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As all forever families know, there comes a time when your pet is suffering and because you love them, the hardest of decisions is made. Three years ago, my beloved kitties crossed over the rainbow bridge. First, Angel, then a few months later Camille. I still remembering loading the empty pet carriers, leaning against the car door and sobbing. Losing one was hard enough, but two felt unbearable.

L-R: Camille and Angel taking in the warm sun.

My sweet Angel's ashes arrived in a beautiful wooden box which I lovingly placed on my mantel. Camille was lost with out her big sister and was openly grieving with her calls and disinterest. She and I were two kindred spirits trying to console each other. Several months later, we had to make yet another hard decision with the help of our compassionate vet. Soon, Camille's ashes joined her sisters on the fireplace mantel.

It's hard to explain...I can only say I just wasn't ready to bury them. Their passing had happened all too fast. There was some comfort in still having them near me, in a strange sort of way, Most days, I forgot the boxes where there at all, till my dusting brought me to the living room mantle once again. Day by day life happened and I never got around to laying them to rest. Each spring I promised myself I would go out to where our first cat, Beardsley had been laid 17 years before, and say my final good byes when the ground thawed. Then spring became summer, summer fall, then winter. Year after year passed, and still they sat.

My #50preciouswords entry

Each time I saw the boxes, they reminded me of Angel and Camille's rescue story, and being a writer, I started playing with some words. I entered Vivian KIrkfield's #50preciouswords contest with a 50-word entry, entitled, "Two Plus Two. I knew right away that these 50 words could be expanded to a full manuscript and began channeling my emotions into what would later become my debut picture book, "Forever Home."

Working on the book made me feel closer to my sweet kittens, reminding me of their funny little quirks; Camille crawling up under my sweatshirt when I held the bottom out and getting stuck in the arm of my sleeve, and how Angel loved to squeeze into the cat bed made for one, just to be as close to Camille as she could.

Working closely with an illustrator like Erica Leigh, who actually knew and loved these kittens as I did, added so much to the art. Whenever a text appeared from her, saying she was emailing me some sketches, I'd leap to my computer, and open the file as fast as I could. Seeing the kitten's images for the first time was very emotional. As the illustration process continued, each page's arrival brought a smile and a tear wishing Camille, my writing buddy was still curled up on my lap purring and I could share this moment with her.

Character sketch of our kittens

In August the first batch of books was published. Erica Leigh and I felt satisfied that we had honored our sweet kitties with the best book we could make. In the fall, we attended a fundraiser for Baypath Humane Society who rescued them, and raised $200 which was spent on donations of food, litter and toys for their new batch of kittens.

When my second order of books arrived this week, I flipped through the pages of their story, and felt like life had come full circle. Their story was written, money raised and plans were being made for reaching out to class rooms to discuss adoption and community helpers. Angel and Camille's story was touching hearts and making a difference.

Decker and Maddyn enjoying their new copy of "Forever Home."

This week, on an extraordinarily warm November day, I sat in the back yard enjoying the breeze and glanced at the corner where Beardsley was buried. "It's time," I said out loud to my husband, "time to lay them to rest." I headed in to the living room and gently picked up their boxes and carried them out side to where Scott was preparing the ground.

Scott laying Angel and Camille to rest.

After I said my good byes and thanked them for their love, I read a book called " When You Love a Cat" by M.H.Clark. What a beautiful poetic understanding this book has of what it means to love a cat. I was grateful that M.H. Clark's book gave me the words I needed at that moment.

"When You Love a Cat," by M.H.Clark.

I am so grateful for Angel and Camille who lit up our lives with laughter and love for seventeen years. As hard as the good bye was, we are better for having been their "Forever Home." This Christmas, many little children will wake up to my book and share some time curled up on a lap of someone they love. Imagining this warms my heart.

Sample pages from "When You Love a Cat."

If you would like to share Angel and Camilles Story with your little loved one, please visit: Happy Holidays!

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I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it when I sorrow most;

'Tis better to have loved and lost. Than never to have loved at all.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

I am feeling a mixture of emotions today. Tomorrow I will attend the funeral with full military honors for my 97 year-old friend, Tom. I’m sad because I will miss my dear friend, but mostly, I am filled with gratitude that our lives intersected, and my granddaughters and I were able to know and to love him for so long.

My dearest friend, Tom.

Through the years I have had many adopted grandparents as friends. My granddaughters, Hadleigh and Miller have accompanied me on these visits since they were infants. Five years of so much love and laughter. There is something very special about the elderly and children. If I had to explain it, it would just be plain and The years on their faces melted away as they watched the girls toddling around from table to table, or when holding a little baby in their arms. It has been magical.

L-R: Me, Tom, my husband, Scott and Carolyn

One very dear friend of mine was Carolyn. When I came to visit her at lunch one day, she introduced me to her new friend Tom. From that time on, during our lunches, I sat at their table listening to Tom’ stories (many long and grand) and watched the love between my granddaughter’s and Tom grow.

When we arrived each week, they would run right over to Carolyn and Tom’s table and Hadleigh would sit up on his lap. He loved introducing Hadleigh and her new baby sister, Miller to anyone who passed by as his “adopted granddaughters.”

Hadleigh and Tom

Hadleighs sister Miller and Tom

One of his favorite things to do was to ask the waitress to bring a dish of strawberry ice cream for his little friend. Hadleigh and Tom would sit quietly like two little children, savoring the cold sweetness together. Tom and strawberry ice cream became forever entwined in Hadleigh’s mind. Each week the same scene played out over and over again.

Strawberry ice cream with Tom

After Tom’s fall, he was in a wheelchair. Hadleigh would “help” wheel him where he wanted to go. In the activity room, they played catch with the beach ball or tossed rings at pins or spent quiet time putting puzzles together. Tom became part of our family. The memories of these moments we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

Hadleigh helping Tom

Playing ball

When his friend, Carolyn moved to a nursing facility and eventually passed away, it was a hard time for Tom and for Hadleigh and I. But our friendship continued. Sharing our stories of times with Carolyn helped us both through the grief.

Tom and Carolyn

Carolyn meets Hadleigh for the first time.

During the pandemic, I would come and sit on the patio outside the activity room window and visit with Tom at a safe distance through the screen. During this long year, Tom missed my girls and they missed him. I remember one visit when we sat outside on the front porch. Tom didn’t seem to recognize me, but once I brought out pictures of Hadleigh and Miller, he knew who they were and really got a kick out of seeing the recent videos of them playing. When he saw my granddaughter Ella‘s red hair, he launched into wild stories about his brother in Scotland and all of his escapades and seemed confused when I tried to steer the conversation back. So, I figured maybe it was time to go.

When I grabbed his hand and said “Tom, I love you. I’ll be back to see you soon,” he said, “wait a minute there’s something I have to tell you.” I thought it was going be something confusing, but instead he looked me right in the eye and said “I want you to know that you are my family and that I really love you.” My heart burst open. What a gift that was. Over the years and many visits, we had gone from total strangers to family.

Our last visit with Tom

Our last visit was a few weeks before he passed, when I was finally able to bring Hadleigh to see Tom again. She was so excited to see him and hoped strawberry ice cream was on the menu :) She opened up the box of her favorite mermaid puzzle and she and Tom sat for an hour putting pieces together and talking. This was followed by splitting a homemade vanilla cupcake I had brought. I will cherish the picture I took of the three of us forever.

To read in his obituary what a full and long life he had is amazing. I feel so grateful for the time we spent together and that my granddaughter’s now have a wonderful, adopted grandfather to remember sharing strawberry ice cream with. God bless you, Tom. We will miss you.

Tom and our dear friend Scotty, who also passed this month. Hadleigh and I will miss them more than I can express. So blessed to know and love them both.

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My story on World Mental Health Day.

During my journey caring for my mother, who suffered from malnutrition, I learned a lot about the brain. This magnificent organ is the conductor in the symphony we call our body. All functions are connected to it. How we see, taste, feel, hear, smell, maneuver around our environment, digest our food, grow our cells… everything. The brain beautifully knows each instrument’s part and just the right flick of the baton that is required to initiate something the body needs. And if that was not enough, it also cares for our thoughts and emotions. What a miracle!

Your brain is no different than any other organ in your body. Your kidneys, lungs and heart need good nutrition, exercise, and hydration to serve you well and occasionally, a checkup to help make them healthy again. Why would your brain and mental health be any different?

Today, I ask you to take a closer look at your brain and how you are feeling.

Several years ago, I knew I was feeling overwhelmed after a long string of losses. Much like I could not just “suck it up” and get over a strep throat, I knew I could not feel better emotionally on my own. My brain was asking for additional support, and I am so grateful I listened. For some reason society sees needing mental health help as a weakness. This is wrong. I would say it's just the opposite; by acknowledging my need and seeking help, I was being brave. Reaching out to get a referral was one of the single best and bravest things I have done in my life for my own self-care.

I want to remove the stigma around seeking help.

My dream is to make mental health self-care

as common, comfortable and accepted

as calling your primary care when you have a strep throat.

I have learned so much through my conversations with my therapist, and have a deeper understanding now of situations, people, myself and my approach to life. Honestly, I think everyone can benefit from therapy at one time or another. When I felt I was stronger and healthier, I extended the time between our chats a bit further. Finally, I took some time off - knowing that my therapist, like my primary care, would be there when I needed them.

And so today, it I with pride in myself that I say, #iwasbrave and I am better for it. Let’s talk about mental health self-care and our own experiences and make seeking help as comfortable as booking your yearly physical. And if life is making you feel overwhelmed, there is help, I promise! Call your PCP, a friend, or this number. Go ahead, BE BRAVE.

Author Cathy Stenquist filling her cup in a New England sunflower field.

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A Little Bit of This & That

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