Wednesday, December 31, 2008

OT: The Cat

This is Mao:

He hated having his picture taken, always expressing his supreme annoyance by cutting his eyes and turning away.

He was 16 1/2 years old, been at Casa Ché since he was born, and he died this afternoon and was buried in the back yard with his favorite red bird and yellow squeaker mouse toys, and with a stick, for nothing at all made him happier than playing "Stick!" any time of the day or night all the way up to nearly his last days.

He was the smartest cat I think I've ever known, and one of the most loving. Whenever I picked him up, he would wrap his arms around my neck, rub my cheek with his, and proudly pose there like I was his trophy, and wait for others to admire his prowess.

He knew many words in English and could say some of them. "No!" for example. And "Out!" He would query carefully if he wasn't sure of something or someone, and chat almost mindlessly when the spirit moved him.

His mother was purebred Siamese; his father was a drunkard and a brawler from the alley, but who's to complain. He ran off and we didn't hear any more of him. His mother wound up going back to San Francisco when her "owner" decided he wouldn't be a reliable caregiver.

Mao was truly the friend of nearly everyone -- except other cats, who he would drive off his property with a furious outrage that was a wonder to behold. He was the best friend the residents of Casa Ché.

As I mentioned, home hospice care has been under way here since October for an elderly relative, a woman who adored Mao. When she was in the hospital this last time going through constant torments, she said one night when she was feeling particularly horrible, she heard a voice, not a human voice, a cat's voice, and she said, "Is that you?" The cat responded softly, "Mao..." She said, "Are you here? How did you get in here? They don't let cats in the hospital!" She heard him say, very softly, "Mao..." She said, "Let me touch you to be sure." She said she thought he was on the bed, but she felt all over and couldn't find him. She's blind so she couldn't see him. She heard him say, "Mao..." softly, and she said she reached over the side of the bed and she said she touched him. He was on the floor, and he rubbed her hand and she could feel him purring. She said she heard him say, just as plain as day, "You're going to be all right, and you're coming home. I'm going to make sure. I'll stay with you tonight, but don't tell anyone. It's a secret. Just you and me." And she said she broke down crying, because he'd come to visit her and promised she would come home again.

And he was right there when she arrived home from the hospital, so weak she couldn't hold her head up. And he stayed with her for day after day, drawing the illness out of her, giving her strength. If she needed anything, he would call out or go get someone to help. He slept with her, stroked her with his own paw, and he "helped" when she was strong enough to stand, and "helped" some more when she took her first few steps after coming home. She's been devastated today, disconsolate -- like everyone else around here -- but she said she was so grateful he had been so determined to get her to come home and had done so much to help her get better.

I said, "If Mao had been a person, he would have been a doctor. As a cat, he was a natural healer."

During his last illness, he made clear what his wishes were. He didn't want to see the vet unless there was no other choice. He wanted to feel feline to the end and he wanted to be warm and he wanted to be with the people who loved him. The last couple of days, weak as could be, he wanted to go outside, and go next door to Joe's house. Joe was our neighbor until three years ago in January, when at the age of 100, he fell and broke his hip and had to be placed in a residential care facility. He and Mao were good buddies, and Mao used to sit on his porch and watch the clouds roll by while Joe trimmed the hedges or puttered with his flowers. Joe died a year after he went to the home, and Mao seemed to sense his passing. He didn't go over to Joe's house very often, and when new people moved in, with their own cats, he stayed well away. But he decided he wanted to go back and sit on Joe's porch and watch the clouds again, and he did for a little bit. And then he gave me a look that said, "I want to see Joe again."

And I said, "You will, you will." And I held him so close, tears rolling down my cheeks and I took him back home, where he was warm and with the people who loved him, and this morning, he went outside one more time, and he came in and lay down and said his good byes, so softly, and he did not get up again.

I hope he's with Joe now, and I hope they're sitting on a porch watching clouds roll by and listening to the mocking birds and thinking about playing "Stick!"

You're both missed, buddies.


  1. What a beautiful cat and beautiful writing about a good friend. People who "don't like" cats have no idea how deep and mutual a cat friendship can be. Some are more singular than others. I've lived my whole life with cats, every day but those years in a college dorm. And I could not live without a cat friend around. I have my Mom's kitty now. When we moved Mom to where she could get more help than we could give, we had to find not only a compatible
    place but a place that allowed residents to have cats. She simply had to have her kitty with her. And several years later, her kitty was resting on her chest when she died.

    My heart aches for the loss of your little buddy.

  2. I lost my soulmate three falls ago. She was a lilac point Siamese, a talker like Mao, and she was my baby for 19 years. She knew me and loved me like no human ever could.

    It is one of the unkindnesses of life that we live longer than the animals who help us know what true unconditional love is about. Our comfort has to come from knowing how well we have loved them in return.

    I hope that Blue is sitting with Joe and Mao. She will be thinking about eating cheese.

  3. Thanks both of you for your kind words and wonderful stories. Cats "know" what's needed, and people who don't like cats never know how sensitive and generous with us extra big two-legged ones they can be.

    The loss of Mao was a heavy blow around here -- even though we were prepared for it. I still find myself tearing up at reminders and memories of him.

    And, Pedinska, your Blue sounds a lot like Mao's mother. Thing of it is, when Mao joined us here at Casa Ché, our own Blue (a domestic longhair, blue of course) had just passed. Oh the adventures he got into! His sister, Berry, was still with us, and she would school Young Mao -- she was strict but fair about it -- until her time came. One of her lessons was to teach Mao about Blue. Tell him not to be Bad like Blue was. Oh, I'm convinced of it.

    Sometimes cats will let us in to their society and culture, at least for a little bit. That's when we're lucky!