The Portugal Path was meant to be a long one for Bill and me.
Yet, what do we know about our futures?
Especially in these times?
First, a quick update on Bill:
He has been at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago since his medical evacuation flight Monday, August 3. The physical therapy team got him started the following day, and he has been in rigorous training ever since. For Covid safety, the therapy was brought to him.
He has passed two Covid tests in Chicago and two previously in Portugal, so he is now able to go to the therapy rooms. I only hear good reports in how well he is doing and how hard he is working. Strengthening his leg muscles can seem slow, but he is hitting gradual milestones each day.
Friday, Ari will go with me to Chicago to help with my luggage (too heavy for me) and move me into a studio apartment. Once Bill is released, we’ll move into a different apartment while he continues with outpatient therapy. We’re not sure how many weeks or months all of this will be. We’re just taking it day by day.
i still haven’t seen him since he was in the first ER on the day of his accident—July 17. I’m grateful for cell phones and FaceTime. He looks great. He sounds strong. Because he’s on blood thinners, he has grown a beard. I love the gray around his chin.
How can I complain though when I think about the months and years many loved ones have been separated by wars, economic misfortunes, geographic divisions?
Back in March, I sent an email to a friend adding a link to a song that really spoke to me–Danny Gokey’s Haven’t Seen It Yet.
God is taking care of us in the huge areas, but He’s also showing how He answers prayers through what may not seem like life and death—like with our cat Einstein in the cat tale that follows. I love this small miracle. It is an analogy of our life ventures, the paths we take as well as the ones where we end up without seemingly a choice.
If you read my post Einstein Goes to Portugal, you know about Einstein’s arrival on our doorstep 13 years ago.
With this in mind, I’ll say Einstein wasn’t supposed to go to Lisbon with Bill and me. The reason—Bill didn’t grow up with indoor pets. That meant for our sons or me to have pets, those critters had to live in the sunroom, the workroom or in Nick’s and Matt’s rooms when they were teenagers.
There was even a time when Bill built what I called a cat shack. I hated it; the 3-4 cats did too. (When Nick left for college, he also left his cat for us who lived to be 20. Cocoa went from being king of the middle of Nick’s bed to a corner of a cat shack.)
All were rescues and shouldn’t have been spoiled. Yet, they were. Einstein got to go with me in the art room or computer room, depositing his plush angora hair everywhere.
But to have a pet in an apartment was not in Bill’s plans. I was resigned to it until Valerie and Melissa (our pastors’ wives) found our apartment. In the photos that Valerie sent and I surveyed carefully, I saw a litter box on the balcony.
“Einstein can go with us!” I tell Bill. “Cats are allowed in the apartment.”
“No, he can’t,” Bill tells me back.
The reality, I remind myself, is I can’t make this a deal. We’re going on a mission trip.
After several tries, I finally didn’t make a deal about it .
I trusted God in His plan and lived my life moving forward packing up our house and preparing for our move.
In the meantime, my daughter Ari and her two daughters swooped me up for a week of travel before she sent me across an ocean. This left Bill to feed the cats (in the workroom).
Upon my return, Bill picks me up at the airport. We are almost to our house, pulling off exit 46 and on the access road. I’ll never forget the spot because I can see Walmart and its sprawling parking lot.
“After this week feeding the cats,” Bill says, “I realized Elle is too old to travel. Cotton would hate apartment life; he’s such a hunter. But Einstein, well, he is pretty special and should probably go with us.”
I still can’t convey what a God moment that was. A heart had changed. God cared for Einstein, but also for us, well, for me. And, unbeknownst to us, God knew the year that was ahead.
Carrying a cat across the ocean was no easy feat. International chip, mounds of papers, shots, travel gear, Bill hauling this 13-pound feline around for me to the vet’s, in a vehicle through storms from our small town to Chicago (to save E from going through two airports), and finally to O’Hare airport.
When Bill takes E out of the carrier for the security check, the man swabs Bill’s hands with a hand wipe of some kind.
“Why did you do that?” Bill asks.
“To check for explosive residue” was the reply.
These are sobering times.
Once on the plane, we three get our own middle row with no one behind us or in front.
Einstein arrives in Lisbon and is a Rock Star.
One of our pastors Beau and his always ingenious wife Valerie have three children who created drawings, paintings, banners for Einstein’s welcome-to-Portugal party. For Christmas they gave me a cat cup, cat dangly thing for my purse, old lady cat stuff, and I have to laugh that I can be that woman.
One afternoon when Valerie and three-year-old Landon are at a doctor’s office, the nurse asks Landon if he wants a sticker. He picks out a cat sticker and carefully carries it around on the tip of his index finger for an hour to bring it to me.
E doesn’t miss our seven acres, loving his new cozy inside apartment life. Watching the water in the shower while Bill showers becomes his favorite pastime, almost knocking Bill down trying to jump in to catch flowing water and lap it up.
E sleeps 90% of the day, but when he is up, he is up. Bill deals with cat meows—purrs, trills, yowls. Several times a day E beckons us to the bathroom to turn the water on, so he can hunt water streams. Each night around ten, he waits for Bill to lead him into the art/exercise/cat room and show him his almost empty food bowl. The cat reasoning must be because Bill always poured out a cup or two of cat food while I carefully measured out 1/3 cup. So who is the softy?
Yet, when life changes in a second, we had to think about the next steps going forward.
And in the midst of it all, juggling to get Bill to the US for a spinal cord rehab hospital, I knew Einstein couldn’t return with us. Not sure where we would be, I had to pause to absorb the beauty of this curled-up contented cat.
The reality was with all of the kittens, so many strays I wanted to feed, who would want a 13-year old Einstein?
So I sent a call out to every single person I knew in Portugal. Rebecca, a new teacher at GLCA I had yet to meet, shared that call-out with another woman.
Susan sought for E a home.
Who takes the time to do that? For a stranger, mind you?
For several days, I got FB messages from Susan, “Does Einstein like dogs?” “Can he live inside?” “Outside?”
One night around 23:00, Nick calls. We had found the right medical evacuation flight company we believed was the safest for Bill’s route to Chicago.
“You need to fill-out these forms asap. They’re open 24/7 and need to get that information now.”
I looked at the other emails I needed to complete. It was going to be a push.
I looked down at Einstein who hadn’t left my side. So much at once.
My phone flashes and a message pops up from Susan, “I think I have a couple for Einstein.”
I still can’t believe the timing.
M and J had just moved to Portugal six weeks before. Both retired, J was a wildlife vet, who had studied bird migration patterns in India. M taught in a university—social work.
The best of kind hearts, they were also avid cat lovers. They had planned to bring their three 14-year old cats to Portugal. Each cat had died during their year of planning.
What is so apropos (another word for God and is His way of helping us): In my call-out I had stated E wasn’t allowed to get on furniture and sleep on the bed.
In that FB message, M says, “Only thing is he can sleep in the bed with us.”
I look back down at Einstein at my feet and say, “Oh, you’re going to love them so much more than me.”
And it’s like E knew. A night or two later, Melissa and I had spent over two hours at the phone company in the mall. Melissa was speaking nonstop Portuguese, trying to end our phone/television/wifi contracts. When I got back to the apartment, I discovered Einstein curled up on my side of the bed, like it was a normal thing. I didn’t shoo him off.
Another bonus: a month or so ago when I was going to take a shower, I decided to listen to the The Sound of Music soundtrack. The birds twittering at the beginning had E searching everywhere in the bathroom. He knew that sound from before his apartment days.
At his new home, E will have two bird friends M and J have adopted.
In hindsight I now realize Einstein travelled to Portugal and I got 8 more months with him. I know he’s a cat, but this thinking runs parallel with the chasm of pain that we fall into when we have numbered days with our loved ones. I can’t compare the two. What I know is with a change of heart and lots of extra work, Einstein is now home.
My mother went home 23 years ago in death. My brother followed less than a week after Bill’s accident.
For right now, for Bill and me, we are in this home.
Three things to share that I’m learning. Maybe you’ve learned them, too.
- When I cry in the shower, I sound like my mother. I’m beginning to fathom her depth of pain and expression.
2. When I kept forgetting to take my blood pressure meds, I had to CLARIFy and label each morning/night day on the blister pack. How many times at midnight did I look in the mirror and ask, did I take my Carvedilol? I didn’t have a clue. Too much was happening.
3. For all the labeling and clarifying that comes with life, Bill and I still find a great life. Being surrounded by all of you, your love and prayers keep lifting us into a safe spot for healing. God meant for prayer to do that for us.
God took us to Portugal with Einstein, only to bring us back without him.
Einstein is sitting in the lap of love right now.
Actually so are we. Obrigada.