Saturday, February 15, 2014

One last salute to Bart and all our furry friends

A portrait from my sister
and flowers from my parents.
It's been a week since I kissed the top of Bart's head for the last time. I'm not the sobbing mess I was for the three days after saying goodbye, but the tears still catch me off guard. 

Today I went downstairs to feed our two other cats, Peanut Butter and Delaney, and found they both still had food left in their dishes, which is usually the case for these two. They don't have the voracious appetite nor the vigilant demand for food that Bart did. It was that moment: Not having a cat to feed that brought the waterworks. 

And a few days ago when I was driving and big, fat snowflakes fell on my window and I thought of Bart's downy fur. When I came home I found this comment on my last post: 
"I can't imagine life without my black cat, Curlin, named after a famous race horse, who I found on the street. I'm sure the white fluffy snow falling as I write this is in honor of your white fluffy Bart!"
Or, I'll look around the house at the spots he always was -- The box with a pillow I set up for him in the basement when it became hard for him to jump, the cushion on the right side of the couch, the kitchen floor next to the water bowls or the hallway he'd skulk around in each morning, waiting for someone to wake up -- I'll glance at these spots where he was and think about how he's not there and won't ever be there again and ... tears.

I wrote this to my sister Laura:
"He's just nowhere. And he's been there for 12 years. Now it's so obvious. Snacks has been extra clingy the past few days, so I think he knows things are amiss. And, inevitably I look at him, my equally obnoxious hound and can't fathom the thought of having to do it all over again. Or beyond that -- that life is just going to be like this. Losses big and small until it's my turn."  
Don't worry, it is not lost on me how ridiculous it is that this cat, who (lest we forget!) was a revenge pooper, could incite such melodramatic, existentialist thinking.

But that's the thing with these animals. They bring out our humanity.

I was so, so touched by the outpouring of support that came after I shared the news of Bart's passing. Family, friends, acquaintances, and even a stranger or two understood the weight of his loss either because they knew how fond I was of him or they'd grieved for their own pets at one time or another. 

It deserved a closeup.
My mom sent flowers. My sister Sarah drew an amazing portrait. Friends sent sympathy cards and offered hugs at the grocery store.  

Our vet, Shiloh Veterinary Hospital in York, went above and beyond the day I had to bring him in. The receptionist quickly ushered me into the reserved exam room as soon as I walked in the door so chocked up I could barely tell her his name. There were candles glowing, a prayer for animals hung on the wall, cat treats for Bart, and a soft lambskin blanket for him to lie on. The veterinary technician was compassionate and sympathetic -- she reassured me that I'd made the right decision and was patient with me as I asked for just a little more time to say goodbye. "It's hard for us, too," she told me, her own eyes welling up.

They gave me an imprint of his paw and a lock of his hair (I almost laughed when they handed this to me. I know we'll be finding Bart hair for years to come in our house). 

And while Bart would have felt deserving of a lengthy obituary in the A section of the Sunday paper, I was surprised when one of my editors called asking if they could run my blog post and photos. It seems his esteem loomed larger than even I realized.

Others started chiming in with their own impressions of his excellence, all which made me smile: 
"Whenever I had the honor of feeding Bart (and PB), I always knew I was in the Presence of a Most Prestigious Being, whose gratitude was my reward. B. was a great cat, and he will be missed," my friend Farmer Jim (and sometimes cat-sitter) wrote. 
"Farewell Bart. By now I'm sure you nestled on God's chest while he's lying down on the couch, blocking his view of the NFL playoffs. Maybe pointing your butt at God's face for good measure," said my old roommate. "It's funny imagining God - the almighty and infinitely powerful deity - sighing and weakly pleading for Bart to move." 
"I'll never forget the day I met Bart. It was at the farm. I was early for what would be one of the best parties ever in that lazy, hectic time after college graduation and before we were real adults. We were in your downstairs kitchen and he was there, too, demanding food. The next morning, after the bonfire, boat rides and beer, he woke me up with his yowls. It was hard to be mad at a cat that looked like a marshmallow. I have always loved cats. A few years later I moved to York to take a job there. And I got to keep up with him through jokes at work and Facebook. I thought he was awesome," wrote another friend.
Equally as sweet were those who shared stories about their own pets.
"I feel like Tippy and Bart were spiritual brothers (maybe with less pooping outside the litter box for Tippy). It was heartbreaking to lose him, but after several very sad weeks I'm beginning to appreciate that my time with him was shorter than I would have liked, but it was an awesome time," wrote a former coworker.
It seems people who love animals as family have this fraternity -- one where it's not silly or strange to be so sad and where it's expected that our four-legged friends are honored for all those tangible and intangible things they do for us. Even if it's just curling up next to you on a cold winter night.

So for all those wonderful friends we've had to say goodbye to -- Meggie, Tubby (err Apollo), Jack, Ginger, Callie, Sammy, Jordan, Fanny, Iberia, Stew, Tippy, Meisha, Bitty, Peachy and Bootsie -- my sister Laura said it best: "God bless the animals that remain solid through our life’s transitions. From the center of our universe to peripheral planets … forever steady on."

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