In 2000 my husband found out he had a recurrence of prostate cancer which came back with a vengeance. At the time we had a domestic shorthair who had been born from a feral cat under the house of my co-worker. The day my little kitten came to my office was the same day we logged a very successful well, the Riley Trust 4, hence her name Riley. Riley was one of those cats who came running to me when I walked in the door, wanted two seconds of love, then out the door she went. At about 10 o’clock every evening, I would open the front door and holler “Riley” and she would come running down from out of the top of my neighbors tree. She would be in for the night, and the next day until I got home from work. She might jump on the foot of the bed and sleep or maybe on top of the T.V. cabinet. In the morning she would jump up on the table and want two more seconds of attention when I was reading the paper. She would tolerate me picking her up when I needed her attention, but not for long before she was wiggling to get down. Never would she lay beside me on the couch or in the chair, that was just too close. When Hal and I married in 1999, she became his cat and was terribly devoted to him. Funny, because he was a lifetime cat hater. But every night she preferred sitting snug between his leg and the arm of his recliner with his hand rubbing her head…for hours.
During Chemo treatment, Hals immune system was really compromised and the Dr. said the cat should not be getting up on the bed with Hal. So, I bought a cat tower with a nice big box which turned out to be a few inches higher than the bed. As I put Riley in the box the first time, I told her ” you know Hal is sick and you need to not get on the bed any more and just visit him from this box. From that day forward, she never got on the bed and slept in the box or just hung out in the box, awake, just being near Hal.
Eventually, Hal’s health declined to a point where we were under Hospice care and I had moved him into a hospital bed in our family room. When I moved Hal into the family room, Riley retreated to the very back of our bedroom closet. She came out to eat and to use the litterbox. I had my hands full at the time taking care of Hal and I just had to let Riley do what she needed to do.
A few days after we moved Hal, I had a conversation with our Hospice nurse about the end of his life and how I did much better knowing exactly what to expect. She said ” if you want to know when the end is near, you pay attention to that cat (Riley had appeared to eat). Cats are very highly evolved spiritual animals.” She did not know of the details between the cat and Hal, so I thought her comment was a little weird. I know now, she dealt daily with death, spirituality, and those seconds of from here to there. Over the next few days Hal got worse, my sister and her husband moved in with me, they cooked and made me eat, they sat by Hal while I slept a few hours. Hal had started this crazy pattern of sleeping for about 20 minutes, then waking and having the feeling of falling. He would wake up and say in an almost comical cadance “Falling, Falling,” and then we would rush to his side to hold him and then he would drift back off to sleep for another 20 minutes.
Then he just slept. I knew the change meant something. It was Monday night about 11:30 pm, my sister was cooking and making me eat again. When you are doing what we were doing, the time of day has no meaning. All of the sudden Riley came trotting out of the bedroom. She jumped up on the back of the hospital bed frame, put her front paws on the mattress and turned her head to look into Hal’s face. She hesitated for a few seconds, then jumped down and ran back to the bedroom closet. All of us watched this in amazed silence. My sister spoke and said “she just told him goodby”. Hal passed away a few hours later.
In the days following Riley tinkled on everything in the house. In 6 years, she had never ever tinkled outside of the litter box. She was mad, and depressed and trying to rid the house of what was left of Hals essence. Nothing I could do would ease her grief. I contacted a nearby animal shelter, told them the story and that Riley needed a new home. I took Riley over to the shelter that afternoon. Devastating for me, but the best for Riley. The next morning an older couple visited the shelter looking for a new cat. They saw Riley, fell in love with her, heard the story and took her home.