The "Things That Make Me Happy Today" post mentioned both my father and my cat and my mind wandered back to a moment in time that was undeniably sad yet moving.
As I've mentioned before, my father died a slow and painful death, suffering with metastatic cancer for seven years. He wanted to die at home and when we got to the point where he was no longer able to walk or care for himself, we had round the clock hospice care to be sure his pain was managed appropriately as well as provide some respite for my family.
At the time, we had a big fluffy white cat who adored my dad. Every morning after making his rounds of the house, eating, bathing himself in the sunlight for a bit and doing a little stretching, the cat would meander up the stairs and down the hall to hop in bed with my dad where he would stay for the day. He would greet each visitor by walking to the end of the bed, receiving ridiculous amounts of pets, playing, and purring, and would then settle back down either right next to my dad, pressed up against him or, more often, perched on his chest.
One Thursday morning the cat made his rounds, walked into the bedroom to settle in for the day's events, hopped up on the bed, two paws on my father's chest, then he seemed to freeze for a few seconds, staring at my father. With a single, startled sounding meow, he quickly jumped back down to the floor. I scooped him up and put him back on the bed but the cat wanted no part of it. He squirmed away and headed to the doorway where he sat, smack in the middle, facing the bed as if trying to decide what to do. My father, no longer able to speak by then, followed the cat with his eyes, and seemed very confused. I smiled and shrugged, not sure what to make of it myself. Throughout the day the cat was highly agitated... pacing, meowing, not interested in food, toys or attention. He seemed to almost wince in pain when touched.
Aside from the cat's absence on the bed, the day went on as usual. Meds and visitors, errands to buy meds, groceries and offerings for the visitors. I even booked a little bit of ice time that day to help me decompress. You see, I was a competitive figure skater in my youth and, at 21, while watching my father die, I found that time on the ice with my thoughts and my speed was incredible therapy, I even hired a coach for a few months. To this day, when I need to think big thoughts, the ice feels like home to me, even more so than my bike, but don't tell a soul.
I took my big goofy dog out to a park where we played frisbee and he swam. My best friend came to visit and we sat and chatted. She peeked in on my dad, who never failed to light up when she entered the room. She asked him where "that crazy cat" was as she was immediately struck by his failure to appear for attention upon her arrival. My father smiled at her.
When I got into bed that night, the cat finally emerged. He got up next to me instead of curling up at the foot of my dad's bed. He never seemed to get comfortable, moving around a few times until settling in one spot, and he wasn't in a snuggly kind of mood. He didn't put his head down or sleep. He sat with his tail twitching every once in awhile and his ears perked up, eyes toward the long hallway that connected my room to the master bedroom.
I finally dozed off and, soon after, was awakened with the news that my father had died in his sleep. I ran down the hallway, which seemed 14 times longer than it had ever been. I kissed my father's forehead. I had never come face to face with death before and I remember to this day how very cold he was. I understood it logically yet I just didn't expect it and was caught completely off guard. I couldn't talk or breathe or even cry for what seemed like hours, though I know it was only moments that I stood there over him, frozen in my pain and wondering what the hell I was supposed to do next. The hospice nurse talked to me. I don't remember what she said but I remember knowing beyond all doubt that she was, indeed, an angel on earth. She led me over to the loveseat and asked if I wanted some tea which sounded wonderful yet completely preposterous all at once. As I sat, silent and alone, waiting and wondering, the cat walked past me as if I didn't exist and, without hesitation, hopped on the bed, curled up on my father's chest, lowered his head, closed his eyes and began to purr... a purr so loud I could hear it across the room, a purr so soothing I knew that the cat had known what the rest of us hadn't and had spent the day trying to tell us. His beloved human's pain was so immense, so overpowering, so disturbing that he simply couldn't get close to my dad... the cat knew that the end was near and needed that pain to be lifted in order to cozy up again.
And in that moment as the deafening silence was broken by the motoring purr of a fluffy white cat, I knew for sure, after all those years, that my father was finally at peace.