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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cats

I woke up with our three cats surrounding me in bed. It is not unusual for all three to sleep with my husband and I, but the feelings of needing to write about them is. I often wake with a blog going through my head, like the topic was put there by someone in my sleep. I felt my Mom this morning, she was a huge animal lover. She died in 2006 of a stroke, my siblings and I deciding to let her go because of the severity of the stroke, she would never come back to us. That is a whole other story, but the point is, I feel her presence, often. Mark and I bought the home I grew up in, well before my Mom died. She moved from this home to a house on one of the finger lakes. Her dream had been to live on the water. She lived there from 1997 to 2006, when she had the stroke in her home and never returned to it. Growing up we always had cats. My Mom let us bring home strays and she would either help find a home or they became part of our family. She was a sucker for any animal. I tell my kids stories of the baby raccoon we raised because it's Mom had been hit by a car. Or the three legged frog I saved from the freezing Winter because he was unable to hibernate. My siblings and I brought home injured birds, unwanted hamsters, dogs that were lost, we knew our Mom would help. We had a fish tank, filled with guppies or a variety of fish we won at carnivals. I owned rabbits, one of them mostly hung inside, using a litter box and sleeping next to our dog and our cats. My favorite animals were always the cats though. As a kid they provided comfort and friendship. They'd sit on my lap on a cold Winter's night or sleep next to me, when as a young child the darkness still brought fear. I loved our dogs, I would walk them and play with them, but I think I've just always been a cat person. When I was dating as a young adult, liking cats was one of my criteria for a possible life partner. I could not imagine my living my life without cats. It became a joke too, cat haters aren't my type, a guy too insecure to like a cat would not fit into my life. Mark loves cats, one of the sweetest stories he told me was about his family cat getting sick and his knowing it needed to just be put out of misery. It broke his heart to put his cat down, but it was the humane thing to do. When Mark and I got married we lived in an apartment that first year on a busy road. I hadn't meant to get a cat in the Fall after our Wedding, but we found ourselves at the local animal shelter one Saturday afternoon. There was a long haired orange tabby and a blonde tabby in one of the cages. They were kittens, litter mates and they had been born on our Wedding day, which to me seemed like a sign that they were meant to be ours. Their coloring seemed ironic too, for those of you who don't know, Mark is a strawberry blonde and I was a blonde in my youth. (my hair darkens as I age, thank goodness for hair dye) Anyway, Fred and Ethel, as we came to name them, seemed destined to be ours. I always preferred to have two cats to keep each other company and these two were perfect. The problem was the the local animal shelter, in an effort to stop producing more unwanted cats, didn't want us to adopt the both of them. They were too young to get fixed right away and basically they didn't trust us (or anyone) to get them fixed before a pregnancy happened. I'm not sure how it all conspired, but somehow Mark and I were determined to adopt both the brother and the sister. We pulled in a complete stranger to help us in the scheme. We adopted one of the cats and the stranger adopted the other for us. I think we lied saying the person was my sister and would keep one of the cats at her house until they were fixed? That was almost twenty five years ago, so the details are foggy. I do know though, it all worked out and there was never a pregnancy. Fred and Ethel were very sweet cats, living from 1989 until 2005 or so, they were loved much by Mark and I and all three of our children knew them too. Cats have always been part of our family, I know after we lost Fred and Ethel we went without for a short time, but it didn't last long. Soon we adopted Pooh and Tigger, brothers that a friend of ours found for us. Unfortunately, we lost Tigger one night, he just never came home. We searched and called for him for weeks, but we never found Tigger. Pooh seemed lonely without him, so eventually we adopted Cheddar Cheese. Cheddar and Pooh were very happy together, but one day it occurred to me that there was not a better Birthday gift for our Gwennie than a sweet baby kitten. She was turning ten, double digits for our youngest child, it seemed very significant somehow. Surprisingly, Mark agreed and I started the search for a new kitty for our family. I found one at the local shelter, the same one we had adopted Fred and Ethel from. I had actually left the building, disappointed there was not a kitten I wanted, but something told me to go back in and ask. When I described what we wanted, the employee told me they had just gotten a kitten in, so I met him. He was exactly what I hoped for! So I paid for him and asked that they keep him one more day so we could surprise Gwenn. It was fantastic, such a joyful thing to give our Gwennie a baby kitty. Gwenn named him Bubba Lee, which was ironic in many ways. Bubba had been the name we had used when I was pregnant with Beau. Not knowing if Beau was a boy or a girl, we would tell people our baby was going to be named Bubba Bradley. Then there was the fact that Bubba was born on my oldest sister's Birthday and her middle name is Lee. Gwenn didn't know any of those facts when she named him. Lee is a family middle name on my side, it started with Leon for both my Mom and my Grandmother, but then was changed to Lee for my sister and my niece. Gwenn picking that name just seemed too coincidental. I felt like my Mom had something to do with our getting this kitty. He was Gwenn's pride and joy, she just loved Bubba, spending much time with him, taking a zillion pictures of him, he fit in perfectly with our family. She told me many times how special her tenth Birthday had been, to get Bubba was such a huge surprise! She had not expected a kitten at all. All our cats have been both indoor outdoor cats. I know the risks of having a cat go outside, after all, Tigger went out one day and never returned. But somehow because of Mark and I being raised with our family cats living that way, it just seems more natural to the both of us. Having Teale as a daughter cinches it, she would never understand keeping the cats inside. So we've taught our cats slowly to get used to the outdoors. Bubba was a natural outside, I never knew a more adventurous happy cat once he was outside. He loved to hunt and chase bugs and just sit outside in the warmth of the sun. He loved being high up in a tree and Gwenn loved playing with him outside. She took a beautiful picture of him in a tree that we all cherish. We lost Bubba in mid August to a car accident. It was a devastating loss for all of us. He was just ten months old when I got a call from a neighbor that he saw a cat on the side of the road. My heart sank. I had been in my gardens all morning, Bubba had been by my side, but then I went in for a shower. The call came as I got out of the shower, soaking wet, I dressed, shaking with fear. I called Mark and he headed home from work before we were even sure it was our cat on the side of the road. He knew if it was our cat, I would need him. I woke Beau and we snuck out of the house together, I needed support from my eighteen year old son and I didn't want Gwenn to know what was going on. As we approached the cat, I was sure it was our Cheddar, Bubba is a lighter blonde and this cat looked pretty orange. It wasn't until I was close that I realized it was Bubba, covered in blood, he looked a darker color in the sunlight. Devastated, I scooped him up into my arms, he was still warm, but lifeless. I couldn't believe I had to tell my Gwennie her best friend was dead. I felt like I had done this to her, I gave her this sweet kitten who she fell for, HARD and then I ripped it away. It was one of the hardest losses I have experienced. My cats have lived ripe old lives, Bubba was just a baby. I still ache to hold Bubba, to see him play with Pooh and Cheddar, to see him curled up with Gwennie. Our hearts were so broken, Gwenn and I cried for days together. Mark tried to be strong, but he too broke down many times. Teale didn't understand completely and asked for Bubba to come back endless times. Beau ached for Gwenn and I who took the loss the hardest. After a couple weeks of devastating sadness in our family I started looking on line and at shelters for a new kitten. We weren't healing, I felt like a new kitten might help us all. It wasn't going to take away the pain, but maybe it would add some joy? I finally settled on a kitten and told Gwenn I had to go somewhere. Beau was in on the surprise and kept Teale home for me. I had found a kitten on Craigslist. The owners seemed to really care about the kitten getting a good home and we seemed to hit it off well. Gwenn may have been suspicious, but her face when the kitten was placed in her arms, told me it was absolutely the right thing to do. We still missed Bubba, but this new kitten fit in perfectly too. Gwenn named her new kitty Wasabi Bobby. He's a sweet boy with lots of character like Bubba had. I can't deny I'm not the same since the loss of Bubba. I worry when our cats go outside much more than I used to, but as Mark said "Bubba died doing what he loved. We never could have kept him inside, he was meant for the outdoors." I think Bubba prepared my kids, especially Teale for a greater loss. Death is a difficult concept for children, for Teale it is really abstract. In December when we lost Mark's Mom, I told Teale that Nana was with Bubba. I think Bubba's short life taught us all much about love and sadly about loss. Our cats bring us comfort and I see my kids, especially Gwenn being much like I was as a young girl, my cats were always there for me when I thought no one else understood. Being loved by an animal is like being close to God for me. There is no conversation, but there is much connection just through a mutual love, a feeling that is indescribable. I often think of my Mom with the cats I've lost in my lifetime. I know she is taking good care of them and visa versa. The thought of our Mom's together in Heaven with all our relatives and our animals is what gets me through the sad moments. This morning I woke with the cats on my mind and this story running through my head, I don't think it was a coincidence. Miss you Mom and please, give Bubba a hug from me... 

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