Cat Number Five

spottyMeet Cat Number Five a/k/a Spotty a/k/a the Damn Cat. Spotty came to live with me late in the evening on September 15; the night my mother died. He has settled in quickly and well. I thought I would need to help him with kitty grief. I thought he would need to help me with people grief. As it turns out, we’re both more relieved than sad.

We were sad when my mother’s heart broke when both of her sons and her husband died in an eleven-month period. We were sad when Mom nearly died herself from deep vein thrombosis four months after my brother Steve died. We were sad when Spotty was separated from her during her recovery until she settled into her new home at an assisted living facility.

During the three years Mom lived at assisted living, Spotty stayed by her side. Every time I visited, I brushed him. He’d attack my hand as I pet or brushed him. But I’d persist, filling the brush over and over, dropping the wads of fur into the trash. A couple of times I googled whether snowshoe kitties were more prone to shedding. They’re not. I wondered whether Spotty’s shedding was due to how warm Mom kept her apartment. Cats prefer warmth.

After Mom fell and broke her hip in May, she was totally bedridden. She went on hospice care, and in addition, I hired a wonderful caregiver, Latrice, who stayed with Mom twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Three months after Mom went on hospice care, I decided to give myself a respite at the family cabin in Canada on Lake Superior. The idea was to spend two weeks writing, resting, and grieving. The grieving with Alzheimer’s starts well before the actual death. It is a series of small deaths, which begins at diagnosis, and ends at actual death. When Mom fell and broke her hip in late May, I knew she would not be with us for years. I knew it would be months. How many months, despite repeated and obsessive googling, I did not know. So when Mom had been bedridden for three months, I allowed myself to go to the cabin to rest. And grieve.

I called Mom each morning. Latrice would put her phone on speaker and I would talk. I described Lake Superior to her: it was as still as glass engulfed in a soft mist; or it was a clear windy day, the waves crashing against the rocky shore. I’d hold the phone near the water.

“Can you hear the waves, Mom? The loons are out front, fishing for breakfast.”

I’d call Mom each evening and tell her about her chipmunks, how I was taking care of them, feeding them seeds and nuts. How one little chipmunk sat in the palm of my hand as he stuffed the nuts I held into his mouth with tiny paws, making his cheeks fat.

I told Mom about the blue sky, the white bark of the birch trees, the yearling bear that was said to be nearby, but I never saw. I told her of the resident bald eagle that flew along the shore, and how I sat one morning for at least half an hour, photographing it as it pruned its feathers as it sat perched in the top of a tall pine.

Mom never spoke during my calls, but she listened.

During the second week of my trip, Latrice told me Mom had begun eating less, refusing meals. Latrice reported that in addition to the profuse shedding, she’d found clumps of Spotty’s fur on the carpet. Mom had begun clamping her mouth shut when Latrice tried to give her medication. Latrice, a strong and calming force, was upset. I asked the hospice nurse if I should cut my trip short. She thought there was no urgency, and my plan to return that Friday should be fine. I continued calling multiple times each day; I continued my monologues to my mother, describing the place she loved so much.

I returned to Austin late Friday night, September 9. Saturday morning, September 10, I drove to Houston. Mom was sleeping comfortably, and I sat with her, holding her hand. She’d refused the chocolate cream pie I brought. She refused lunch. After I’d been there several hours, she opened her eyes, smiled, and said,

“Hi, Ella.”

As she drifted back to sleep, I didn’t know those would be the last words she spoke to me. Mom ate supper Saturday night. And lunch on Sunday. But by mid-week, she’d begun refusing food entirely. On Thursday morning, September 15, Mom took a turn. She was having difficulty breathing and the consensus was Mom had only days left. So I packed a bag and planned to stay with her and Spotty at her assisted living apartment until the end.

When I entered her apartment, Spotty lunged at me, attacking my leg. He then ran into the bathroom and hid. Mom’s throat had filled with fluid and when she breathed, it rattled. Latrice, who had been so composed and strong throughout the preceding months, took leave, saying,

“I can’t stand to watch her suffer.”

I sat with Mom throughout the afternoon. My sister came with her husband after work. My brother’s ex-wife brought me supper. The hospice and facility nurses came and went, giving Mom morphine and showing me how to use the suction machine. A dear family friend sat with me for a bit after my sister and her husband left. And then it was just Mom and me.

I pulled a sofa up next to Mom’s hospital bed and lay down next to her, holding her hand as she slept. I described the sunset to her. I promised I would take care of Spotty and he would, in turn, take care of me. As I spoke, Mom’s breathing slowed and became calmer. I was relieved the morphine was helping her to relax. I continued to hold Mom’s hand, crying quietly as I spoke to her. Mom’s breathing became softer. The rattling stopped. I watched her grimace soften; the lines on her face ease. She looked peaceful. Her breathing continued to slow. And then, it stopped.

Late that night, after the funeral home had come and taken Mom’s body to be cremated, I loaded Spotty into his carrier and into the car. I put him on the passenger’s seat and talked to him as we drove the two hours to Austin. He was quiet and slept most of the way. I’d assumed he was upset, grieving. But over the next several days he remained calm. He ingratiated himself with the four resident cats nearly immediately. Lucy, Cat Number Four, was particularly taken with him.

Spotty working up the courage to meet Lucy on Day 2
Spotty working up the courage to meet Lucy on Day 2

Whenever they got cross, Spotty would flop down onto the floor, showing the girls his belly. Within a week of moving in with us, Spotty’s shedding stopped. He hasn’t attacked my hand once in the two months he’s been here. He likes to sleep on the bed lying next to my hip. He (clearly) likes treats. He eats the girls’ leftovers. (But he’s lost half a pound!) He’s the kind of cat you trip over; the cat who follows you around, always at your feet. He nuzzles me with his wet nose when he wants pets. He awakens me in the morning, always the first one up. He is my solace. He brings me peace. And he’s a big fat lovable hunk of cat.

Cats Number One, Two, Four & Five (Cat Number Three, Sophie, still a weirdo who won’t come downstairs)
Lap Cat
Roly Poly
Out of focus, but That Face!
Living on the Edge


  • I am soooo glad you are back. Spotty has really hit the jackpot and we should all be so lucky to have someone like you with us at the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  • So sorry to hear of your loss, Ella. My mother passed this September 12, after four years in assisted living, due to Alzheimer’s. I haven’t been able to write about it yet. Like you, I expected to feel sadness, but was surprised (and a little guilty) that I felt relief. I love Spotty, it’s wonderful how animals know just how to comfort us during our darkest hours (my cat Tabby is the same, stayed very close to me during Mom’s final days). I’m so glad you were with your Mom at the end as well; I was on my way but hadn’t made it to the hospice facility when she passed.


    • Oh, Maggy. I am so sorry for your loss. It has been a long, painful road. I completely relate to the difficultly in writing about it. In fact, I’d planned to just write about the Damn Cat. I figured I might be able to get through that much. Thank you for telling me you too felt relief. The guilt keeps cropping up and I keep wondering why I’m so okay. We loved our mothers and we’re glad they are at peace. That is pure love. Nothing to feel guilty about. And thank goodness for cats.


      • Of course you KNOW that there is no reason to feel guilty because it WAS a relief for your mother, too. It would not do to dance with joy – but relief is nothing to feel guilty about. Now to teach that message to your heart!


  • My condolences for your mother. I would have liked to have a daughter like you. Your mother was fortunate in that respect.

    As for the cats. Well, five or four, what’s the difference?


  • I’m sorry to hear of your loss. I’m glad you could be there; I wasn’t able to be there for either of my parents, and, yes, relief is normal. It’s the one thing I tell all my friends who are dealing with the approaching death of a parent: you will feel relief, it’s normal, don’t feel guilty about it. Relief is for them, for their freedom from suffering, and for you, because you have gone through something hard and irrevocable and you’ve survived.
    Interestingly it was my mother’s personal care worker who was also more devastated by my mum’s death than any of her children; maybe it is a coping mechanism for those in this valuable and undervalued work. Grieve hard, then move on, because there will be another person, another death, before too long? Whereas for the children we have the luxury of longer and more contemplative grief.
    I am also very glad that Spotty has settled in so well. Lucky cat, to have you and all your other cats as his new family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for helping to “normalize” the feeling of relief. I don’t think I’ve gotten to the “loss” part yet, the feeling of relief was so overwhelming. It was a long, painful three years. I am glad she’s free. I don’t know how the care workers do it. They are such special people.

      I promised my mom I would take extra special care of Spotty, and that he’d be okay with a house full of girl cats. I think having a male cat around has changed the dynamic for the better.


      • And the loss part may never happen, or not be very significant. My mother had deteriorated slowly but steadily over the last couple of years before her death, so I had already mourned the loss of the person she had been. I too was just glad she was free. With my dad, he went rapidly, and was mentally alert until almost the end – and so I miss my conversations with him. I’m glad he died quickly – it was what he wanted – but I’ve certainly missed him much more. But overall – it’s been ok. They were both very old, and death is a natural part of life.


        • You might be right about the loss part not happening, Marian. I miss my conversations with Mom. She didn’t talk much in the last year of her life, but she listened. I keep going to pick up the phone to call her and tell her about something Spotty did, until reality catches up with me. Death is a natural part of life. And the loss is much less difficult to cope with when those lives are long and well-lived.

          Liked by 1 person

  • I’ve missed your writing and am sorry to hear about your mother’s death. You’ve gone down that tough road – reading your posts brought back to me the memory of how stressful it was keeping my mother comfortable. I was also with my mom when she took her last breath. It sounds like your mom went peacefully and I’m glad you were close to her as she passed.
    How beautiful that you new kitty is that connection to your mom’s love. It’s so touching that I was teary reading this. Glad you’re back writing. Hoping your grief will ease as you adjust to this dramatic change in your life. I remember well how hard it was to go from worry and caregiving to complete freedom from it. It’s a relief, but also a big change.


    • Oh, Judy. It was stressful. I didn’t realize how much so until afterward. But it was such an honor to be there with Mom at the end. She had a few difficult hours, but then she calmed down and seemed at peace.
      I love Spotty. He is such a neat cat. He’s getting an immune booster by dropper twice a day, and just opens his mouth with no prompting or fuss when I put the dropper in front of him. I’ve never seen anything like it.
      It is a big change. I feel a bit unmoored.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for taking the time to reply. I understand because my situation was similar. It has been about three years now. The PSTD I experienced was tough. The unpleasant images of both my parents dying with me was very haunting. Going from being their caregiver to creating a new life held challenges, but I’ve learned to cherish my freedom. I feel their love and have been slowly healing. You are on that new pathway. It will get better for you. Spotty is your healing angel.


        • PTSD. Yes, that’s it. Three years is not very long. I’m noticing the feeling of freedom, and am not quite sure what to do with it. I’m trying to not do anything drastic, but the desire to quit my job and turn my life upside down is huge. Spotty is a very good cat.

          Liked by 2 people

  • I am sorry to hear about the loss, but we both know – it was long anticipated. So when I read “Cat no. 5” I knew it was indicating that finally death had come. It was inevitable and your mother seemed rather decided. Quite the same as my grandmother, who at her 85th birthday told me: “Well, this is enough.” She did not live to 86. Had a stroke, was unable to communicate with the outside and had made an advance directive for that case, not to be fed artificially. She died over 10 long days after that. I was not as devastated as I thought I would be, either. But then we all could prepare for this. I think it was the same with you – you could prepare for your loss.

    I am not a shrink, but I think those stages of grief started already before your mother’s death. Or maybe with age and experience of death of loved ones one just gets more used to it.

    The only question I have – why didn’t your sister sit on the other side of your mother and wait it out with you?


    • You’re right, Fran, the grieving started well before Mom died. I think it began when she was diagnosed. I could write an entire post on how losing someone to end-stage Alzheimer’s is a different kind of loss. A different kind of grief process. I’m relieved she’s free. And I’m relieved that the constant stress of losing her, inch by inch, stopped.

      Why does my sister do any of the things she does? She didn’t go to the ash scattering the day after the service, either. Apparently she had diarrhea. I’m relieved I don’t have to interact with her and her husband any more. Another post that needs writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Damn Cat looks set fair in his new home – delighted he’s settled so well. He’s a great big ball of cat. Very sad to hear of your Mother’s passing. She’d had quite enough I’m sure. Great that you were there are the end.


    • Damn Cat is such a fine fellow. A 17-pound lap cat. He’s been doing a lot of running around after the girls (or being chased by the girls), and seems to be having a grand time.

      Yes, Mom seemed resolute that she was done. I’m glad she got to have one last vicarious trip to her cabin, one last visit with the chipmunks, before she went. And I am so grateful I was holding her hand.


  • I was missing you, Ella. And when I saw the photo of your mother’s cat I understood time had come for her to rest in peace. I am so sad and sorry for your loss, and I would like to find the right words, but I can only save a pray for your mother and you!
    My deepest condolences.


    • Thank you, Sid. I was missing all of you. I hadn’t intended to write about my mother. I didn’t think I could do it yet. But when I started writing about her cat, I found my way there sideways. He is a fine fellow, and we are grateful for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t write about your mother, keep her in your heart with all the beautiful things she did in her life! A piece of your mother is in this fluffy cuddly fellow ❤
        Big hug!

        Liked by 1 person

  • Sorry to read about your mother’s passing and your loss. You have such great friends with the cats!


  • I’m sending my condolences; I don’t know how I will deal with the inevitable with my own mother, but your words have given me the strength I will need. I’m glad you’ve found comfort with Spotty.


  • Number Five is a very handsome fellow. And, a Snowshoe, lucky you.

    The relief you speak of when your mom passed away is much like when my mom passed away earlier this year. In my mom, you could see her slowing down more and more over the course of time. I was glad there was no disease process or mental impairment that was robbing her remaining days. So, when she did pass, there was a relief. Most surprisingly has been how well my dad has handled her passing. Of course, there is the shock of the event but other than that, he has handled it well. For myself, the harder part was losing Egypt and Tuxie over the summer; losing them was not expected at all. As they say, there are no rules to the grief process.

    Be well.


    • Spotty is so handsome. And quite a gentleman with the other kitties. Except when he’s hungry. Currently, he is napping on his favorite armchair, snoring noisily.

      I’m glad to hear your dad has handled your mother’s passing okay. I am sad to hear about your kitties. I don’t recall reading of your losses at the time and send belated, heartfelt condolences. My troupe of five are hanging in there. Sadie is doing much better with the daily subcutaneous fluids and has put on quite a bit of weight. She looks and behaves like her old self most days. Sally, on the other hand, has pancreatitis and has lost a lot of weight. The prednisone injections aren’t helping over the long term and I’m having trouble getting weight back on her. But she seems comfortable and so we keep doing our best. Right now, she’s mad at me because I gave her an anti-nausea pill, cerenia. Sophie, the former stray, is much happier after having multiple teeth extracted, including three canines. No wonder she was so temperamental. And then there’s Lucy, the gray and white kitty from the Buddhist temple. She’s a little nut. I adore her. And she loves to play with Spotty.

      And so here I am, slowly easing back into the blog by answering comments with a focus on the kitties. A safe reentry.

      Thank you, David.


  • I’m so sorry for your loss, about which you write so poignantly. And it’s wonderful that your mom left you a beautiful gift of even more kitty love. I’ve thought about you often over the last few months…sending love and light your way. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, D2Mama. Mom’s kitty is a great comfort. And he’s a large cat, so even more kitty love. Losing both parents is an odd feeling. Even at fifty-three. I’m now trying to figure out who I want to be. And where.


  • I’m so sorry to hear about your mum’s passing. In hindsight I think my mum also made the choice that it was time and she was ready to go to a more peaceful place than where she was. My thoughts are with you, I hope you’re doing well. Spotty looks like a real sweetie! Hugs x


    • Thank you, tiredoftreadingwater. I expect my mom would have gone sooner if she could have figured out a way to make it happen. She had suffered a lot of loss over the past few years. I’m glad she stuck around a bit so I could spend time with her. And now I’ve got this big ol’ hunk of cat. He’s a lover.

      Liked by 1 person

  • That face. Lovable hunk indeed. He is joy and peace.
    Wrapping up the holidays with a little bit:
    Waiting for sunset on Christmas Eve is like standing toes-over-the-edge on a high diving board.
    Every year we’d cruise casually by the window to keep an eye on the sun’s progress until it was officially evening.
    Then the shout “Christmas Eve Gift!” would ring out.
    You see, the traditions says that the first person to voice that phrase on Christmas Eve to another would be graced with good fortune and joy all the next year.
    (And of course, whomever was first won. Everything was a contest…)
    It’s more difficult to be first now with caller ID.
    As all those who have become my friends in blogland are spread widely across time zones, I’d like to wish you all “Christmas Eve Gift” now.
    And as I already feel so fortunate to have such wonderful readers and writers in this neighborhood, I wish to share any phrase acquired good fortune and joy with you in thanks.
    No matter where you are or what you are guided by, hope you have a very merry Christmas and a new year full of adventure and joy.
    Peace on earth and goodwill towards all creatures great and small.


  • Ella, I don’t actively follow a whole bunch of people on any form of social media. But I have actively checked your blog for updates these last months, and figured that you would be going through a not-so-easy patch. A big hug to you and Spotty.


    • Spotty is doing well. He adores having other cats to keep him company. And to play chase with. He also likes watching the birds and squirrels out the window. At last, on this 8th day of the new year, I am beginning to stir. I hope all the paws of your household are staying warm and cozy this frigid weekend.


  • So glad Spotty has had a positive influence on you, and you on him. I’ve been travelling remotely and was wondering how things were with you. Hope the new year is being kind.


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