Friends at the End

Fawn and Kublai curled up on my bed.
Fawn and Kublai curled up on my bed.

In early 1996, just about 18 years ago this month, it became clear that Kublai wasn’t recovering through strictly medical means from the mystery illness that had been causing him to slowly waste away beginning the previous summer. My veterinarian had tried everything she knew that could possibly treat the vague symptoms of spiking fever, lethargy and odd neurological issues. On consultation with other veterinarians their advice and treatments had been the same as hers. All his organs had been checked, he’d been X-rayed and scanned and blood drawn and tested for every known disease and condition, and no one could put the clues together.

To say I felt helpless is an understatement. I had been careful with their diets, had at one point cooked their food and fed them homemade raw diets until learning about additives in conventionally grown meats that we know of today, found high-quality canned foods as well and gave them filtered water. I gardened by only organic methods and used no chemicals in cleaning my house. Nothing in his environment could point to any more clues. He still seemed generally well and was in very good condition—one veterinarian had guessed his age at about eight when he was actually 14—and he just seemed too young to be nearing death. I had only lost one other cat and was out of ideas myself and frightened of what was to come.

A friend had recently had a cat who was very ill and had told me about a consultation with an animal intuitive that had been very informative, and I knew this was my next step. At some point I will return to the actual reading and other readings I’ve had through the years, but I will say that the medical, social and spiritual advice the woman gave me was pivotal for Kublai and me and my household. Though he did not survive the condition—likely through my inexperience in working with integrative medicine, really, at the time, who had heard of it?— since then I’ve used what I learned and what I’ve built from that beginning.

Caught together, it seems Kublai's latest treatment is finished.
Caught together, it seems Kublai’s latest treatment is finished.

I do believe people have an ability to communicate beyond the current time and place and with other species, and I implicitly trusted the woman who’d referred me to her, so I had faith in the process when we talked, but I still wanted some concrete sign, some fact that no one could possibly know but me.

One of the first things she said to me after she said she’d connected with him was that there was a very strong sense of a brown cat near him, and he was very comforted by that cat’s presence. I wasn’t sure what she meant by brown, but I had noticed that one of the cats had been persistently cuddling with Kublai, and cuddling with Kublai was unusual for anyone except Sally because he was the boss cat, let alone…Fawn? Fawn was not a cuddly kitty, and her solicitude with Kublai, and his apparent approval of it, had surprised me from even the time before I began noticing symptoms in Kublai. Was she brown? Well, as a tortoiseshell tabby or tortie, from many angles she looked brown.

“What does this cat do for him?” I asked. “She gives him energy,” the woman responded. I asked if there were any other cats who did this for him thinking of Sally who’d always been his cuddle buddy. “There’s a white cat he thinks of and he likes to be with her, but her energy is just too much for him right now.”

Kublai and Sally often slept like this; the reference photo for "Awakening".
Kublai and Sally often slept like this; the reference photo for “Awakening”.

I laughed at that—Sally was a whirlwind—but she had answered two questions: Sally and Kublai weren’t cuddling anymore and this could be why, and Fawn wasn’t just cuddling with Kublai, there was another purpose. For one thing, Kublai was leaving my side where he’d been all his life to sleep alone on the bed. And I had seen Fawn’s vigilant expression as she quietly laid with him, always partially enveloping him, even just an arm over his back, purring loudly while he slept, and she would not be distracted from her duty. I joked with myself that she was recharging him. She really was. And Sally kept her distance aside from brief encounters knowing she was giving too much.

Fawn "recharging" Kublai while he sleeps.
Fawn “recharging” Kublai while he sleeps.

Since then, nearly every time one of my cats has grown ill and is nearing their end, another of the cats has become their “escort” or caretaker, and in the case of the current feline family where they tend to partner up in twos and threes or more I see them vigilant around one of their elders. I closely watch their interactions for information I need for their condition.


So above you see just a few photos of Fawn recharging Kublai, which she did until his last few weeks when, I guess, she had too much energy for him too. As I look through my photos I’ve found others of these two as well as other cats, and in some cases the photos were too blurry or dark and I couldn’t even salvage them with clever filtering, as I did of the one at the top of Fawn and Kublai on the foot of my bed.

. . . . . . .

Stanley and Moses

Stanley and Moses were inseparable for years, but he decidedly followed Moses around in her last two months, often nudging her in a particular direction or licking her face for encouragement, always cuddling next to her when they slept. When I needed to confine her after tests or for observation, he had to be in the room with her. Below, from December 2005; Moses died in February 2006.

Stanley and Moses curled together.
Stanley and Moses curled together.

. . . . . . .

Namir and Lucy

Lucy adored Namir, and he carefully acted like a jerk of an older brother, ignoring her and giving her a smack now and then but I could always tell he was secretly pleased.

Let's play!
Let’s play!

Though Namir was ill with very serious heart disease himself, as Lucy began deteriorating from FIP he was always near which he’d never been with another cat, and the night she began having seizures he chased her around the kitchen guarding her from falling down the basement stairs or rolling off into the living room until I could contain her in the bathroom while he kept guard. Below, Lucy with her amber heart sitting quietly at the back door on June 21, 2007, Namir a respectful distance away, but vigilant. Lucy died on July 10, 2007.

Lucy quietly sits at the door; Namir stays near.
Lucy quietly sits at the door; Namir stays near.

. . . . . . .

Giuseppe and Peaches

Giuseppe fell in love with Peaches well before she began to decline from old age and renal failure, but she was always delicate and I had the feeling he was always concerned about her, and he was often curled with her or sitting near her. Below Giuseppe guards Peaches, from three days before she died.

Share the Love.
Share the Love.

All Four took care of her at the end; below, Peaches’ last night with us.

The Big Four With Peaches
The Big Four With Peaches

. . . . . . .

Cookie, Mimi and the Four

Mimi spent many mentoring sessions with Cookie in her last years and I could clearly see there was much communication between them, kept guard over Cookie in the months prior to Cookie’s passing as she joined Cookie for a nap on a rainy day, acting as if she just happened to be on the same pillow as Cookie, which was not likely.

On a Rainy Afternoon
On a Rainy Afternoon

Then in Cookie’s last weeks Mimi had given over to the Four as they each took a side of the cabinet when a weakened Cookie decided to get up there for a drink of water.

Everyone keeps an eye on Cookie.
Everyone keeps an eye on Cookie.

. . . . . . .

Mimi and Kelly

Mimi did her best to stay with Kelly in her last two months, though Kelly wasn’t entirely comfortable with that.

two cats looking out window
Mimi and Kelly take the morning shift at neighborhood watch.

. . . . . . .

Emeraude and Bean

And we all watched Bean move in with Emeraude, then the other two boys as well.

two black cats
Bean and Emeraude

. . . . . . .

This article was in part inspired by a TED Talk I listened to today concerning an experiment using robots to keep company with elderly people showing they responded well to a voice and presence that seemed to respond to them, but saying that those who are near the ends of their lives deserve to have a real person to hold their hand and listen and provide real company. At the very beginning the robot makes a noise that sounds very much like a young cat, which made Giuseppe run to the kitchen where it was on the radio and I followed him, then listened to the story while he relaxed in the warm kitchen. Sometimes things do happen for a reason. Sometimes animals know far better than we do.

. . . . . . .

Read more articles and essays about pet loss and also visit my series “Pet Loss in the First Person”.


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4 thoughts on “Friends at the End

  • Pingback:The Creative Cat - Wordless Wednesday, From the Archives: The Garden Party, 2009

  • March 2, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    Beautifully written as always, Bernadette. I’ve seen this same thing with my gang time and again….Phoebe, micro-manager that she is, had everybody doing caretaking shifts with Topaz his last few months. And Moonlight spent much time with Dawnie, even though they hadn’t known each other for very long. A transfer of the Aby reins of power, I think.

    • March 3, 2014 at 10:14 am

      Tammy, it’s really interesting which ones partner with each other too. It’s really wonderful to see this because, at the end, there are times we just have to leave the house now and then and it’s horrible to think of them being alone, but they are not.

  • Pingback:The Creative Cat - Vintage Photo: Snow Cat, 1996

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