|Words and photo by F LoBuono|
My best friend is dying. There is just no way around it this time. We just can't recharge his battery anymore. His long and eventful race has been run. Big Red the Cat is nearing his end. He has taken his place with grace but, now, it will soon be time for him to move on. He is old. Yes, older than dirt. We know him to be at least 19. In human terms, that's like 147! He was robust, free, energetic, and powerful. Now, he is weak and frail, barely able to walk and eat. But he is a fighter -always has been. I've seen this before. He was accidentally run over when he was 16, breaking his leg badly. He recovered completely. In recent months, as his health has declined, there have been episodes that led me to believe it was surely the end. Still, he came back. Every time. If a normal cat has 9 lives, then Red is certainly the exception. He must be on number 15 or so. So, I hope for one more miracle, one more rally, one more day, one more hour, one more minute. . .
But it can't go on forever. Nothing can. We must accept the fragility of life and understand that all things are ephemeral. So, where does this loss leave us? In an effort to understand, I think that we must go back - back to where Big Red first came into my life.
It was 1995 and I was living as a bachelor in my first apartment in South Nyack. I had a little, silver tabby named Belle (after the infamous Wild West madam, Belle Star - not the Little Mermaid!). She was good company and I was quite content with her. My cats have always had the freedom of being both inside and out. I believe that, depending on the environment in which you live, that's how it should be; better for them AND better for me. In order to facilitate this, I put a cat-flap window in my bedroom so she could jump in an out when she felt the urge. Well, one day, I returned from work to find a large, male red tabby cat sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor. My immediate reaction was, WTF?! Who the hell are you and why are you in my home? I certainly did not want some strange, large, male cat harassing my delicate female, Belle Star. So, wishing to avoid a direct confrontation with a strange, large, stray red Tom Cat, I used a broom to chase him right back out the window he came in from! Well, ten minutes later, guess who's back in the window? I get the broom and we're at it again. However, this time, instead of flying out the window, he's running from room to room, dodging me at every turn. This goes on for about a week. Finally, I say, once again, WTF?, I guess that I got myself two cats now!
Mimicking his flaming red hair and fierce fighting spirit, I originally named him Erik the Red, after the legendary Viking raider. However, over the course of time, it was just too much of a mouthful to say. Besides, as he grew into full tomcathood, he tipped the scales at a muscular 14 lbs. Thus, the name, and the legend of, Big Red began. Belle Star has long since passed and I've had him every since.
How important is this stupid, red cat to me? Well, let me give you some perspective. I have lived with him longer than with any other being. For 19 years he has been a constant companion. With no disrespect, my relationship with him has lasted far longer than any girlfriend's - even my marriage. He has moved seamlessly with me on 4 occasions. During that period, he has born witness to every single up and down in my life. And he has done it with out flinching and without compliant. That animal has never caused me one moment of angst in nearly 20 years. How many of us can say that about our human relationships? In return for feeding him, caring for him, and, yes, cleaning his pee and poop, he has taught me so much. He has taught me about patience, perseverance, and confidence. You may ask, confidence? Well, yes. Red never changed. He was always Red. I always believed that he was that way because he felt he was just fine the way he was. He was certainly not on this earth to show off for anyone. That would come naturally. He lived fully and robustly, becoming the scourge of chimpmunks every where!
Now, he is about 6 lbs. He is in no pain or discomfort. He is just so feeble. But, still, he fights. He is not done yet. We'll both know when he is -and it ain't today (I hope). He can hardly walk, but he walks. He can hardly eat, but he eats. He can hardly poop, but he poops. If, and when, that changes, we will cross that bridge, as we always have, TOGETHER.
I do everything within my power to make him comfortable AND to let him know how much he means to me. I am prepared. I have cried deeply a number of times already and am prepared to do so as much as is necessary. However, I am also ready to let go. The thought of my apartment without his constant presence wears on me greatly. But at times like this, I always think of the title of a Broadway play that ran a few years back: You Arms Too Short to Box With God. Accept things that you are not fully ready to understand. Red has taught me this!! So, I pray that his passage will be peaceful and dignified, just like his life. I will also use this opportunity to, instead of grieving, celebrate his life by not waiting until it's too late to say, thanks, I love you - not only to him but all of those in my life. THIS is the Red way.
In the meantime, we will take every day, every hour, every second, every moment. This is a sacred time . . .