This is a column I'd hoped never to write. And I have no idea how to write it.

I'll start with the cat. She showed up at Christmas, a yellow-eyed calico with a baby face and an attitude."Go away," I said, "you can't stay here. We're dog people."

She ignored me, pressed her nose to the window as if to say, "Hey, I'm here. Get used to it."

"Don't you dare let that cat in," I told my son. He's 20 and very smart about some things but dumb about cats.

He ignored me, too, and smuggled her up to his room after I went to bed. He thought I didn't know, but I did. I peeked in and found him asleep with the cat curled up and purring in the curve of his neck.

It was not a good time to take in a pet. But I decided if that cat could comfort my boy, I would sell my blood to buy cat food.

For four years my husband had been fighting cancer. And now he was growing weaker daily. We had reached, I knew, the final round. I hoped we might have a few months after Christmas. We had three weeks.

People talk about being prepared for death, as if anticipating a loss might lessen it. But you can't know what you've lost until it is gone. Death is always a shock.

In the past four years I often had the sense that I was walking on water - buoyed by my faith and by the prayers and concerns of so many people. I have that sense still, and I thank you.

I am taking some time off from writing columns because I have things to do: Write 5,000 thank-you notes; return 500 casserole dishes, and figure out who I am.

Also, I'm learning a whole new vocabulary. I say single now, instead of married. I, instead of we. Widow, instead of wife. Cat, instead of dog.

They're not bad words, just unfamiliar to me. I need time to get used to them. I hope to be writing columns again come spring. Which, by the way, is also when El Nino's expected to end.