After my sad tale about Bambi, I thought I should balance it with a funny and poignant story of death. Many years ago we lived in a tiny village in Scotland. Our old house had once been a business and had been converted into three homes – two houses at the front and a cottage at the back, all connected. When the builders converted them they did not divide the land accurately on the deeds so that the owners of our house and the cottage behind both believed that we owned a certain tract of the land. Only a lawyer could have mediated this but Mrs. Arbuthnott was a difficult neighbor. I am understating this hugely. The previous two owners had left because of her and another neighbor believed that she had caused the husband to have a stroke (highly unlikely but nonetheless…). Over time I treated her gently like a feral cat and she started to purr for me. I would bring her fresh baked goods, check that she was okay in snowy weather and generally be an A plus neighbor. I knew immediately that she had a mental illness, diagnosed or not, with strong paranoia, and bit by bit she revealed some of her past. My husband and I were going to the USA for a vacation and my (mentally ill) mother came up to look after our two cats. Just before she arrived I found a poor little black and white kitten chewing on crow’s rotting corpse. She was completely feral, a farm kitten most likely, but I trapped her with food. We took her to the nearest rural vet who said that she would most likely die but pumped her full of vitamins. My mum and Mrs. Arbuthnott bonded over this smelly little critter full of worms with a tongue cut in half from a can or some such. They lovingly fed her baby food and luckily Mrs. Arbuthnott had been a nurse. Years passed and none of the other neighbors could understand why I tolerated her, as she was preventing us from selling our house because of the legal problems.
Then, one cold winter, she came down with flu. I called the doctor who came out to visit (this happens in Scotland) but I think he didn’t realize how seriously ill she was. I visited her about three times a day and asked if she would like me to call her brother. She was insistent that I did not because he had just had a heart attack and it would worry him. After one visit, I returned to my own house and just knew in that second that she had died. I tried to balance logic with my rather scary psychic abilities but eventually went back around. As soon as I entered the bedroom I knew she was dead and later found out that she had a massive heart attack. I went to feel for a pulse but her body was cold and there was no heartbeat. I called the doctor and then my husband who said he would come home. For some reason my OCD kicked in and I kept checking to see that she was really dead (there was no doubt). The doctor asked me about her next of kin and I said I would phone him. Remembering her brother’s heart attack, I broached the subject slowly, gently and hilariously. “Hello John, this is your sister’s neighbor, Kerry. She has had flu this week and has been very unwell.” “Oh dear”, he responded. “She got much more ill today”, I said tentatively. “I will come right across”, said John. I took a deep breath and said, “Well, John, I am sorry to tell you, she has died”. There was no response and I thought, ‘Dear Lord, I have killed him too!’ The whole situation reminded me of the Monty Python sketch with the dead parrot.
My neighbors were horrified that I had found her dead but how much worse would it have been if her brother had discovered her decomposing body because she had alienated everyone with a mental illness. It was really a perfect death, as both her physical and mental health was getting worse. She loved her little cottage and I was with her almost to the very end. I hope in her final moments she was contented knowing that I would be back soon. She certainly saved little Puss’s life who lived to the grand old age of 14. She had a slow growing brain tumor that caused her to become blind and deaf in her last couple of years but she could find her way around the house, ate, cuddled and purred incessantly. RIP Mrs. Arbuthnott and Puss – may you be snuggling together in the after-life.