“I got the call today that I didn’t want to hear, but I knew that it would come.” -The Heart of the Matter by Don Henley.
This was the refrain playing in my head the weekend after the 4th of July. You see, the test results were back on our oldest kitty, Stanley and the news was grim. We were going to have to give him the final gift of a peaceful rather than a painful passing. Timing was complicated, though, because I do in-home daycare and we had long since discussed that Stanley would need to pass at home so that Winnie, who was his constant companion, could have some time with him to see that he was gone. She’s a painfully shy cat and very anxious so taking him away and never bringing him back was only likely to add to her anxiety. So we scheduled for our dear vet to come out Thursday night. Needless to say, those next few days were bittersweet and gave me ample time to think back on the nearly decade and a half that Stanley gave us.
When my oldest daughter was six or so, she said one day, “Mom, when I have a kitten, I’m going to name him Stanley.” What a great name, I thought, I’d love to have a cat named Stanley! Well, a year or so later, my daughter’s step-mother and a friend “liberated” a kitten from a dangerous situation and they gave it to Sarah to be “her” kitten at their house. (And, in all honesty, I sighed just a little because now I wasn’t going to have a Stanley.)
A year later, I had a sobbing 8-year old on Easter Sunday. When we finally got her to confide her problem, it was that her father had told her that he didn’t have “enough room” for her cat in the new house and if she didn’t find a home for it then he was taking it to the pound. Even now, it makes proud of my husband to think of that moment because he promptly told my daughter, “Honey, if there’s no room for your cat at your father’s house, your cat can come live here.” And so, sight unseen, we became the owners of a 14.5 pound tuxedo cat named Stanley.
Stanley made his transition to our house on a day that I was having a charity quilting do at church. He spent all afternoon at church with us, wandering the quilting room like he’d been there forever and then we took him to meet the dogs. For a cat who had never seen dogs, he was amazingly brave. Oh, he hid behind the sofa for the first evening, coming out regularly to survey these new creatures. That night, just after I fell asleep, my husband nudged me awake with his elbow. “Honey, you have to see this!” “This” was Stanley laying on my husband’s chest, all four feet in the air, head tucked beneath my husband’s chin, purring like a freight train. The two have been the best of friends ever since.
There are so many Stanley stories…how he made friends with the neighbor cat, how he used to nuzzle the dogs, how he would let me hold him in my lap on the stairs with his feet in the air, how he used to meow outside on hot summer evenings until Phil came and lay in the grass with him, how he decided to take on the role of “enforcer” with my brother’s 125-pound Lab. Everyone loved the classy guy in the tuxedo. Age, however, wasn’t kind to Stanley. He developed a walking seizure and eventually was diagnosed with a fungal infection that attacks the nervous system. He recovered after months of drugs but his purr was forever silenced. He developed mega-colon and stool softeners became part of his life. Arthritis crept up his back legs and steroids became part of his regime. He lost weight and we found out he had thyroid disease. He began calling us from the yard and we discovered that his eyesight was failing and he was using his “echo-location” to find us. He became too frail to go outside without an escort. He became incontinent and diapers became part of our life. Too arthritic to clean himself properly, Phil began giving him a weekly “spa” treatment of shower and blow dry which (always proud of his snappy way of dressing) Stanley loved. Some of his behaviors began to make the vet suspect dementia. And, finally, it became apparently that cancer was taking our boy.
So, with heavy hearts, we held him as we said our final goodbyes and set his spirit free. That night, just after the lights in our bedroom went out, Winnie meowed three times, the way she used to call Stanley to bed, but softly as if she knew he wasn’t coming. Since last Thursday, another phrase of Don Henley’s song has been running through my mind. “I’m learning to live without you now, but I miss you, baby.” We’re all learning to live without Stanley, even Winnie, but he is missed.