Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Goodbye to a beloved cat


My husband and I said good-bye this week to our cat of many years, Miss Elizabeth. She died peacefully on Tuesday.

Elizabeth had advanced liver cancer and we couldn’t bear to prolong her suffering so we arranged for her to be euthanized at the Middletown Animal Hospital. Jonathan and I were with her when she died.

Thirteen years ago, Jonathan brought her home to me as a 30th birthday present. As he came in the door, I was confronted by a tiny, bat-eared creature being handed to me: “Here. Happy birthday,” Jonathan said.

Elizabeth was so funny-looking; she really did resemble a bat. Each ear was as big as her entire face.

She spent the first few hours at home hiding behind our toilet. Jonathan would drag her out from behind the toilet so that she’d have to interact.

Piper at the Gates of Dawn, our mature male cat, was Elizabeth’s early favorite. She relentlessly followed him everywhere until he took to hiding in our closet.

Even then, Elizabeth wasn’t always ready to accept a hint. On one occasion she charged into the closet; we heard a muffled thump and I imagined Piper issuing an admonitory slap to send Elizabeth on her way. Sure enough, here came Elizabeth trotting back out again.

Piper emerged from the closet again once Elizabeth was large enough for him to safely smack around. The relationship between the two cats now resembled a Jedi Knight and his Padawan. This wonderfully parental male cat began trying to teach Elizabeth things he felt that a cat should know: fighting moves and hunting techniques.

Elizabeth enjoyed playing with Piper, but never grasped the concept of hunting. To her, mice were fun playthings that lost their appeal once dead.

When Piper died, Elizabeth was an only cat for many years. She wasn’t a very good Jedi Knight; she had an intense dislike for kittens. No Padawan for her!

I relied on Elizabeth for emotional support and solidarity. Reading a delightful picture book by Kathy Hoopmann, “All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome,” corroborated the parallels I observed between Elizabeth’s behavior and my tendencies: my cat and I both liked our routines; we preferred peace and quiet and we tended to react to disruptions in a similar way.

Long before I’d heard of Asperger syndrome, I called Elizabeth my “peace barometer” because her behavior so often helped me gauge what I felt myself.

Jonathan and I are proud that during the later years of her life, Elizabeth actually made several friends. Circumstances required her to live in close proximity to a series of other cats. Some of them were even kittens!

It was fascinating to watch the cats establish their proximity thresholds. Once established, the encroaching cat would come as close as possible to that barrier without crossing it.

I noticed that during subsequent encounters, the proximity threshold would shrink. Grudging tolerance became respect and even in time became friendship.

We believe that Elizabeth, during her life, learned some important lessons and that chief among them was genuine caring toward other cats. When Elizabeth departed this life, she’d achieved a life of accomplishment that will hopefully travel with her to whatever form her soul takes next. I think that’s a fitting legacy for any soul to have accomplished.

Published July 19, 2011 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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