Requies-cat in Patchy

A friend of mine crossed over the Rainbow Bridge a few weeks ago. More than a friend. For more than five years, he was my brother-in-law. For at least thirteen he was my skittish orange pal and son of my future father-in-law. I’m talking about Patch the Cat, a beloved fixture at my in-laws’ home, now christened Vacation Cottage in honor of my son’s many visits, a singular slinking blur of nervousness and distant warmth that nonetheless captured our hearts with his unique affections, affectations, and antics. And he will be missed.

I first met Mr. Patch when Nancy and I started dating and her own cat, ‘Saki, was still living with him. ‘Saki and Patch never truly hit it off, the circumstances of why were never wholly clear (neither would come clean), and periodically Patch would feel the need to offer ‘Saki “rapid fire”, a series of quick paw slaps to her face to snap her back in line. The cause of these disciplinary actions is hard to determine but, having housed ‘Saki myself for several years, I have no doubt his corrective measures were justified.

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Patch as a young kitten

While living with my future in-laws for several years, I had several dreams of Patch dressed up as historical or literary characters; I can’t explain why. They were often vivid and humorous, and they featured Mr. Patch in signature attire. There was The House at Patch Corner, featuring him as Winnie-the Pooh. Adolf Patchler, with him jack stepping about with a little Hitler mustache and riding crop. He and ‘Saki as Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle from My Fair ‘Saki, both dressed up in Edwardian finery. And my favorite, Amelia Patchhart aka Earhart, where Patch flew over my head, saluted me with his paw and gave me a hearty, “meow” as he/she flew bravely into history and mystery. Again, no rational reason for these dreams, but good memories all.

Out of dreamland, but still somehow in the realm of fantasy, Mr. Patch, who never really lost his manly appetites despite having lost the corresponding anatomy, had a beloved black and white wool checked sweater named Lolita that he would “get busy with” by gripping her with his teeth, dragging her about the house, and vigorously twitching his tail and hindquarters in a seemingly trancelike motion. He would do this frequently, sometimes at inopportune moments, such as if guest were over, and always with the greatest of fascination from all who observed it. My favorite memory here – and I’m not making this up – was once when I decided to follow him with her as he dragged her up upstairs between his legs and into his bedroom. As I watched, transfixed, he turned around once he was in the bedroom with her still gripped in his teeth, put his head down and to the door, and closed the door on me as I watched from the hallway. They were to have privacy that day and voyeurs were not wanted! What a cat! He will be missed.

He loved chocolate pudding, he loved having his hair combed, he had been trained to shake hands, and he showed affection by doing that rubbing motion that cats do, but from several feet away. He didn’t like to be held, except by his daddy, Wron, my father-in-law, and he had learned out of love to say his name, sitting sometimes for hours by the door croaking out, “Rooon. Rooon,” when his human had to go to work. While both were home, he was almost always at Wron’s side, or in view, or “on guard” in case Wron did something exciting, needed assistance, or was ready with his prescribed Whiskas Temptations, which were doled out with loving clockwork precision. There was never any doubt whose cat he really was. He had come into the family as Mary Anne’s cat, but his heart belonged to Daddy.

Mr. Patch was nearly seventeen and in ill health when he made the last trip to the vet from which he didn’t return. Shortly before his death, he began to warm to Bup, allowing him to pet and hug his frail frame before doddering off to hide in his cat bed and get some much needed sleep. Bup was thrilled by this, loved Patch as much as his own brothers and sisters, and referred to Patchy as his cat in the same breath with ‘Seyde and Duke and Shadow. I’m so glad that Bup, at the end, was to find a loving relationship with this little soul who is as much a part of my memories of Nancy’s household from the very beginning. We all loved Patchy dearly, and he was as much of an idiosyncratic fixture in that household as any human could be. After all, when you spend seventeen years of your life with someone (frequently less), they all too easily go from being a pet to being family. And Patch, my friend, my brother-in-law, my dream weaver, was just that. And he will be missed.

Patchy, may you find peace at the other end of the Rainbow Bridge, dear soul.

Until we meet again,

RIP,

Jason

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Senior Mr. Patch in one of his favorite haunts

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Saying Goodbye

To those of you who didn’t know her and don’t know (and that’s most of you) The Nix – our ten-year old female Manx cat – died a few weeks ago. She was suffering from a resurgence of bladder stones, a condition that had developed a year ago and been resolved with surgery. But the stones grew back, in large part due to our inability to correct her diet due to its cost. And before I could get her back in for surgery again, a relapse of some sort occurred. She died in the car racing to the mobile veterinary unit where the surgery scheduled for a few hours later would have once again saved her life.

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Posing atop her beloved water tank

It’s a terrible burden to bear feeling partially responsible for the death of a loved one. I’ve borne it before over the death of my own father, believing that I should have done more to combat his addiction to smoking. It took years for me to reconcile emotionally with the simple phrase, “Never overestimate your ability to change others. Never underestimate your ability to change yourself.” I ultimately made peace with his death, and after a time I’m sure I’ll make peace with hers, too. But right now the wounds are fresh, the mistakes were honest, and the guilt is real.

For what it’s worth, the choices made that led to her passing were all made based on cost. We had spent over $1500 to have the initial stones removed. After that surgery, we were told she would have to live on a special diet for the rest of her life that was also expensive and way above our budget. I dragged my feet for a year, hoping the stones wouldn’t resurface, but they did. The veterinarian identified the stones in December, but didn’t feel they were life-threatening. We were given the option of electing for surgery or trying to shrink them with a one month new diet of special food. If the stones hadn’t shrunk by late January, we were prepared for the surgery. The Nix hated the new food and regularly raided the other cat’s dishes in the cover of darkness, which only aggravated her condition. When, two nights before her death, it became evident that something was definitely wrong beyond the norm, I called and arranged for the surgery, but didn’t race her there after hours, trying to avoid emergency fees. It was this final financial decision that was too much to endure for The Nix. She lay moaning under our Christmas tree with me by her side until 3 AM assuring her that she would have surgery in the morning. I went to bed and got up again at 7 AM, and she was nearing her death. I laid her in a towel and placed her on our bed, begged her to hang on, and grabbed a shower, since the vet didn’t open until 9 AM. By the time I returned to her, she was either going or gone, and the car chase to the vet seemed a study in futility. I presented a corpse to an astonished vet that just kept muttering, “I don’t understand.”

I hate the fact that I believe The Nix lost her life prematurely because I couldn’t afford to do what was necessary for her health in a timely way to take care of her. I hate the fact that her life was subject to our financial bottom line. I hate that in this country we put profit over the public health and general welfare of ALL our citizens. Some would say she was just an animal; to us, she was family, and I should’ve been able to care for her properly. But when you consider that we can’t even agree in this country that all humans deserve to have health coverage without putting a sticker price on their life and worth, it gives me a small measure of teeth-grinding comfort. People lose their human family members everyday because of greed. I suppose I can bear the death of our cat, but I don’t have to like either. But back to my little girl’s life.

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Nancy and The Nix

The Nix was a member of our family from the time she was six months old. Originally christened Abby, her first family found that their older male cat was regularly abusing her and sought my Mom out as a short term refuge for their little girl until she got bigger and better able to handle herself. As is often the case, short term solutions become long term life changes, and The Nix never left our family once she joined it. When Nancy and I moved to Virginia, she was one of four cats to make the journey: Ivan, ‘Saki, Scoutie, and The Nix. Now all four are gone. The Nix was the youngest of the last six cats my mother owned, and with her passing, an era in my life has also been left behind. In a weird way, her passing also marks the passing of my adolescence, my time spent home with my mother, my less responsible days.

There are many wonderful family stories about The Nix and not enough time to share. She was a skittish bat-eared baby who used to eat on my Mom’s bathroom floor keeping one eye out for food raiders. She used to go outside regularly, climb the wooden lattice of my Mom’s back patio, and sun herself for the afternoon on the roof. She would then cling to and cry at a second story window till I let her in as the sun went down. She was sung goodnight to every evening here in Virginia, a tradition she both grudgingly tolerated and actively looked forward to. That dichotomy of expression is all cat, and she was that: all cat, complete with cattitude.

The Nix was only ten when she passed and she will never be forgotten. She was, in every sense of the word, our baby, and I cannot express how much we miss her, her empty perch, her endless front paw climbing, her gorgeous face, her dancing hind legs, her chirpy meow, her occasionally imperious demeanor. Nancy still has something of an aversion to going into the back room where The Nix spent most of her days perched upon either a cat Christmas afghan or upon the water tank, because it’s too empty. And every time she does, she still instinctively checks the perch to say hello, but no one’s there. Many dear friends contributed funds to her first round of operations that ultimately gave The Nix one extra year of life, and I can’t thank them enough for their generosity. I only wish it had been longer lived. As of this writing, The Nix has been cremated and her ashes have been returned to us. My baby girl has returned home, albeit in a different, sadder form, and has taken her place of honor on our mantle with her other siblings that have crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.

A few days ago, John Adams awoke in his bed and the subject of his cats was foremost on his mind. “I gotta see ‘Seyde and Duke” he said. “Yes,” I replied. “But not The Nix. She died,” he added quietly.  “Yes,” I said again cautiously. “She went to heaven, Daddy.” Then after a thoughtful moment he added, “Maybe someday heaven will send her back to us.” Through tears I smiled, “I think it just did.”

Rest in Peace The Nix (2006-2017)

Namaste,

Jason

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The Nix at 6 months old.

The Night My Dad Released Me

For seven years, in Philadelphia, I worked as what is known as a Barrymore Nominator.  Nominators were sent to see area theatre by the now defunct Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. If we saw something in a show that we found outstanding we were to nominate that show for further scrutiny. If enough nominators independently voted for the same things in a show the show would proceed to the next round up. That next round of judges would see the nominated shows and ultimately decide who would win the coveted Barrymore Award, Philly’s answer to the Tony Awards. All of that is totally irrelevant to my story, but it does explain why on a spring night in March of 2003 I was sitting in the audience at the Arden Theatre Co., watching a performance of Northeast Local by playwright Tom Donaghy when I got an unexpected visitation, and my life slowly started to improve.

My dad, James F. Michael, had been dead for the better part of two and a half years by the time I found myself at the Arden. He had died on September 3, 2000 from a combination of emphysema, congestive heart failure, and lung cancer. He had smoked himself to death, and despite a triple bypass at age fifty, a bout with throat cancer, and a loving family desperate to see him quit, he just didn’t have the willpower to kick a habit that was ingrained in him as a teenager. He had died at age seventy at Reading Hospital and Medical Center. My mother and I were by his side when his heart stopped for the last time. Those are the facts, but that wasn’t necessarily how I viewed the situation in 2000.

The night he crossed over my mother and I had gone to visit him in the hospital. He was alert, but weak, and a bit chatty. He told me he loved me and told the nurse that my mother was a good cook. He looked at my mother and said something to her that haunted her for years until her memory started to fade. Holding her hand he said to her, “I think I love you,” and then went on about how much he missed her cooking. He was a complicated man. My mother and I were hungry, so we told him we were going to get something to eat at the West Reading Tavern but we would be back before visiting hours ended.

While at the tavern she got a call that he had slipped into a coma and was only being kept alive by life support. I had argued with his doctors who had tried vigorously to pressure my mother into signing a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and had prevailed. They didn’t want to spend the money trying to save a man they never thought would leave the hospital again. I wanted them to spare no expense in trying to save my father’s life. I had won out, but the decision would have lasting consequences for me.

We arrived back at the hospital to the bedside of a brain dead man whose heart and lungs were still functioning if supported. We tried to gather family members to our side to say goodbye before his heart stopped, but thunderstorms had knocked out some phone lines, and I couldn’t reach my brother Jeff. The moment came for him to be removed from the machine and my mother choked. “I can’t do it,” she cried. “You have to do it,” and she refused to take further action. I was twenty-nine, and had had a loving if tumultuous relationship with him for most of our life – in many ways due to the smoking – and now it was left to me (from my point of view) to kill him.

I lay across his stomach and talked to him awhile. I held his hand, told him I loved him, and cried a lot. Finally, I nodded and the machine was shut off. I was shocked that his heart and lung functions continued for sometime thereafter. I felt the pulse in his hand get weaker, but remain steady to the end. I remarked wryly how even in death this musician’s musician knew how to keep a beat. And then it stopped. And it was over. And he was dead. And I had killed him.

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Mom, Pop, and me at the beach, circa mid-1970s

The next year was a blur of sleeping, depression, and working when necessary, but nothing more. I did shows, directed, and music directed, but couldn’t compose. He had been my musical muse. With him gone, the music inside me ceased. A year after his death – literally to the day, September 3, 2001 – I started my first day as Director of Choral Activities at La Salle College High School outside Philadelphia, now in a full-time teaching position, the kind of which he had always wanted for me. The date was creepy and poignant. I felt guided by him to the position, and I stayed in it, in his dream for my life, for three academic years. At La Salle I met two men named Dennis and Joe who introduced me to TAGP and encouraged me to apply to be a Barrymore nominator. By fall of 2002 I was one, and that leads me back to Northeast Local at the Arden.

Midway through the Second Act while sitting in the darkened theatre my father’s voice rang through my head. “I release you,” he said. I was shocked. I could hear my father clear as anything. Couldn’t anyone else hear that? “I release you,” he said again. “Don’t mourn me anymore and move on with your life.” He was louder than the actors. “Goodbye.” The voice dissipated. I sat there stunned and tingling and warm. I had thought about him every day since his death, guilt-ridden by the fact that I had been the one to “pull the plug.” I had blamed myself, I had considered suicide, I had written healing haiku, I had isolated myself from friends and family, I had stopped composing. No matter what I did I considered him while I did it. Now he had released me, come to me, given me absolution and farewell. I didn’t know what to think, but somehow, in some way I felt lighter.

The show ended (it was good, but I was preoccupied thereafter) and I strolled down 2nd St. and made a right turn onto Market St. to head back to Market East Station and an outbound train toward home in Lansdale. There was a warm breeze in the air and I strolled buoyantly almost to the point of dancing. I talked to him in the air and thanked him for coming back to release me, to let me know that I should choose my life over a preoccupation with his death. I thanked him, told him I loved him, and said goodbye again and again. I knew at that moment two and a half years after his death that my period of mourning was ending and that my healing and moving on was about to start. I was right.

He visits me every so often, but has never spoken to me since. A room will suddenly smell of his signature cigar and I’ll know he’s about. Nancy has smelled it too on occasion, so I know it’s not just me. I know my son will never get to know his grandfather the way I knew him as a son. But it’s nice to know that every so often, especially when times are really good or really bad, he will make his presence felt, fill the room with smoke, and let me know that he is watching over me, and that he loves me.

 Happy Belated Father’s Day, Dad

And I love you too,

Jason

Dad with Max and Snoopy at the Pagoda

Pop with Max and Snoopy outside the Pagoda