Sunday, May 25, 2008

Death in the Family

Brrryanna D. Watson
-- my Friend, Companion, Comfort, Baby, and Schoolmaster to prepare me for Joy --
passed away last week.

Dad let me know (out of nowhere) over dinner on Friday night. When he said, "We said goodbye to Bryana," the look on his face was as if he were starting a story, and I waited for the Not Funny punchline. But he didn't continue to say "as we left her at the vet" or "and she waved back." It took a couple minutes, as he told me about how they had to make the choice to have her put down, for it to sink in. Joy said my eyes looked like something had died inside.

[As you can probably surmise, this is going to be a long one, as much therapy for me as anything else. I haven't had time to properly mourn her yet, and this is part of that. So there's no need to read on if you don't want to ... as if you ever needed to. Anyway.]

We met Bree around the beginning of school in 1992. Mom's cat had just died and we went to the animal shelter to find her a new one (we were down to just two at that time, and that just wasn't right). Dad instructed us in the car, "Now, we are here for your mother to find a cat. We are all here to help, but no one is allowed to fall in love with a cat except your mother." He then proceeded to fall in love with a long haired cat named Princess who became his office cat for many happy years.

Mom and I continued into the kitten home. I was looking along one wall of kittens (hmm, kitten ... kitten ... another kitten....) when one in the far corner I couldn't see reached her paw outside of the cage and batted me on the nose! I turned to look at her ... and was instantly smitten. She was so adorable! I asked if I could please hold her. The lady got her out of the cage and she just leaped into my arms and climbed up onto my shoulder. She began rubbing my face with hers and purring and purring like she had found a long-lost friend. They had named her "Brrryanna" because when she spoke, instead of saying "Meow," she said, "Brrrow?"

Even though she was only 9 months old herself at that point, she had already had a litter of kittens. She had been living on the street when the shelter found her. Years later, an x-ray found that a BB pellet had been shot into her during that time too. I always liked the image of having saved some poor young woman from a really bad situation (Cosette or her mother from Les Mis?) and given her the home and a chance to be loved she had always deserved.

Mom and Dad discussed it with me. They agreed I could have her on condition that I take care of her and pay for everything. I asked them some questions about how much cat food and vet trips cost. I didn't make anything like that. I sadly concluded that I couldn't have her. We went home.

I continued being sad for the next couple weeks, when I came home from school to discover Brrryana there waiting for me. Mom told me, "She is my cat. She will sleep in your room and you will take care of her, but we will pay for it." My best guess is that my parents decided that since I was mature enough to know I couldn't take care of her, I was finally ready to.

Oh, I loved little Bree! She and I would lay on the floor while I did my homework, with her sometimes batting at my pen to get my attention. She loved to chase balled up pieces of paper around the room. She always climbed up onto my shoulder, where she could perch like a parrot, and purr happily, sometimes rubbing my face, sometimes licking my hair (as in the picture).

There was just one problem, really. She never did learn how to use a litter box. She particularly liked school papers. Once when I told my teacher I couldn't turn in an assignment because my cat had peed on it, everyone laughed and said what a bad liar I was. So I brought it in the next day in a plastic baggie and said she could still have it if she wanted. Some few groused that I had probably left it in her box, but I was generally believed after that. She did end up teaching me not to leave anything important on the floor that way, though. She also taught me to make my bed and put a plastic sheet over it to protect that too.

Mom and Dad cared for her for six years while I was at BYU or on my mission in Germany. Once on my mission, I sent her a old sock I had worn out. Mom and Dad pulled it out, wondering what that was for and tossed it on the ground. Bree came right up to it, rubbed her face up against, purring happily and batted it around. Every morning for months Mom would come downstairs to find it in a new place because Bree had been playing with it during the night. She remembered her daddy.

When I moved out here to Ithaca, I finally managed to get an apartment that would allow pets and took full ownership of my little girl. Dad and I drove out here from California, with her slightly drugged. She was a perfect little angel on the trip, staying put in her litterbox most of the trip until we stopped for the night, when she would get out of her box, join us in the hotel room, and use her box in the bathroom. She never tried to escape. You could leave doors and windows wide open and she would never leave.

She really changed a lot in Ithaca. She had always been the kind of cat that would sit on the back of the couch all day, eat and drink, and that's about it. In Ithaca, she came alive. She learned to speak a great deal. One of her favorite activities was to look out the window at the squirrels. She followed me back and forth in our small apartment whenever I paced. She slept with me, laying close up to my chest with her head resting on my hand. She was a good part of the glue that held me together through a few very difficult years until I met Joy. She also got sick a lot, so I would walk with her on my shoulder for an hour to get to the vet to have them tell me they still didn't know what was wrong with her.

Bree happily accepted Joy when she came around, willing to rub against her shoe or sit in her lap when Joy let her, but also willing to give Joy her space. Joy was touched by that. But as our courtship got more and more serious, Bree became a more difficult problem. Joy couldn't stand the thought of living in the same house with an animal that sheds, let alone one with Bree's bathroom problems -- we didn't know Joy was allergic to cats at that time, but she often said she wished she were so she had an excuse for her aversion to them.

I brought Bree home with me to California the Christmas that I proposed to Joy (who was also staying with us). Again, she was a perfectly well-behaved puss on the plane [and no, she wasn't in my luggage]. While there, I made the difficult (heartbreaking) decision to leave Bree with Mom and Dad so Joy could feel comfortable in our home together.

It was the right thing to do, particularly in light of what we know now about Joy's allergies. I got to visit Bree once or twice a year when I came home, and though she had calmed back down to a tired, noisy old cat, she remembered me. By the time she turned 15, she was too old to really climb up onto my shoulder anymore, but if I put her there, she would purr contentedly. Last Christmas she couldn't even manage to hold her balance on me anymore. I just sat with her in the upstairs bathroom to talk to her, pet her, and let her walk around me and mew (then change my clothes and wash up for Joy).

When she went downhill, she went down fast. Mom and Dad got real concerned about her and got her in to the vet immediately. Since her last visit, she had contracted diabetes and her kidneys had failed, so she was seriously dehydrated, and had an infection. There was no way to cure it all, particularly the kidney failure. I know that putting her down had to have been the right decision.

Every time I went home, I knew it could be the last time I would ever see my beloved cat. So every time we left I said a tearful goodbye. Even so, my real regret is that I wasn't there when she was put down. I wanted to be there for her, to let her know she wasn't alone, that I loved her so much even though we had to be apart. I should have been there, I keep feeling, even though it probably makes no real difference. I try to tell myself that's impractical, even if I had been let in on it before it happened: no time, no money. But even though I was hurrying to get my dissertation draft done, I could have kept working on it on the plane and been back in time to meet with my committee. And even though we really don't have much money left over after Hyrum's birth and the mobile home we just bought, I did get a free ticket on my last flight that I was going to use for Joy to visit her family at Thanksgiving that I could have (selfishly) used to be there for Bree.

Dad tells me that she felt loved and purred a bit when she brought her in, so she wasn't alone. I know they've taken very good care of her, given her (as Dad put it) a good retirement. I'm really so very thankful for all they've done, paid for, and particularly put up with! on her/my behalf for some 13 of her 16 years. Mom posted a very nice blog (after I was told) with memories from the other family members about Bree.

I am comforted in knowing that, in one strange sense, it was the right time for her to go. When I was a teenager and then a YSA, her constant love was a sign of hope that someone from outside the family could choose to love me. She had always completely accepted me and taken me in from the first, and I was able to love her too, faults and all. After I met and grew to love Joy, I referred to her more often as my baby. I learned to be gentle, and to give appropriate, loving discipline. And now we have a real baby. My baby.

Hyrum doesn't perch very well on my shoulders. He hasn't learned to purr, and "Brrrow" is a little beyond him too. He doesn't much care for it when I scratch behind his ears. But he feels so right in my arms and will be fun to hug. His smile is just as expressive and as freely given, and someday he'll even learn to talk! And he loves being bounced, which Bree would never have put up with. It's a good trade, and always was. But I will miss her.

There is one other grand comfort, from the "sealed portion" of the scriptures. In the Bible Dictionary under the entry for the Revelation of John, it records among the doctrinal points in that book: "Animals are resurrected from the dead, and there are animals in heaven, redeemed by the blood of Christ (Rev. 5: 11-14; D&C 77: 3, HC 5: 343)." God willing, we'll be together again. And our grand hope is that, in the resurrection, Joy's perfected body won't be allergic to cats anymore, and she can rejoin our family forever. Another reason to be thankful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ!


Ally said...

So sorry to hear about Bryana, Derrill. It sounds like you all gave her a wonderful, wonderful life.

Jen L said...

Derrill, I'm sorry about your cat! It's amazing how hard it is losing a pet (even when you no longer live with them!!). Thanks for the post, especially the part at the end... it's a good reminder.

Grandma Jule said...

Do not regret not coming to be with her, Derrill. There wasn't time. If you had been able to board a plane 5 minutes after I first became worried about her, and it had been a direct flight with no stops, you couldn't have gotten here in time. Trust me. The only way you could have spent her last hours with her would be to have had her living with you, and that wasn't possible.

Rejoice in the love you shared, and take comfort from the knowledge that love is eternal.

Derrill said...

It's very nice to know that I physically couldn't have gotten there in time. That makes a difference. Thanks, Mom.