My beloved big grey cat, Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside Yockey, died in his sleep on June 30, 2012, at the age of 15 years and nine months. I raised him from his feral kittenhood and all his life I would hold him in my arms, stroke his chin and sleek his whiskers and tell him, “I have loved you from first sight when you were little kitten boy.” I rescued him and his brothers and sister around Thanksgiving 1996 when they were about eight weeks old and got his feral mom spayed although she was too wild to tame and had to be released.
Taming feral kittens involves sitting with them for long periods of time in a space where they can’t get very far away from you and letting them gradually start to feel safe with you on their own schedule. I cleared out the floor of the closet of the bedroom I shared with my late life partner for them and left the light on so their vision would develop normally. I added a box turned sideways to create a cave effect with a flannel sheet for warmth, plus food bowls, water and a litterbox. Then I would just sit with them and let them race over my stretched out legs until they were exhausted. When they were too sleepy to be frightened, I would line them up on my thighs, which they loved for the warmth, then I would stroke them and they would melt. I learned from Remington, Beau’s brother, that the moment they crossed the line from feral to tame was the first time they exploded into a purr when I stroked their ears.
That year “Auntie Mame,” with Rosalind Russell, played several times in December because of its heartwarming scene on Christmas Eve 1929. Mame had just lost her fortune in the stock market crash, so she promptly got a job at Macy’s to try to support herself and her nephew, maid and butler. Luckily she waited on a handsome, wealthy Southern oil tycoon named Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, who fell in love with her on the spot. When he tracked her down he exclaimed, “Why it’s a miracle! It’s a good old-fashioned Christmas miracle, that’s what it is!”
So in December 1996, when Beau finally burst into his first purr of tameness, that was the line I joyfully quoted to my late life partner. Suddenly I realized that he was Confederate grey and so amazingly handsome that “Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside” was the perfect name for him. You can see in photos below the fold that he actually shimmered because every hair was tipped with silver!
I bonded with Beauregard the most deeply because we both loved for me to cradle him in my arms like a baby while I stroked him from the tip of his chin and down his tummy to the tip of his tail. The closet was chilly so I would wear one of Margaret’s big sweatshirts and envelope Beau in its folds to keep him cozy as I cuddled and stroked him. In the video above the reason he’s following me and meowing is that he’s asking to be picked up and cuddled and stroked in a similar way, which I did all his life. Oh, and he did get his cuddle.
Since I moved back home to take care of my father, this evolved into a routine where, when it was time to come back inside after checking on his catnip plants and eating a little salad, Beau would walk to the threshold of the door then turn around, go back to the sidewalk and loll on his back in the maximum cuteness pose so he could get his tummy stroked. Not only did this always work, but also I would pick him up, pet his tummy some more and let him look around at the beautiful world he lived in, before I carried him inside. Then I would present him to my father for more pets and announce, “Your property has been under heavy guard by a vicious predator.”
That always made my father smile and he would say, “Can we keep him?”
I replied, “Yes, he is so handsome, brave and smart — and look at those tennis racket paws!”
My father would smile again and say, “We’ll have no rats or mice with him on duty.”
Then I would take Beau to the kitchen and set him down in front of his bowl. We all thought this was a very satisfactory system.
On Thursday, June 28, Beau accompanied me in the morning to check out his new raised garden, installed this year as a cooperative project with a neighbor, as he loved to do. On the way back to the house, he buried himself in one of his giant catnip plants — another favorite activity that gave us both waves of joy. My heart melted and because I got an iPhone after getting burned in May to help me cope with my memory problems, I was able to capture these events in photos. But when I was seeing my father to bed around 11 pm, I found Beau in the middle of the hallway too weak to stand. I rushed him to the animal ER thinking he was dehydrated. However, an exam, bloodwork, urinalysis and treatment with subcutaneous fluids ruled out everything treatable. He also started having seizures, which the veterinarian said pointed to cancer in his brain.
This made sense because Beauregard was a cancer survivor. In fact, Beau’s cancer is the reason I took the plunge and started this blog on January 12, 2009. In late 2008, I noticed a lesion on his left cheek. I thought I could make the money I needed for his surgery with this blog. I didn’t give up on my plan and ask someone else who loved him to pay for it until February. Afterwards, his veterinarian said he hadn’t been able to get all of the tumor and that Beau’s cancer was likely to recur.
The reason that I had money for Beau’s treatment on June 28 is that a couple of hours earlier I had sold my late brother’s Yamaha motorcycle on eBay. It had been sitting in a corner of my father’s garage since my younger brother was killed in a car accident in August 1973 at the age of 18. I only netted around $400 toward the $1200 I needed to take the next step in starting a business so I can support myself after my father is gone, but I had felt happy that I was on my way. So I was losing my most beloved cat at the same time I was delaying or losing my dream. Still, I was relieved and thankful to have the money I needed for Beau’s care.
But I didn’t have the $75-150 I needed for the X-rays the vet wanted to take to verify the cancer diagnosis and rule out an obstruction. I had to save $85 for his euthanasia since it would probably come to that. I didn’t want a strange vet to do it. I wanted it done by the veterinarian I trusted, at a practice where he was known and all the techs would cry because they loved him, too. And I have to admit that by 2 am the ER vet had found the express route to my last nerve by proposing an MRI, heroic measures and chemo before getting around to saying how handy it would be to have an X-ray or two.
I took Beauregard home and set him up in my bedroom. Over the next day I stroked him and syringed tiny amounts of Pedialyte into him every few minutes. I prayed he would make it to his appointment with his regular veterinarian on Saturday morning. Around 1 am on Saturday morning I was passing out from sleepiness and I lay down next to Beauregard on my bed. But he wanted to go on his own terms and some time in the night I felt him climb down from the bed using the steps I’d made so getting up and down would be easy. He found the only place under the bed I hadn’t been able to block off and passed away in his sleep.
I have spent most of July raking myself over the coals for two things. First, I am flabbergasted that Beau’s symptoms since December didn’t click for me as something I had to figure out a way to get money to diagnose immediately. Then I would have known what treatment he needed or I could have put him into kitty hospice care, which would have gotten him even more pets and pampering than my already deluxe standard package. Figuring out when a person or animal I love is dying and getting between them and the angel of Death is WHAT I DO, dear gentle readers.
However, I was badly injured the day after CPAC in a way that damaged my memory and cognitive abilities and I’m not back yet to where I was before CPAC. The short version is that I fell asleep sitting up several times while I was watching over my father that day and apparently had a number of long apneas — I think the hypoxia damaged my working memory and executive function. I’ve been equivocating about what to say about my health and how to say it since then. Also, with a black hole where my memory and organizing abilities used to be, it’s been difficult to write since then. That’s why I came home from CPAC walking on air, bursting with things to write and photos and videos to share and then couldn’t do it.
On top of that, since January I’ve had a series of medical emergencies that required professional care. Beau’s brother, Remington, was diagnosed with cancer in January. I also was dealing with our mortgage and tax problems, which didn’t get finally sorted until July 3. I took in two elderly cats with health problems so neighbors wouldn’t have to euthanize them when they moved to a rental that doesn’t allow cats. I had my vegetable garden to get in. I have a small amount of my own clutter I still have to organize and clear. And I have dozens of boxes of my parents’ late caregiver’s possessions in the garage and basement to open and sort through to decide what to donate and what to sell. Once my lights were punched out by hypoxia the day after CPAC, my ability to handle all these things easily and efficiently was badly impaired — with the added concern that bringing my memory and organizational abilities back is a slow process with its own timetable.
There’s also the possibility that, as success author Stuart Lichtman suggests in his post, “Taking Your Success to a Higher Level,” Beau’s illness is something my Unconscious deliberately hid from me. I just couldn’t bear to know.
The second thing I’ve been angry with myself for is not getting the X-rays. My reasoning at the time was two-fold. First, I was afraid of spending the money and then getting hit with an unexpected big bill, or a car repair, or a dental emergency for my father. In the following three weeks I hit the trifecta:
- the next week the unexpected big bill came (big = $350)
- a week later my 16-year-old car stalled at 20 miles per hour and the dealer pronounced it totalled due to the cost of repairs required and the certainty that even several thousands of dollars of repairs would not keep it running
- followed two days later by Dad’s #19 molar getting badly infected and having to be extracted.
Second, I wanted to have Beau’s regular vet do the rest of the diagnostic work since the ER vet had done everything she could to stabilize him, short of heroic measures. Now I think another reason I didn’t want to do it is that if I had seen the extent of Beau’s cancer on an X-ray, I would have felt a duty to euthanize him immediately and I just didn’t want to do it then, not there and not by that veterinarian. I wanted to cut him a better deal.
And I got a gift from that — one that amazed me. I have lived in great social isolation for the last 20 years caring for my late life partner and now my father. Because I am not in contact with a lot of people in the course of my day, as most people are, it doesn’t feel easy to reach out. But I could not stand for my darling boy’s dying to go unnoticed. So I betook myself to Twitter and a Facebook group where the leader had brought up “Auntie Mame” only a couple of weeks before and I had shared how I had named him.
To my amazement, both from Twitter and from Facebook, Beau got many prayers and I got a group hug. I am grateful with all my heart. And I learned a lesson in having faith in my connection to my friends and online pals.
I know I should have written this post immediately after Beau died. But I wanted to memorialize him with photos. This involved a quest through the hard drives of my PC and my father’s iMac, learning a LOT more about iPhoto and iMovie and organizing my photos and videos. The result is the video you see above. If you watch it, I would really appreciate it if you click “Like” because that will help its ranking on YouTube.
I have been away from writing regularly so long that I don’t feel I’ve worked enough to deserve anyone’s kind donations. Nevertheless, the fuel pump on my car is dying and when it goes, my car turns into a brick. I need to generate $600-$1200 for a down payment to be able to buy a used car. I can’t get a job because I have to take care of my father and can only make money with things I can do at home. I will be selling stuff on eBay (need a vintage Briggs and Stratton 6S lawnmower?) to try to get some quick cash. But I have to open every avenue of raising money. If you are willing to help me with my car down payment, I will be very grateful and send you an e-mail thank you note.