Monday, November 2, 2015

In Memory of a Very Special Family Feline

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

My mother's last cat - of many, many cats throughout her life - was named Octavio Paws. Yes, you read correctly. This black cat was named after Octavio Paz, the Nobel-prize-winning Mexican poet.

Octavio Paws entered our mother's life while she was still living in her own home and while she also still had a dog. The dog and cat became good friends, and Paws and Ginger and Mary would settle in together on the couch in the evenings and on cold winter nights, keeping each other company. Paws enjoyed wandering in the garden and beyond, through the small town in Southwestern Wisconsin where they all lived together. 

Paws and Ginger were very solicitous of Mary, and gave her extra attention and love and comfort when she was ill and when she was laid up with a bad leg. They were mainstays in her life, providing emotional and spiritual support to her as she aged.

And then one day, Mary had to leave her home and move into an apartment in elderly housing in Madison. A new home was found for Ginger, but Paws was able to come along to the new home.

Paws spent the first 24 hours or more in his new, and much smaller, abode yowling. He was not happy.

But with time, Paws adjusted to being an indoor cat. He settled in. And over the years, as our mother's health and mental status declined, the importance of Paws in her life grew. The two had very real conversations together. Paws was our mother's confidante, her go-to "person" for questions both large and small - especially in the middle of the night, and he was her constant companion. They discussed what to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and all the other details of daily living, as well as the more profound philosophical questions of life and death and aging and everything else.

This was not, I assure you, an abrupt change for our mother - and no one in the family batted an eyelash. Every cat and dog that lived with my mother held an important place in her heart and in her life. She talked to all of them as equals. They were part of her life and her family.

As our mother aged, I worried. What would happen if Paws died before she did? I couldn't bear the thought.

But it didn't happen that way. Our mother died in her bed at night, and Paws was found curled up beside her in the morning.

At first, my brothers and I didn't know what to do with Paws. A friend, who had cared for Paws when Mary had been in the hospital,was a likely person.

But then my teenage nephew arrived for the memorial service, and in no uncertain terms he told his parents that they were taking Paws back to New Hampshire to live with them.

And bless them, they did.

Paws lived out his years in the country, learning again to be an outdoor cat but to come in at night when the coyotes might be out. He stayed close to home, but loved to wander near by, and he came in when called.

More than once reports from my brother sounded as though Paws' life was coming to a close. But this little black cat kept on going and going.

He kept going until two nights ago when that familiar yowl was unexpectedly heard, the yowl that also meant, "I've brought you something to see," after catching a mouse or other small animal.

But this was Paws' last time to yowl. Soon after, held by my brother and sister-in-law and nephew, Octavio Paws breathed his last breathe and went to join his mother in the place where cats and their owners meet again.

Paws will never be forgotten. He will be remembered for his yowl, and he will be remembered for being a people-loving cat. He will be remembered for his gentle spirit. He will be remembered for accompanying our mother through her declining years. And he will be remembered for modeling resiliency, for adapting - after a few yowls - to all that life dealt him. He will be remembered because he was loved, so deeply and so unconditionally, by so many people, most of all, by our mother.

Thank you Paws, for being part of her life, and part of ours.

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as a Nature Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in 2005. 

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