As I stepped into the Arrivals Lounge of Birmingham airport and the bright sunshine of an English Saturday morning, I looked for my brother Rob, who normally stands high above a crowd. We spotted each other at the same moment and seconds later, not one but three pairs of male arms enfolded me: Rob’s huge and giant-like, 21 year old John’s, muscular and tattooed, and 14 year old Tim’s with his unique comforting back-rub delivered along with the hug.
Almost the first thing Rob said was, “I’m afraid I have a piece of sad news Belinda, Sam passed away on Thursday.”
Sam, Mum’s cat, meant the world to her. He was just a tiny kitten with extra large ears when he came from a barn to Mum’s home. White, with black markings dabbed randomly here and there, and with a strong streak of wild; he had more than his share of fight in him.
As the years passed, he often looked the worse for wear and he resembled a prize fighter as his nose grew lumpy and scarred from being scratched, bitten and bloodied in frequent battles.
There was never any doubt whose cat he was; he loved only one person; Mum. Anyone else was fair game and he would take flying leaps onto legs as they passed, often drawing blood. We learned to be wary of stroking him, no matter how benign he appeared, as without warning he might scratch or bite.
When Mum had a stroke in 2003, the Helping Hands ladies started coming in. I worried about them unsuspectingly entering his domain and wrote a warning: “Do not touch the cat; appearances are deceiving.”
In spite of his fierce nature, Rob admired Sam and his great size and encouraged me to make a fuss of him. Somehow though, it felt counter-intuitive to make a fuss of a cat that would clamp his teeth onto my hand like a feline version of Jaws. No, Sam and I settled on a distant, mutually tolerant relationship, with the common bond of loving Mum.
We knew that when Sam died, Mum would miss him terribly and I often prayed that he would live as long as she did. Recently it looked like that would not happen. He was 16 years old; a good age in cat years. He was getting thinner and thinner, had lost a tooth, and he was losing all dignity with bodily functions.
On Thursday last week, Rob talked it over with Mum and they agreed that it was time to make the hardest decision an animal's friend ever has to make. Rob’s first got through by phone to a vet that was just about to close for the day and not flexible or helpful. Next he hit gold, a vet with a heart, who was compassionate, kind and gentle and said she would do what was needed. She demonstrated all of these qualities as she helped Sam go to sleep for the last time.
As Mum asked them to, Rob and Tim brought him home afterwards so that she could stroke his still warm body and have a few moments to say a final goodbye to her faithful friend.
John dug a hole beside the wall of Mum’s bedroom and buried Sam close as he could be to the head of her bed.
Sam so intinsic to most of Mum’s routines. He slept at the foot of her bed, right on her hot water bottle. If we worried that he had a larger share of the bed than Mum, she would not hear of it. In the morning her first thought was to give him a morning treat and make sure his food dish was uncovered. She watched for his face at the see-through cat flap in the door opposite her couch. He never actually used it for getting in or out. Mum would see him and get up to walk across the room with her walker to let him in which was good exercise.
It almost seemed as though Sam tried to hang on until I got here. The day after he died, I was on the way for a planned vacation with Mum. While nothing can fill his place in Mum’s life, it is such a blessing to be here for these two weeks in particular.
Yesterday a card arrived in the mail. It was from the vet and it read:
Dear Mrs. Cater and family,
Thinking of you all at this sad time.
We are sorry for the loss of your dear friend and companion,
With love from,
All of us at Southcrest Veterinary Centre xxx
Thank you to the staff at Southcrest; you are very special people, God bless you.
...for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.