right. I often sleep alone now. Either none of the other cats come to bed, or little Freya will join me, but she stays on the corner of the mattress.

I don’t really want the connection any more. It’s okay to sleep alone. After you died, I just quit caring about feeling connected to anything. Yes, I still have a house full of cats and foster kittens. I love them all, but not “like that;” not the way I loved you.

I don’t need the connection any more. The one I needed is gone forever. It’s not a replaceable thing. I’m working on finding a place to be okay with just being grateful I had a connection with you, and that although the world feels so gray, it’s okay. I saw things in color for a long time. I was lucky.

I’m trying to be kind to myself, but I’m eating too many carbs. I really shouldn’t. I’ve been getting out to do my morning walk as often as I can, but I don’t know why I’m bothering.

Last weekend I took myself out for brunch. Part of my choice was simply because I really enjoy going to Mothership Bakery, but I also admit I was feeling pulled to go there. I don’t know why and I don’t know why I felt like I had to hurry up to get there, too. It was odd. In my mind, it didn’t matter when I got there as long as they were open, but once I got there it all became apparent.

I brought a book with me to read while I waited for the lunch special to be prepared. I sat off in the corner of the cafe, a ray of sunlight was peeking through the skylight onto my face. I turned slightly to get the sun out of my eyes and noticed two women sitting to my right. As I turned back to my book, I overheard one of them say; “I don’t know what to do. She’s so upset about her cat dying, all she does is cry. It’s been going on for weeks.”


The woman across the table from her replied; “What was that cat’s name, again?”




Many years ago, my mother got my father a kitten as a birthday present. He was a tiny chocolate point Siamese with stunning turquoise colored eyes.

His name was Blue.

What are the odds this would happen? That I would be in the right spot…that I would hear this snippet of conversation. I felt compelled to talk to the women and tell them I run a cat rescue and that their friend could contact me and come visit our kittens if it would help her feel better---not to push an adoption on her. I was brutally depressed. I wanted to work up the courage to talk to them, feeling I’d had a sign to do so, but I just couldn’t do it. It was difficult enough not to break down and cry in public.

Someone was sending me a message, but I didn’t know who sent it. Was it my mother, who I’m at odds with after finding out she lied to me about my brother not being my full-blood-brother? I didn’t find out until after she died! Was my father sending me a sign? Was it you? Did you do it?

I know you sent me yet another sign, Spencer. I was watching Hulu and the show (the remake of Four Weddings and a Funeral) featured a character named Ted SPENCER. Are you KIDDING ME?!! Is everyone on television named Spencer now? There were posters all over the wall in one scene because fictitious Ted Spencer is running for political office. I had to take a photo of the TV screen so someone else would believe me.

This is craziness! I don’t trust that this is real. I’m just open to hearing your name, right? That’s it. It’s just coincidence.


In 2005, my mother and I were talking about if we would come back in some way after we died. Of course my mother said; “I’m not coming back. I am not leaving any signs. I will be dead. The end.”

Yeah, she really knew how to be comforting, that one.

So as much as I want to believe it, having faith was never my strong suit. I’m trying, Wee, I’m trying. Keep sending the signs!


I just bought 72 votive candles, yes, in pink, like the color of your nose. My hope is that if I burn one every day that when the box is empty, maybe I'll have started to feel a bit better. If I don’t, that’s ok. I know you don’t think I’m honoring you by being in so much pain and by crying so often. I know you want me to be happy. I'm trying.

But you probably saw what happened when I had to bring Nora to the vet yesterday.


©2019 Robin AF Olson. Nora not thrilled that it's time for yet another...enema.

She got constipated yet again. At 19-years of age we can’t hope it goes away. She has to get to the vet. When I got there they put me in the exam room…the exam room where I last saw your body after you died. You weren’t even the first of our cats who died in that room, but it didn’t matter.

You mattered.

I couldn’t handle it. I kept having flashbacks of seeing you dead. I tried so hard to stay cool, but I started to sob. They had to pull us out of the room and put us in another exam room. It was just too much to be there. In my heart, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to go back in that room again. The pain is brutal. I want to scream bloody murder. I want to rip my hair out. I want to cry until my eyes burn.

God how I miss you. You were such a magnificent creature, my dove. There will never be another cat as fabulous as you were. I will never care as much for another cat ever again. I’m grateful I had the honor of being in your fluffy- presence for seventeen years.

Mama Loves You

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge Ch 3

Dear Mama,

I can feel your heartache and hear you crying. I want to take your pain away, but I know you have to process the suddenness of my departure. I know it takes time. I hope my words help you heal, at least a little.

Yes, I did send you some messages to you. You didn’t notice them all, but don’t worry. I will send more if you need them. I want you to know I’m okay. I’m free from my weak, old body. I’m free from pain and suffering. I’m simply, free.

Please don’t cry. I promise we’ll be together again one day. You know we’re all just stardust in different shapes and forms. One day you’re you and one day you’ll be part of something else and the same goes for me. We had a blessed connection this time around, but guess what? We’ve had this before. That’s why you knew I was the one for you when you first laid eyes on me so very long ago. You recognized that we already knew each other. You knew it in your heart.

We have been together many times before in different ways. Each time we’ve had a connection, whether it be mother and son, or dear friends, or any creature large or small. It didn’t matter our shape or exactly how we cared for each other. What mattered always was our heart-connection, and that never ends, ever. It continues on through time and space.

So that’s why when I tell you we will meet again, we will. We won’t have the same memories of our most recent life together, but the familiar tug in our hearts will help us recognize each other again.

Spencers' Shrine

I saw the shrine you put together for me. It’s very sweet. I even get my own table top. There are so many cards and flowers on it. It looks like you had to move some of them to another table!

I saw you take a pink votive candle out of its’ box yesterday morning and light it, just for me. You do it every day, don't you? I know you chose pink because of the color of my nose, right? I saw how you reached out and touched the small wooden box that contains my ashes, then you whispered; “Mama loves you,” as you said to me so many times during my life.

I love you, too, mama. I always will. Whatever shape or form or for however long we have, our love is infinite and our connection never ends. You can bank on that.



Postcards from Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge Ch 2

Dear Spencer,

It’s been a week since you died. Numbness and depression has really sunk in. I’m alone. Sam still lives in NYC taking care of his mother most of the time. I’m tired. It’s been a year that he’s been gone. This should be resolved by now. I can’t care for this entire house, all the other cats, by myself. I didn’t sign up for that. Every day that passes, I get less and less interested in my life. I’m sorry to whine at you about it, but seeing you every day, talking to you, hearing your purr, really made it bearable. I just don’t have the connection to any of the other cats, the way I connected to you. They don’t even sleep with me. It’s so weird going to bed alone.

IMG 0883
©2019 Robin AF Olson. A truly lovely gift-a plant (read the message on the container!) from my beloved friends at Royal Bobbles.

Remember how you used to tuck me in? You’d use the step stool at the foot of the bed to jump onto the trunk, then from the trunk you'd jump onto the bed. You’d walk all the way up towards my pillow, then settle down ON my pillow, putting your face and front paws as close to my face as you could. Your long soft fur would tickle my face. Your purr was deafening. There was no way I could sleep with you almost laying on my face. Some nights I could barely breathe with all the floof covering me!

But you only stayed for about 5 to 10 minutes. I think it was your way of sending me off to a sweet slumber. You’d get up and return to the foot of the bed and lay against one of my legs. I can’t say how many nights I would wake myself up when I wanted to turn over so I wouldn’t crush you. Maybe I didn’t sleep well most of the time, but you were there, my furry shadow. You honored me with your devotion to stay by my side. It gave me great comfort. It broke my heart when you couldn't make it up the stairs any more. The last time was late April. I could have carried you upstairs every night, but we both know that would have irritated you.

Yesterday was 9|11. That just made my depression worse. It's a big day for me. My life began to change a lot after that day. I got trapped in New York City, like so many other millions of people. Sam was there, too. We were working together in the same design firm but we had broken up and were dating others. Talk about a weird situation. Then we had to rely on each other to navigate basically being homeless, with nowhere to go, as the World Trade Towers collapsed and our world got a lot more scary.

You hadn’t joined our family yet. Maybe you had just been born or would be soon. I bet you were an incredibly cute kitten. I wish I had known you then. You must have been about a year or so old when I first fostered you.

Before the Pouff in 2002
©2002 Robin AF Olson. One of the first images of Spencer, before his coat grew in and he went up to his highest weight of 16 lbs.

Do you remember the animal communicator? What she said about you? A friend got us a consultation. She did tell me some scary-accurate things about two of the other cats. I hoped what she said about you wasn’t true — that you didn’t want to talk about it. You put those days behind you. I know you were on “death row” somewhere in New Haven and that your time was up. They’d shaved you down. You must have been a matted mess. Your white fur was yellow. On your paperwork it said your name was Skeezix. What a horrible name! The director of the rescue named you Spencer. I didn’t like that name much, either, but it didn’t feel right to change it again. I guess that’s why I called you “Wee-wee” or “Weedie-woo.” …not because you peed all over!

People have been really kind. Did you see all the comments on social media about your passing? So many people were wishing you well on your journey to the rainbow bridge. So many people sent me thoughtful notes, a few sent flowers or a plant with nice cards. I was really honored that they cared so much about you. I guess about me, too.

I keep going back to what a few people said about how we never stop loving each other, even after death parts us. Even if we’re not in the same room any more, that love doesn’t have to stop. I thought I would never feel love from you again, but you sent me a sign, didn’t you?

You did it more than once to make certain I knew.

Here’s what happened (though I bet you already know this): I was watching TV. It was a reality show. I can’t remember which one. One of the folks was named, Spencer. In all the years I’ve watched TV I can’t think of a time when a character had that name. It’s not common at all. My ears perked up when I heard the name out loud. I thought; Did he make that happen? No. Couldn’t be. That’s crazy.”

Then, yesterday I was taking a break, watching “Say Yes to the Dress.” Why do I watch this show? It only makes me angry seeing women flip out over DRESS SHOPPING for a dress they will wear once, they will gladly spend thousands of dollars on, and then feel they have the right to go ballistic if it doesn’t go perfectly and they don’t get what they feel entitled to...and half the time they look like hookers, not bridal. Ugh. I'm particularly horrified by the women who drop over $10K on a dress. I mean, really! Spend $10K on pretty much anything else and that's cool with me, but not a DRESS!

So. Anyway. Here comes today’s bride. What’s HER name? Spencer. Yes, a woman named Spencer. You did that, didn’t you? First time was coincidence, right? Second time? No way. You did that!

Are you still here? If not, where are you? What are you doing? Are you all right? What was your first week like? I hope you’re not scared. I hate that I can’t protect you any more. That was my job. I still feel as though I failed you. I’m trying to do better with all the other cats to make up for something I can never make up for.

I guess this happens every time one of our cat's die. I try to learn a lesson. This one made me decide that we have to find a way to get every cat back into the vet to look at their teeth and set up a game plan for dental cleanings. We started doing that over a year ago. I need to do better. If your teeth had been in better shape, maybe you’d still be with us? But Sam also said that if it was your heart that failed, maybe you would have made your journey much sooner than you did.

I feel so screwed up about your passing. A few days ago, the foster kittens got spayed/neutered. I didn’t expect to be a wreck leaving them at the clinic, but it hit me, they were all going to be sedated. None of them had pre-op blood work because it’s too costly and usually not necessary on kittens, but then I started to worry about the dreaded “what ifs” again. What if I lost one of the kittens? What if one of them didn’t wake up?

Then later that day I took Flap, the little handicapped kitten, to see our specialist, Dr. Deb. She said she might have to lightly sedate him to put a brace on his leg. I lost it. I couldn’t hold back the emotions. I tried to explain why I didn’t want Flap sedated. It was stupid of me to feel that way, but I still felt so raw.

I just want to curl up under the covers and hide from the world.

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©2019 Robin AF Olson. Right after Spencer died and I got home, I walked out into my back yard and sat on a big rock. I looked up and saw this view of the tangled brush. It's how my heart felt in that moment; all twisted up with grief.

But you did it one more time, didn’t you? You gave me another sign. I wasn’t looking for one. I was flipping through the channels trying to find something to watch. On the History show there was a documentary, really a bunch of video clips with no narration, of 9|11. I wasn’t sure I should watch it. I was already so depressed.

I watched for a few minutes. There was a footage of a little girl with her even younger brother by her side. They were standing by a window in their apartment. You could see smoke from the collapsed World Trade Towers rising in the distance. The little girl explained what was going on…saying the building was just gone, gone forever…then she turned to her brother and said: “right, Spencer?”

WHAT? I got chills! Maybe I’m going insane from grief, but maybe this is legit. Maybe you're really out there. Maybe you'll write me again? Is that asking too much? I miss you so badly.

Keep the signs coming or the letters or both.

Mama loves you.

Postcards from Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge Ch 1

On September 5, 2019, my 18-yr old soul-cat, Spencer died unexpectedly during a procedure while sedated. If you'd like to read about his last few days you can go HERE and HERE.

What I could never have imagined is that our connection didn't end on that fateful day. Because of the deep love we shared, a door remains open to us. It's a rare gift, only for those who have a magical bond with their companion animal. Instead of keeping this secret to myself, I decided to share it with the world. Please read on.


Dear Mama,

I guess I better start off by saying, I’m sorry. I know you’re hurting right now, not only because I left this mortal coil, but because it was so sudden and such a shock to you. I heard you cried so hard you got a migraine? Is that true? I would never want you to suffer like that, just like you never wanted me to suffer, but there are things that we can’t control no matter how hard we try.

I know you miss me. I miss you, too. 17 years is a long time to be with someone. I never wanted to leave you. Even though my physical form is gone, I'm still with you.

In the end, I didn’t suffer much. I was sedated when my heart gave out. I’m grateful for that. Yes, I was scared because you weren’t there, but I was surrounded by others there that cared about me. Dr. Larry, Super-Deb, Dr. Mary, Judy. They were trying really hard to keep me around, even though I'd been a pain in the ass to them all these years. I gotta hand it to them for trying. I think they really care about you, which is why they were giving it a team effort. The thing is, my heart hasn’t been good for awhile now. You didn’t know it. I wish I could have told you.

Leaving you so fast was a bit of a shock to me, too, but in truth I could feel it was coming. I felt it for a long while now. You saw it in how tough it was for me to walk more than a few steps without having to rest. I didn't come upstairs any more. I missed meeting you at the door when you came home. My legs were getting pretty wobbly. I hated tripping over my paws some times. I know it upset you to see me like that.

I saw you trying to figure out what was wrong. You tried so very hard, for so very long, to find an answer. You took me for laser treatments for my legs. It felt good, but it wasn’t my legs that were needing help. You saw the holistic vet and he gave me some really good remedies and the antibiotics you struggled trying to give me really did help me feel better over my last two weeks.

My health issues were really complicated over the years and man, did you go the distance for me. You raised, what, about $5000 when you didn’t have $100 to your name, just so I could get that big mass removed off my pancreas when I was 16! Then the pathology hinted at cancer, and you jumped on that, fast. You figured out it wasn’t true, but you had to work so hard to get answers about that. Before that time there were a zillion other problems, but you leaned in and learned as much as you could about every health issue I had so I would never have to suffer-“Not on my watch,” you said.

Then you had to give me fluids every day for over a year. I know you hated “sticking me.” It took a toll on you, but you made it comfortable for me so I wouldn't stress out. I even enjoyed getting fluids some times.

Mama, honestly, you blow me away. You never gave up on me, even during so many dark times when it looked like my health was truly failing. I hope you find a way to see that and not feel guilty you couldn’t save my life today. In truth, you did save my life, MANY TIMES, but sooner or later the day will come when “all the King’s horses…” you know how it goes.

And it’s not like I made anything easy for you. There is no way you could have figured everything, because you know how I get. I’m like you. You get pushed a bit too hard and you go into the “red zone” fast. How is anyone supposed to examine me when I flipped out so easily? Kinda like how you got when one of the other cats peed on the sofa (I’m not saying names, but it started with a P., literally and figuratively). Boy did that piss you off.

Yes, I still have a sense of humor. Just because I’m not there with you doesn’t mean I can’t try to cheer you up once in while.

The connection I felt with you when we were together, and now as we’re apart, is on a molecular level. I know you didn’t just love me like all the other cats that have been in your life. We had a bond that was so strong it continues to pull me towards you, to keep reaching out, to let you know I’m okay over “here,” and to tell you I can write you now and let you know how I’m doing. That is, if you’d like to hear from me. I hope it’s not too painful that I keep reaching out. I would not want to add to your grief.

Write soon?

Love always,

Spencer (aka, Wee-wee, Weedie-woo, Baby-Man…just proving to you that it really is ME and I’m okay so don’t worry about me. I miss you!)


Dear Spencer,

With all my heart and soul I hope it really IS you writing me. When you died a few days ago, a big hunk of me died along with you. Losing you is so painful, I can’t really think about it too much. I can look at a photo of you for only a second or two before the tears well up in my eyes and my head starts to hurt. I think about your last few days, but it’s mixed up with so much regret, remorse, guilt, frustration, anger, and complete heartbreak that I can barely keep myself together.

I can feel the pressure build up behind my eyes. I’m going to cry again. I can’t do that. If the dam bursts I will never stop crying. You were my everything, my sweet fluffy sassy shadow. You saw me through so many tough times. You made me smile, even when you drove me crazy. You always tucked me in at night. You were my best friend and you never stopped loving me.

Spencer Urn and Photo R Olson
©2019 Robin AF Olson.

You never questioned if I loved you. You always looked up at me with this adorable expression of love mixed with curiosity. That purr of yours was non-stop and just gave me another reason to be completely charmed by you. I fell in love the first moment I saw you pop your head out from inside a cardboard cat carrier. You were my first foster fail oh so many years ago. I promised myself I wouldn’t adopt you. I’m so glad I broke that promise.

But this is a game-changer-if I really could talk to you. This is so messed up. I can’t believe it. I just got your ashes back tonight. They’re in a little wooden box in the living room. Dr. Larry and Dr. Mary sent me a big bouquet of flowers. There are thistles mixed with the roses and hydrangeas. It’s perfect. It’s just like you. Beautiful and prickly at times, but I don’t mean it in a bad way. I loved how sassy you were. You didn’t take shit from anyone.

©2019 Robin AF Olson. Thistles.

I just hugged and kissed the wooden urn, then a few minutes later, I find your note. That’s crazy!

All I can say is keep writing me, please! What’s it like where you are? What are you doing? Can you see any of the other kitties like Bob or Gracie? Can you visit with humans? Or is the Rainbow Bridge segregated by species?

Will you ever come back to me? Please come back! How will I know it’s you? How long will it be? Oh Weedie-woo, I miss you so much. This house is empty without you and my heart aches all the time. I want this bad dream to be over. I want you to be here with me still. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I never will be.

Please write me again when you can!

Mama loves you, always.

Spencer Sign Photo Urn Candle R Olson
©2019 Robin AF Olson.

Gutted. I've Lost My Best Friend.


I’m tempted to leave it at that, but I need to write about what happened a few hours ago. Writing keeps everyone away from me. I don’t need their awkward attempts to comfort me. No one knows what to say other than; “I’m so sorry.” or the line that makes my blood boil: “He’s in a better place.”

He is NOT in a better place. His place is with ME. If he can’t be with me he is NOT in a better place.


This morning Spencer was in lovely spirits. He was happy, purring so loudly you could hear him across the room. He was still weak when he walked, but otherwise he was up and being pure-Spencer. It was such a lovely morning, too. Just the right temperature; not too hot or too cold. There was lots of seed out for the birds to eat and I could hear them chirping away through the open windows, as Spencer laid down on the floor by the doorway to the kitchen. That’s where he sat every morning while he waited for me to bring him his first meal of the day. He’d wait there while I fussed with his freezed-dried raw food, I’d add something to it, depending on what he needed. Today would have been pro-biotics because Spencer had been on antibiotics for his dreadfully infected teeth. The meds did wonders. He was truly at his peak of wellness, considering he’s an old fella.

Waiting for breakfast r olson
©2019 Robin A.F. Olson. Waiting for his breakfast just this morning.

Between the birds singing, the sunshine and Spencer looking so fine, I felt hopeful that today’s dental would not only help him feel better, but add years to his life. I had two vets agree we could go ahead with this. No one felt the risks outweighed the need. Instead of giving Spencer his morning meal, I gently placed him into his cat carrier and let him settle before touching his paw and telling him he was a “Good boy” as I closed and locked the crate door.

I was terrified today would be Spencer’s last day. I told myself to focus on being gentle, on having a nice trip to Dr. Larry’s. I’d take the back road, the one that follows along the river. It was a longer trip and slower. No highway. Everything I could do to keep Spencer from stressing out, I was going to do.

I sang.

I sang a stupid made-up song to Spencer. I’ve done it before, but today I really ramped it up. I sang to keep myself from crying...from obsessing with "what ifs"…I would see him again. It would be okay. I kept singing so I wouldn’t think. Spencer purred along with me. It was a good trip.

We hung out in the waiting room once we got to Dr. Larry’s. Someone would come fetch Spencer and take him into the back of the building where he’d wait until his procedure. Until then I had his cage door open. He was calm. Purring. I forgot my phone. I wanted to take a video of him so I could hear him purring. I told myself I could do it later. It was going to be okay. I told Spencer for the millionth time that I loved him.

“You’re a good boy. Mama loves you.”

One of the techs came to get him. I told her to stop doing the procedure if he started to flip out. I told her to do whatever it took to help keep Spencer relaxed. Going into the red zone today was more than dangerous for him. She said she would. I know she heard me. That was it. She took him away and that was the last time I saw him until a few hours ago.

The next time I saw him, Spencer was dead, his lifeless body on an exam table.

At 1:41 PM, EST, Dr. Larry called me. He sounded bad. All I heard was; “Robin…I’m so sorry. He had a heart attack. He didn’t make it.” All I could say was; ”No. No. No.“

Dr. Larry began to describe what happened, how they tried so hard to save him, as I slid down onto the cold tile floor of my laundry room. My chest constricting, hard, my ears started to ring. My mind was going blank. The washing machine is broken. It’s finally getting fixed after a few weeks. I was clearing the stuff off the machine so the tech would have a way to access the top of the washer. I was trying to keep busy so I wouldn’t obsess about what time it was or if I thought I should hear from someone yet.

But the words started to flow together…they’d done the dental as far as they could. His mouth was really bad. They were trying to wake him up but he wouldn’t wake up. They did heroic efforts to save him..chest compressions…injections…they kept trying. It wasn’t just Dr. Larry. Dr. Mary was called in, Super-Deb was there, Judy, the tech who’s done Spencer’s laser for months was there, too. In all 5 people were desperately trying to save Spencer’s life.

But they couldn’t get Spencer back. He died. He was sedated when they lost him. He wasn’t in pain. He wasn’t suffering. I wasn’t there with him, but people who also loved him were there.

I drove to Dr. Larry’s in a trance. I was tempted to drive into oncoming traffic or just let the car drift off the road, into the river. I was angry at myself. I wondered if I had been too arrogant. I should have left Spencer alone. What was I thinking? He was SO HAPPY. He was doing so well the past few weeks. Why did I ruin it? Why did I risk it? WHAT HAVE I DONE!

I tried to rationalize with myself. I did the best I could. Spencer was tough to handle at the vet. He hated being messed with. His teeth were hurting him, really killing him. They had to come out. It was cruel to leave him like that. But he possibly had something else going on that we didn’t know about. The leg weakness made me wonder if his heart wasn’t so great, but we couldn’t know without sedating him to do the exam and x-rays that could have given us some clues.

As I fumbled with my wallet and keys, I started to open my car door. Super-Deb was standing there in the parking lot. She must have been watching for me to arrive. She didn’t say a word. She just grabbed me hard and hugged me tight. She said she had no words. I totally understood.

Deb never touches anyone, ever. She just hugged me. I told her now I would have two reasons to remember this day for the rest of my life. It was a lame joke. She was shaken up. She felt so badly. She’d known Spencer for most of his life. This just wasn’t my loss. It was hurting her, too.


Deb escorted me to Exam Room 1. They had Spencer waiting for me. We’d been in the same room so many times before, but this time was different. The overhead lights were off. Just the under cabinet lights were on. It was the same way I asked to light the room every time I brought Spencer there. He was much calmer in low light and we could get more done if he was calmer. Now he was laying on his side, covered with the fleece cat bed I’d brought with me that morning. His eyes were still open. His paws were still a little warm. He’d been brushed and was clean. There was a box of tissues by his body left for me.

I stayed with Spencer’s body for a few hours. Sam had to drive up from New York City where he was still caring for his aged mother. I didn’t mind staying there so long. I had time to say goodbye. I spoke with most of the staff. One by one they came into the exam room and told me what happened, how much they cared and were sorry. I got a lot of hugs. It was comforting to know they cared so much about Spencer, about me, too. I even spoke with Betsy, who runs the front desk. We’ve become close over the years. She told me she lost two of her beloved pets in the past year. She is so distraught about it she hasn’t even told some people it happened. I won’t say more to respect her privacy, but I’ve been down this road so many times, I think I said a few things to help comfort her. At least I hope it helped.

We’re all hurting. It just may not be apparent, but scratch at the surface and most people have broken hearts.

In a final act of kindness, Dr. Larry called Mark. He owns the pet cremation service. He asked Mark to come today and take Spencer to be cremated so Spencer’s body would not have to be stored in a freezer for another week. I may even have Spencer’s ashes back as soon as tomorrow.

It’s over. I can’t do anything about it. My love. My sweet boy is gone forever. I will never see him again. I will never hear his purr. I don’t have to fuss over how much he ate today (I’ve kept a diary every day for two years tracking every meal he has eaten, how he was doing, what meds I gave him). I don’t have to give him fluids every day. I don’t have to hold his plate while he eats. I don’t have to come up with a new food or treat to tempt him, but I would do it every day for the rest of my life if it meant he would be here with me.

Paws with Banana
©2019 Robin A.F. Olson. Farewell my beloved. I sent Spencer off with his catnip banana and a letter I wrote to him, along with a photo of us. Sam slipped his own message to Spencer in along with mine a bit after this was taken.

I’m going to write a proper memorial about Spencer one day, but it needs to be separate from this heartbreaking tale.

I am gutted. I am done. I took a chance and lost. I really tried with everything I have to give. I’m so sorry Spencer. I will miss you for the rest of my life.


It's Not About the Age. Medical Decision Making for Geriatric Cats

Medical decision making for your cat is often complicated, especially when your cat doesn’t have a definitive diagnosis. We all struggle with what-to-do and how-it-should-best-be-done. Then there’s the added issue of costs. What if a test could give you clear insight into what is sickening your cat but it’s a budget-buster? What if the test doesn’t give you helpful results and you’re left as confused as you were before-and broke on top of it?

What if it’s more challenging than that? What if your cat is elderly? Do you still make the same choices for them or do you give up and put them down?

I would go to the ends of the Earth for my cat Spencer. He recently turned 18, which is 88-years old in human years. At 16, Spencer had a large mass removed off the tip of his pancreas, even though one vet said maybe we should just let him live his remaining days without doing the surgery (assuming it was cancer-but the mass ended up being benign). Our surgeon said she could do it and get Spencer through the procedure and she did just that. It was a long, tough recovery, but Spencer made it and has had good quality of life.

Test results indicated that there were some cells that were “consistent” with neoplasia (cancer), but did that mean he had cancer? I had to decide if I would put him on chemo or try homeopathy instead. I’d only just started to learn about homeopathy and I was so well-entrenched with allopathic medicine I feared not going straight to chemo. I even ordered the medication and had a vet oncologist on Spencer’s case, but this cat is geriatric. Do I do chemo on him knowing the possible side effects?

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©2017 Robin AF Olson. Spencer after recovered from surgery to remove a mass in his abdomen.

Then, as I was trying to decide what to do, Dr. Jeff Feinman, my holistic vet, sent me an article from the New Yorker magazine. It was a simply fascinating piece about cancer cells-how we all have those cells in our body, we even have metastatic cells, too, BUT we all do not have the “fertile ground” in us for those cells to run wild. That’s why two people with the same kind of cancer have two different results of that cancer. The article talked about two men with skin cancer. One man resolved the cancer with minimal treatment while the other required a great deal of chemo and eventually passed away.

So even if Spencer HAD cells that were consistent with neoplasia it did not mean he HAD CANCER throughout his body (which our oncologist agreed with). Clinically, Spencer was doing well. The oncologist then told me the chemo was a prophylactic measure.

“So he doesn’t really need chemo, then, right?”


The chemo is still in my refrigerator.

I chose to do homeopathy.


I feel as though Spencer, who has chronic kidney disease, has had two bonus years after his difficult recovery from surgery. I never thought we would even get to this day and still enjoy his company. I should not be greedy wanting yet more time with him, but as I’ve learned in homeopathy, focusing on age is not the goal. Focus on how the cat is doing. How is his energy, his behavior, his appetite, his mood? If all of those things are going well, then that’s the focus, not a number. It’s possible he will keep going for some time to come.

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©2019 Robin AF Olson. Spencer getting laser therapy.

Because Spencer “red zones” really fast at the vet, the most we can do with him is do an occasional blood test. Exams are out of the question. I’ve been taking him in for laser therapy on his legs and back, which he enjoys, but other than that, we can’t do much.

But something's wrong with Spencer—a lot of things. I’ve been noticing changes over the past year plus that I thought were age-related, but a light finally went off in my head and now I have tough choices to make.

Spencer’s had a number of issues: • Weakness to mild lameness • Turns his head when he eats • Appetite issues • Weight loss he lost a pound in the past year • Dirty ears • Staining on his paws • Unkempt coat • Coughing with a sneeze at the end of the coughing. • Low energy

Then I finally realized it was Spencer’s teeth. I asked Dr. Larry to look at Spencer’s mouth the last time Spencer was having laser done. Dr. Larry couldn’t look at more than one side of Spencer’s mouth before Spencer blew a gasket. It was enough for Dr. Larry to see PUS coming out of Spencer’s upper gums. He had a wicked mouth infection and was in dire need of a dental cleaning and probably tooth extractions.

Then I went back to my mental list of problems Spencer faced. Most of them could be related to his bad teeth. Immediately we put him on antibiotics (normally I am not a fan of them but in this case it was a must).

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©2019 Robin AF Olson. Spencer a few days ago, enjoying a catnip banana, a sure sign of feeling better.


Within a few days Spencer stopped turning his head while he ate. I had already treated his ears with a steroidal liquid that cleaned them out nicely and the paw stains were going away.

Spencer began to eat a bit better and walk a bit better. I added pro-biotics to Spencer’s food many hours before medicating him to help protect his gut.

Once his mouth began to feel a bit better, Spencer began to groom himself again. His energy picked up a little bit. The big shocker was he stopped coughing.

I imagine that the infection in his mouth, effected his sinuses, which caused him to have post-nasal drip, which would make him cough/sneeze. It could also effect his ears. It could effect his kidneys. It could do so many things, but I hadn't considered even looking at Spencer's mouth because of his age. He's 18. I assumed that his changes were AGE RELATED, NOT SOMETHING ELSE. I wrongly assumed that you can't do a dental on a cat that old. He had a dental in 2016 so I thought maybe he was fine.

But it's clear what we have to do is not because of his age. It's being done tomorrow (9/5/19). Spencer HAS to have his mouth fixed or he will die a slow painful death from his horrible teeth. Of course I’m terrified that he will die from the stress of being at the vet, from being sedated, from something else they didn’t know about because they couldn’t do a proper x-ray or exam all these years.

I’ve had a few conversations with Dr. Larry and with Dr. Jeff. We’re going to gas-sedate Spencer, which is a slower sedation, but he can wake up a lot easier-no drunk walk, no hallucinations post-procedure. It won’t effect his kidneys so badly.

Dr. Larry has kindly cleared his schedule so he can focus on Spencer. Super-Deb, my friend and Vet tech, knows Spencer well. She’s worked with Dr. Larry for decades. This is the best team I can have to do this procedure. We have a game plan in place, but I'm scared, too.

Dr. Jeff has been advising me on which remedy to give Spencer before and after his dental procedure. He also agreed that the gas sedation would be the safest.


Spencer wasn’t doing well a few days ago — after I stopped his antibiotics. I stopped them after nearly two weeks because he was fighting me more and more and he wasn't eating well. I’d given him homeopathy and I thought he was getting worse. He had a bad day yesterday, not eating well, very wobbly in his gait. I thought maybe we should do an ultrasound. Maybe Spencer’s mass grew back? Maybe he is full of cancer? I'm going crazy with "what ifs."

Then last night he started to perk up. This morning he ate more than he has in years. He seems brighter. He is walking better, faster, more steady on his paws. It HAS to be the homeopathy now that the antibiotics have pushed the infection back.

While Spencer still has a nasty mouth, perhaps I’ve shored him up as much as I can so he can handle what’s going to happen tomorrow. I’m trying not to think about getting a call to tell me he didn’t make it. I know I’m going to lose Spencer some day, but I hope that day won’t be any time soon.

Spencer is one of the first cat’s I ever fostered. He’s been with me for 17 years. He’s my shadow, my purry-pal. I can’t imagine my life without him in it. I can't stand the thought of it

But I also don’t want to be so fearful that I don’t help my cat when he needs it most. He will not have a "fun day" tomorrow. He needs a healthy mouth to have a chance at a better future. We have to try.

Whatever happens, I didn't let Spencer's age stop me from treating his issues. I just focus on how he's clinically doing and if my vets feel we can reasonably do the dental safely then that's what we will do. Your cat's age shouldn't stop you from providing vet care, especially because cats are living longer lives than ever.

And I hope Spencer is one of those cats (fingers and toes crossed).

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©2019 Robin AF Olson. My sweet boy.


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