Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Personal Postscript: Felix

Late last evening, my partner, Walt, and I returned from San Francisco. We left early Sunday morning to join several friends and family for the wedding of our nephew—and surrogate son—to his partner. Our cat, Felix, as always, groused as he watched us pack and followed us to the door for one final “Hrumph” conveying his displeasure at being left behind. “Be good, kitten,” we said, our standard benediction for any trip.

The wedding was wonderful. The ceremony was touching, dignified, and we stood by proudly in the rotunda of San Francisco’s City Hall, misty-eyed as we watched two young people commit their lives and future to love, respect, and trust. But, typical for us, we were eager to get back home, and a big reason for that was Fee. Before boarding the plane, I got a text message from our close friend and neighbor, Sean, who was looking after Felix while we were gone. “Felix seems sad and misses you guys, but is OK,” he wrote.

For the past year, Felix suffered from a hyperactive thyroid that kept his metabolism spinning constantly. He’d have mostly good days, and then he’d hit a trough of sorts that would leave him exhausted. Even then, however, Fee was constantly engaged. He’d sleep for a while and then wander out of his carrier, which sits right here beside my desk, blinking and mewling as he sallied forth to see what we were up to. Our vet recommended surgery and chemo as possible alternatives, but after careful discussion, Walt and I decided either alternative was too invasive and frightening for a cat nearing 15 years old. So we kept him on his meds and prayed that he’d live as fully as possible until it was time…

That moment came between Sean’s visit and our return. Felix wasn’t at the door tonight, to greet us when we came home. Normally, it would be impossible to drop our bags before he went into a long soliloquy about what we missed while he was here alone. There was no indignant speech this time. When he didn’t stumble out into the hall after we called him—he always came when called, always—Walt went into the den. He screamed. I rushed in.

There was no sign of any seizure, struggle, pain, or panic… just Fee, relaxed, laying on his side, half out of his “house” (as we called his carrier) his front paws politely crossed, and staring straight ahead, his mind rifling through his last inscrutable thoughts—looking as he so often did, as if he were thinking quietly to himself, waiting until I tore myself away from the keyboard long enough to head into the kitchen for a fresh cup of coffee. Because I work at home, Felix filled his days trailing behind me. When I moved, he moved. If I took a call and sauntered into the living room, he shadowed me. If I found a late-afternoon pause in my work that permitted a quick nap, he curled up beside me. As Walt and I sunk to the floor, holding one another and sobbing uncontrollably, I couldn’t help expecting him to rouse himself and come console us.

That was Felix in a nutshell. He loved us and cared about our happiness. In my profile, I wrote, “He runs the house,” which he did. He intuitively knew what was best for all of us and he’d fuss up a storm if we didn’t take his word for it. So, for instance, when I worked well past my bedtime—which has been fairly routine since starting Straight-Friendly—he’d plant himself beside my chair and launch a barrage of protests until he wore me down. I’d climb into bed, Walt would stir in his sleep, spooning up next to me, and Fee would jump in on the other side, purring and gently stroking my cheek until I dozed off.

He never missed a beat. When the house filled with people, he hosted our guests as much as we. When we settled down for our regular Saturday night Scrabble games, here Fee would come, dropping a small pile of tinsel-covered balls at our feet; while we played word games, he played fetch. When we turned on music, he pulled out a cat-dancer we bought for him ages ago and sang along as he dragged it around the house. He was forever fearless, alert, incorrigible, often demanding, but never so self-absorbed that he couldn’t stop what he wanted to do and join whatever we were doing.

He loved us supremely. Our pleasure gave him lasting joy. And that was why we loved him supremely and found constant joy in his happiness.

Fee was a birthday present Walt gave me 14 years ago—the greatest gift he’ll ever give me. Walt was a “dog person,” and his decision to bring a cat into the house testified to the size of his heart. But how he found Fee was in itself a testament of this amazing cat’s character. Walt went to the local shelter, not knowing the least thing about choosing a cat. Because he only wanted one, the shelter wouldn’t allow him to adopt a kitten younger than six months old. (Younger kittens were placed in pairs.) Fee had recently been dropped on their doorstep and was just ending the required quarantine period before joining dozens of other cats that freely roamed the premises. When Walt asked about him (the shelter staff had dubbed him “Seinfeld”), they opened his cage. Fee extended his paw and lightly patted Walt on the nose. The search was over.

Tonight, in the middle of our grief, Walt reminded me, “Fee chose me.” From the first, the decision to love and care for us was his. He never failed to live up to his decision, either. He came every time we called him. He anchored himself beside us when we were sick, exhausted, or depressed. He was reliable to a fault, yet always full of surprises and fresh ideas. Oh, how we will miss him and, right now, our sorrow feels impossible to imagine ever overcoming. But we’ll manage it, I’m sure. What will never leave us, though, is our gratitude for having experienced such unconditional, consistent care from a creature who lavished it on us because he chose us and chose to love us without hesitation or expectation.

For the time being, I think I’ll leave Felix in my profile. Even though he’s physically departed, our house will always run on the tender spirit and lessons he provided it. And, although I pledged not to allow Straight-Friendly to get sidetracked with excessive personal information and disclosures, I do it now because there’s not been one post that Fee didn’t somehow involve himself in. Sometimes, he sat patiently in my lap as I wrestled with the words and ideas I wanted to express. Sometimes, he pestered me to pull myself free long enough to rejoin him and Walt—to be part of the family instead of the workaholic in the den. And sometimes, he nuzzled my leg for a moment to make sure I knew he was settling into his house beside the desk.

I apologize for testing your indulgence (if you’re still reading). But in the past three months, God has given me a wonderful new family through Straight-Friendly. And it seemed somehow appropriate that I include you in this oddly beautiful, irrevocably heartbreaking moment in our lives. On Friday, I’ll pick up where I left off, with the previously scheduled “Garden Party” post. But for the next little bit, I hope you’ll forgive my asking for some time to reflect and absorb this loss. And finally, if this seems slightly over-the-top and crazy to you, I pray you’ll understand.

Some see God’s character and power in nature, when they look at sweeping vistas or spectacular storms. For nearly 15 years, we saw His love, patience, and generosity, morning, noon, and night, in a four-pound marmalade tabby named Felix. 


Anonymous said...

Tim, I am so very sorry. I can understand your pain. We have two dogs, growing older now and 4 cats. They each mean so much to us. We were talking last evening that our oldest, our border collie is 11+ now, and doesn't seem yet to miss a step. I suggested he would just keel over one day, and never go through a long decline. I hope that is the case, but we will be lost without him, as will his girl mate. We cannot conclude which would be better to go first. Mostly we try not to think of it.

I know you are deeply mourning. I hope you soon get a new friend. They are such comforts to us always. Best always. Sherry

Tammy Pinkston said...

Thank you for being real and sharing your grief over the loss of your beloved fur kid...we, your Straight-Friendly family, are keeping you and Walt in our prayers...and don't forget, Jesus Himself prays for us and is very close to you in this time of sadness. May you have moments of joy that give you strength during this time. Shalom, my friend.

Tim said...

Sherry and Tammy, we're ever so grateful for your thoughts and prayers for us today. It's hard to explain how suddenly the world seemed to tilt and Felix slipped away. But God is faithful and He has showered us with mercy all day long through the kindnesses of so many, including both of you. Thank you; your care and concern mean so much to Walt and me.

Erin said...

Oh, Timber and Walter, my heart is with you both. It is so very painful to lose a pet - because they are so much more than that......a companion, friend and one that shows complete and unconditional love to you. How lucky he was to have such loving and caring parents! erin xo

Caminante said...

Wandering over here from Grendel's blog... many prayers for both of you as you mourn your dear feline friend, Felix. He is a gorgeous orange boy and my Aelred (another orange boy) sends special purrs for you. Blessed Francis has greeted him... as have all the cats who have owned me. Be gentle to yourselves.

Tim said...

Erin, thanks for stopping by and leaving a note--it means the world to us. We love you very much.

Caminante, I deeply appreciate your kindness and generosity to look in on Felix and us.

To both of you, one of our oldest, most faithful friends and our very newest, our being here together speaks volumes about how wonderful and important pets are in all our lives. They not only bond with us, but they forge bonds between us. To Caminante's point, we're privileged to have them own us!

FranIAm said...

Oh Tim - I am so sorry and I am sorry that it took me awhile to get over here.

No - I had no idea about Felix when I was writing about Grendel.

That sure was one gorgeous boy and he clearly was a part of your family and your life.

As I type this, on Mr. BooBoo the Cat has wandered to my side to watch me blog. He is looking at Felix right now.

I am so sorry for your loss and my heart and my prayers go out for you and Walt.

The loss of an animal companion always comes hard, as I see it. They love us with a certain unconditional quality- even our cats. There is something of the divine in them.

Felix is frolicking with Grendel and others right now, I hope that you find some peace in that.

Thanks for your lovely and moving post Tim, thank you.

Tim said...

Thanks, Fran, for your kind note. I know Fee would purr and most likely do one of his expansive floor rolls on hearing himself called "one gorgeous boy."

Walt and I are improving steadily, almost by the hour, which tells us that all the compassionate thoughts and prayers for us are being heard. Give our love to Mr. BooBoo and any playmates he may have.

PS: No need to apologize for not getting here sooner. Your being part of our S-F family is what we value more than anything.

Aghaveagh said...

Oh, I am so sorry to hear about Felix. You must miss him fiercely. There's something about giving your heart to an animal. You can't really explain how bad it hurts to lose a beloved pet, but even though it will happen again and again, I would not forgo the joy of their love to escape all the pain of their departure.

Orange cats have a special love and joy! Our little Pig is an orange cat. We found him in our backyard and fed him from a bottle.

Tim said...

Aghaveagh, there aren't words to describe how much your comment means to us as both our homes experienced loss this week. And your timing could not have been more flawless. Although Walt and I have come and gone during the week, tonight was the first time since Fee's homegoing that we've come back into our house together. Not seeing him sitting in the hall waiting for us was hard for me.

I know you and Da are going through similar experiences with Grendel's memories and I pray we all will treasure the sweetness wound into these poignant moments.

Your encouragement for us to bring new life and love into our home is well taken. We plan to look for two kittens needing our love and care this weekend; we need their love and care as well, and we know that Fee would be pleased to know we were not left alone.

Please give Pig a kiss and hug for us. You're so right--orange cats are a breed apart and knowing he's there to help ease the sorrow of Grendel's departure gives us great solace. How fortunate little Pig is that you found him, and how fortunate that he found you.

Be blessed,
Tim & Walt

Annette said...


Know that I adore you and Walt, and that you are in my thoughts and prayers. My little dachshund chose me - I understand the bond that then forms.

Love you!


Tim said...

Annette, my love--always glad when you're around, particularly at moments like this. Having seen the way Fee ran our house, you know what a blow it was for us. But we're coming around, thanks to all the love we've experienced from every corner of the world. Your being part of that is so very important to us and we knew you were praying and thinking of us all along, because that's what friends do!