Category Archives: Henry

Forevermore companions

How long can it last, this thing we have?  How long can it endure the test of time?  Will I be old and gray with you by my side?

My heart aches in the realization it can never be so.

The Boys, Grendel and Loki, were adopted early in 1997 and are now nine years old.  For cats, they are middle-aged, equivalent to being in their early 50s.  They reach 56 years of human age on their tenth birthday next February.

In comparison, Henry was over 100 years old (relatively) when he died well into his 21st year.

And what of The Twins, Kako and Kazon?  They turn eight years old this September, and that is equivalent to 48 human years.

The Kids are my children, the source of unconditional love that fills home and heart.  But how long can such a thing last?

Not long enough, I’m afraid.

My first concern is for Grendel.  His health has never been excellent with asthma, arthritis (for which he had to have hip surgery), and now this inflammatory bowel problem caused by an errant bacterial infection in his intestines.  Add to that the discovery of stones in one of his kidneys as well as his bladder, issues we have not yet addressed directly because they are not causing significant problems at present.

Not only is it bothersome that his own body seems to rebel against all hope of normalcy, but the medication he must take to manage both the asthma and intestinal problem has the unfortunate side effect of causing damage to the body with long-term use.  It places him under threat of diabetes, organ damage, immunosuppression, and a handful of other problems.  Sadly, the treatment for his health issues will almost certainly shorten his life.  Perhaps even significantly.

My heart sinks at the thought that my roly-poly, my love sponge, the knower of no strangers will not enjoy the full life his brother Loki will probably have.

Yet this is an assumption based entirely on what I know.  The greatest concern comes from what I do not know.  About any of them.

Kako, likewise, has health issues.  As she is prone to deadly urinary tract infections, it is possible she too will go sooner than expected.  If, with age, her body becomes less able to manage the problem alongside the special food they must eat because of it, and given the suddenness of her approach to death in past experiences with this ailment, I also fear for her well-being.  When she suffers from this problem, she does not indicate it until it is almost too late.  The vet made clear that waiting even less than 24 hours in each case would have significantly altered the scenario.  She likely would not — could not have survived.

What if as she ages her body weakens and is no longer able to manage the problem long enough for me to seek treatment?  Could it be her innate need to hide weakness will be her undoing?  Might she wait too long to speak up about the pain and anguish?  I lament the thought.

Age has a funny way of changing the rules when it’s least expected, and watching The Kids grow older, especially now that all four of them are at least middle-aged, causes me to ponder what heartbreak waits in the ever-nearing future.  Which of them will be the first to hear my weeping goodbyes?  Upon whose fur will my tears fall in those final moments of companionship?  Whose life will I watch drain away in my arms as I am forced to yield my love and devotion to the natural progression of life?  On whose final stillness will my sorrow first be cast?

I watch my children grow.  I watch them age and wonder at the continual development of their personalities.  I celebrate in the awe of such love and companionship given freely and unconditionally.

When I myself am in pain, whether physically or emotionally, it is they who stand by my side, who tend my wounds, who ensure I know I am not alone.  I have wept the bitter tears of a thousand lives stemming from a thousand pains and a thousand losses, and yet these fur people remain vigilant and unrelenting in their care of me.

Lying on the bed curled in a ball with a blinding migraine headache, tears streaming from my eyes, was it not Kako who wept with me, who spoke in soft and loving terms only a father could understand, who rested herself next to me and gently caressed me with her paws to let me know she was there with me even if she could not take away my pain?

Sitting on the couch after Derek’s death, rending my own heart upon the altar of memory and time, was it not Kazon who so gently wrapped himself around my shoulders, purred comfortingly into my ear, repeatedly kissed my cheek and nose, and whispered soul-to-soul his unyielding devotion, and all that despite knowing he could not undo the past?

With Kako in the animal hospital under threat of imminent death from her own illness, and with my own pacing and crying, was it not Grendel who wrapped his arms around my hands, who silently meowed to me as a gentle reminder of his love, whose purr right next to my face kept me anchored despite the trembling of my body with mourning, and who stayed with me no matter where I collapsed under the fatiguing weight of emotional distress?

Having cried my soul upon the veterinarian’s counter with Henry’s limp body wrapped in my arms, my tears wetting his fur for the last time, did Loki not reflect the greatest of the absent feline’s teachings by sitting upon the pillow that later caught my sobs, stroking my cheek with his paw, and speaking to me in reassuring tones as he shared in the anguish and desolation of it all?

And today, for some unknown reason, I awoke with this sudden dread.  Why?  Is it that some unconscious revelation while I slept gave me in waking the unwelcome knowledge that, at least for most if not all of The Kids, there are fewer days ahead than there are behind?  Especially for Grendel, I think, but for any of them, perhaps even far fewer days ahead than what has already been shared?

With my stomach tied in knots, I sit here typing this while Loki rests comfortably against my arm.  He is sleeping, his breathing a soothing rhythm, his fur barely moving in the gentle breeze from the ceiling fan, and I marvel at him, at this predator, this once wild animal who is, as a species and in the historic scheme of things, the only creature to have chosen humans as companions rather than having been chosen by us.  His ancestors surrounded the ancient cities of Egypt and as a whole accepted humans in light of the opportunity we provided with our granaries overrun by destructive rodents.

We had no solution to the indiscriminate consumption of our grain stores.  Cats did.  They partnered with us and adapted to life with us.  As a species.  Consciously.  They chose us.

At first, we hated them, and then we tolerated them for they certainly helped us a great deal, and then we grew to revere and even worship them.  As life goes, we humans had never seen another species intentionally join us, engage us in a mutually beneficial relationship, and that could endear itself to us with ease as they enjoyed our company as much as we did theirs.  Even if they care not to admit it and try very hard to hide it.

To this day, no other species has willfully joined us in this way.  It is the only personal human-animal relationship that was not our idea.

And you wonder why cats fascinate me so.

To the loving and critically important predators who share my home, I am truly sorry I will not be able to save you.  There will come a time when we will part.  We will have to say goodbye.  My heart will break in those final moments, if it is not already so, and it will pour upon you all that I am and all that I feel.  My soul will encompass you and wrap you in its eternal warmth.  Your essence will join mine, and together we will be both more and less complete.

Like a fire in the night sky, your memories shall burn within me and will forevermore shine a light on the emptiness you leave behind.  It will be a reminder to me that all things end.  It likewise will be a reminder to me that not all natural beauty and wonder can be found in the likes of man.  The hollow will bring forth a wellspring of giving, for as I rescued you from uncertain fate and gave you the life and home very few enjoy, and just as you came to us in our need and provided more than we could ask, so again will I open my heart to your kin and kind, offer my home as a place of joy and peace, a retreat into which they are welcomed, and shower upon them, and certainly in your memory, all of my love and care, a gift as unconditional as those they present me.

But whether it be with me or within me, your life will exist so long as I breathe.  This solemn vow I make to you.

And your legacy will survive in those who follow, your descendants who will find refuge just as you did.  They, too, will know of home and family.

Playing fetch

Kako and Loki both enjoy playing fetch.  That is to say, they both love for me to throw a ball which they then chase, play with, retrieve, and ultimately return to me so that I might throw it again.  I don’t find this unusual for cats as Henry always did the same thing, and in his case it was most evident with balls made from aluminum foil.

The photos below are of Kako returning the ball to me after I already threw it.  She especially loves this game, so much so that it is not unusual for me to wake up in the morning with anywhere from a few to more than half-a-dozen balls resting in bed with me, evidence that she kept bringing them to me during the night, taking my lack of action as disinterest in the ball(s) she already brought to me, and forcing her to keep bringing those of different colors in the hopes of finding one with which I might want to play.  She’s funny that way.

Kako bringing the ball back to me so we can play fetch (141_4144)

Kako with a ball coming from the kitchen.

Kako again bringing the ball back to me so we can play fetch (142_4276)

Kako with a ball coming from the living room.

And yes, she always carries the balls on one side or the other, almost always on her right but nonetheless also carried on her left from time to time.

In your absence

Going to the cupboard for cereal lacks the joy it once held.  Your absence wounds me.  How I loved to find you waiting patiently at my feet knowing I’d go for a bowl of cereal even before I knew.  You always were aware when Captain Crunch was on the menu (or any other cereal for that matter).  It was your gift: the knowing.  It went well beyond cereal, but that you demonstrated best.

Even now, especially when I look at Loki and Grendel who spent their youth under your feline tutelage and rule, I am reminded of your absence, of a dear friend — no, friend is wrong; that’s not the right word at all.  I am reminded of a dear family member who is gone.

Any time one of The Kids sits or lies on the arms of the loveseat, I can not help but think of you.  That was your place when not in my lap.  It was from that location on so many pieces of furniture that you held court, sitting upon your throne and casting your judgment, not to mention your contempt, on all who trespassed in your domain.  I remember seeing you on that perch and laughing when you would immediately bathe when someone other than me touched you, a reminder of their insolence in thinking themselves worthy of violating your personal space and immaculate grooming.

When I bring Wylie home with me and watch Loki stalk and hunt him ad infinitum, a part of me cherishes that skill in him as something you mastered and passed down to the next generation.  No dog challenged you on your own turf, and any dog who did always left with a bloody snout and wounded ego.  Loki learned well from you this skill and happily carries on the tradition of feline superiority.

Yes, there are many things that remind me of you.  But there are also things that have changed without you here.

I do my best to give The Kids treats on a regular basis, yet I’m confident it does not happen as frequently as it would if you were still around.  No one reminded me of treat time as often as you did.  I admit Kazon does his best to match your skill and timing in this regard; it’s not the same or as often though.

It seems from time to time that the arm of the couch is a bit too empty.  Again, Loki has done his best to fulfill this habit in your absence.  The others also rest there occasionally.  He even kicks them from this roost just as you would have done — and did on many occasions.

Toilet paper and paper towels still provide endless entertainment when left where paws might find them.  I never understood what made these simple everyday items so much fun, yet I still laugh when I think of coming home to find you’d spread an entire roll of bathroom tissue all over the house.  I now own a paper shredder, but the electric one still doesn’t do as fine a job as you did and now The Kids do.

I suppose in your absence there remains a lot of you that never seems to fade away.  It’s oddly fitting, you know, to have so many reminders in everyday things, to see you in The Kids, to miss you in the most common activities we once shared.  And who says pets are any less our children…

I don’t know the answer

“What will he feel?” I asked.  I already knew the answer.  My question was a delay tactic of the most obvious kind.

“When I give him the shot, he’ll just relax and go to sleep,” the doctor replied.

I was already crying.  Tears and lamentations overwhelmed me long before I left home, and now standing here facing this horrific event they came unabated and uncontrolled.  While I could hear the doctor clearly and knew somewhere in my mind that I understood him, I wept, and I lost myself in the weeping.  Both Derek and Jenny stood with arms around me as their own tears clouded whatever support they wished to offer.  Neither had known him as long as me.  Only Mom could understand that longevity, and even to her the last several years were lost.

For reasons I couldn’t understand, Henry always had been my cat.  He found comfort in my lap when no other was acceptable or welcoming.  Sitting on the floor in front of the backdoor at my parents’ old house, we would dance albeit with more joy in me than him, and we would embrace each other afterward in celebration of his survival and my entertainment, though there was no cruelty involved and he tolerated it only because of that fact.  I was the only one who stayed up with him all night when he became so ill that he wandered about the house in delirium, wailing in tones horrific and rending of the heart, first in the bathroom by the toilet and eventually in the hall with his head stuck partway through the closet door which leaned uncomfortably against his neck.  He slept with me when all others were denied.  If I was sick or distraught, he knew it and would respond accordingly.  Comrade spirits in life, we two had an understanding, the crux of intimacy between human and cat, that place wherein the master predator gives itself completely to the companionship and love of another and learns to rely trustingly.

I leaned my weight wholly against the counter.  My arms completely enwrapped Henry and I snuggled him closer to my body, a futile gesture as he was already an essential part of my being at that very moment, held so closely and with such love and care that the most fragile of things would have been eternally safe were it placed in the same grasp.  Unapologetically, I sniffled and wiped draining tears from my eyes with the sleeve of my shirt.  Pride and presentation were not concerns.  I tried to listen, but the veterinarian’s words became increasingly lost in my own sorrow.

“He won’t feel any pain.  In fact, the pain he’s in now will drain away as the drug sets in.  He’ll relax completely—”

“OK…” I interrupted with a mumble.

“You must understand,” he continued, “his entire body will react.  When it relaxes, some of his bodily functions might release, so don’t be surprised if he urinates or if his bowels move.  That’s normal and is just a sign that he’s resting and his body’s going to sleep.”

The thought of such a thing reinvigorated my sobbing.  His voice seemed an alien sound both unfamiliar and intrusive.  Suddenly I wanted nothing more than to grab the black cat now ensconced in a place almost completely surrounded by my presence, curled up deeply and closely in fear, and to run through the door out to the car, to escape and take him away, to protect him from this abomination of all that we shared.

“Do you understand?” the doctor asked.

“Yes, I know.  I understand,” I said.  “It’s OK.  I just don’t want him to hurt anymore.  I just want the pain to go away so he’s not suffering.”  The dirge playing in my heart and mind rocked my body with the terror of facing life without him.  Somehow, in a way I could not yet comprehend, all of this seemed dreadfully cruel.

No!  Damn it!  He can’t go yet.  I need him and he needs me.  How can I go on without him?  He’s been the constant in a life of inconstancy.  This can’t be the end!  My mind howled in rage.  Denial is such a powerful force.

The veterinarian was only a blur, a white-robed apparition grotesquely resembling a person in all the wrong ways, a creature of death offering meaningless understanding as one might proffer a cheap gift known to be insufficient and insulting.  I hated him.  I wanted him to go away and leave me to care for Henry in the way that only I could.  This entire situation was wrong.  If he was to die, it should be in the comfort of what he knows, in a place where he fears nothing and absolutely trusts in my desire and intent to do what is best for him.  I am his protector — his guardian — and only in the place where we live and with me will he find contentment necessary to diminish his suffering.  Why did I bring him here?

“I won’t do anything until you’re ready.  Just let me know when you want me to give him the injection.  Once I give it to him, I’ll leave.”  It was then that he reached out and touched my arm in gentle compassion, a brief display of understanding and support.  It was not a gratuitous gesture as this veterinary clinic had seen me through years of pet care.  They knew me as I knew them, and everyone on the staff understood how much I loved my children.  Despite this innate sympathy and the support I so desperately needed, I hated him all the more for it.  “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.  There’s no hurry.”

Go to hell!  Keep your filthy mitts away from me and my child.  Step back and take that damn needle with you.  He’s mine.  I’ll take care of him.  I’ll make sure he gets through this.  How dare you act like you care when you intend to kill him!  I felt selfish.  And I wanted to be selfish.  If I didn’t act that way in his favor, would anyone else?  Would they know what he wanted?  Would they even care?  He trusted me.  He relied on me.  I knew somehow that only I was capable of helping him through this final journey.

Jenny’s grip tightened around my shoulders.  She could feel the tension in facing the nearness of the thing.  “We’re here, Sweetie,” she said.  Her voice betrayed the pain in her heart.  “Take your time.”

“I know,” I think I said, although I cannot be sure what response fell from my lips.  “Go ahead, please, and give him the shot.”

It stood out there on the horizon of thought as an offense to all that seemed reasonable and caring.  It was a specter of dark shadow enveloping the light as it approached.  It had a name, an unspeakable name that I dared not acknowledge in Henry’s presence, yet it could not be denied, and he must know its embrace before this day was done.

I knew Derek was already in emotional shambles.  He was barely able to speak, muttering supportive garble in feeble attempts to mask his own bawling in woefully presented strength of character.  I wondered, in such a short time, how it was that he became so enamored of Henry.  That was an easy question to answer given Henry’s personality, yet the asking of it pierced my heart with great depth.

I sobbed, leaning lower and stroking his black fur and mumbling to him.  “It’s OK, Henry,” I said.  “You’re OK.  We’re going to make it better.  We’re going to take away the pain.”  I hated myself for saying it.  I felt deceptive, a liar telling his child that the pain is how we grow when what is necessary is an understanding that the pain means we are hurt, that our body in one of its many forms is damaged, that we need healing that words rarely provide.  I despised myself immensely for such cheap contributions to his final moments.

“It’ll be over soon.  You know I love you, Henry.  I just want your suffering to stop.  I don’t want you to hurt anymore.”  I leaned my head forward and rested it against him.  The doctor was only just beginning to move forward with the lethal instrument at the ready.  So much of my being wished to reach out and stop him, to place a hand betwixt the weapon and the victim.  I wanted nothing more than to stay the whole event.

This can’t happen.  I deny you and your intentions.

I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, using an innocent movement to hide a more significant shift of weight to the cold Formica upon which Henry, and now I, rested.  I couldn’t support myself anymore, and I knew this despite attempts to act contradictory.  All will and strength rapidly drained from me.  Whatever else might be happening in the world, this place and time became all that mattered, and my breath left me temporarily in uncontrollable moans and cries.

Might I somehow metaphysically consume him and take all that he is into my own self?  Can I bestow upon him more living through my own essence and life, finding in that act an ability to extend my parental care beyond mortality?

All thought was gone from me; only my heart acted.  Despite thinking it impossible, I leaned even closer to Henry and embraced his body next to mine as the doctor tenderly inserted the needle, slowly but deliberately injected its contents, and removed it in a motion swift and targeted so that very little notice of it might present.  He stroked Henry lovingly one last time, then again touched my arm ever so briefly before turning and leaving the room.

I wept.  Oh, how I wept.  I listened to his breathing and held him close to me.  I continued talking to him through my own tears, assuring and reassuring him that he would be OK, that the pain was soon to be gone, that no more suffering would befall him, and that he need not worry about me anymore, just himself.  The life drained out of him with slowing breath and with it, my soul poured forth in tears.  He who had been so near to me took his last intake of air and laid it upon my face with the whisper of his being.  Oh, how I wept then.  My tears fell upon his still fur.  My own wailings transformed into unmanageable gasps of air.  Measured only in a few brief minutes, the decades of his life vanished on that counter as he lay wrapped in my arms and held close to me, and with the going of his light so too left a part of my soul forever lost to me, that part of my own living measured in doses of Henry.

Some part of me stoked the flames of anger at that moment, brought to wrath in the thought that Henry might partake in his last vision a strange place wrought with stimuli denying of peace.  How could I let his last moment be filled not with home but instead with the uncaring and unwarm settings of a little room at the veterinarian’s office?  I set the thought aside.

Both Derek and Jenny held to me in tight comfort.  They shared my distress and sadness.  While the breaking of my heart spilled on that countertop in one afternoon, I shared the most terrifying of griefs with those capable of supporting the burden, even if only in limited ways compared to that which was lost. 

I do not know how long it was that I stood there holding him.  Minutes seemed like hours.  Although undeniably lifeless, somehow I found it within me to hold him closer and tighter with gentleness immeasurable.  Some part of me died there that day, a part of the universe lost in abundant fullness and absence.  There is no portion of me now that fails to weep at the thought of it.  These many years later, I still feel the emptiness left in his wake.

Minutes seemed like hours…

And now I wonder.  Was it better for him to be in an alien place, frightened and stressed in his already weakened and ailing state, the cold of stainless steel, tile floor, hard counter, fluorescent lighting, and needle surrounding him on all sides and pressing in on him, yet cloaked in totality by three people who loved him dearly, there in the not-home and not-comfortable to take his final breath?  Or would it have been better for him to face his death in the comfort of his home where he knew himself to be safe, in that place wherein he could be Henry, embraced by those familiar walls and ceiling and floor that had been his home for so many years, undoubtedly suffering as his body failed uncontrollably, yet in that section of the cosmos wherein he was the all of himself, where he knew he was safe and loved?  I do not know the answer to that question.  And it vexes me.

This is Henry

In honor and remembrance of Henry, here are a handful of photos to show you my memorable feline companion.  I apologize in advance for the quality of these photos.  Many of them are quite old (dating from the late 70s through the 80s).  Almost all were taken with an equally old Polaroid camera.

I did not include the picture of Henry which my parents used to create a mouse pad which was gifted me for Christmas several years ago.  Somehow, holding back that photograph makes it seem more personal.

Closeup of Henry sitting in front of my old dresser (henry01)
Original of Henry sitting in front of my old dresser (henry02)
Henry sitting in front of shelves (henry03)
Henry in his boxes beside the TV (henry04)
Henry sleeping in my old window (henry05)
Henry with a picture (henry06)
Henry with his head in a bag (henry07)
Henry in his favorite playing position (henry08)