by Joey Daddario
Saturday, May 7, 2016
JEAN-CLAUDE – A CAT WITH 10 LIVES…AT LEAST
Seventeen days ago a cat wandered into my backyard looking very frail. It was during a week-long Nor’easter. Windy. Cold. Wet. Being a lover of animals I called it and it came over to me and we immediately bonded. Both alone on an unusually cold day on the coast. (Jeanie will tell you that we bonded because we were both so needy. Lol. )
I thought the cat was a stray until I saw a rather heavy looking tag hanging down from his tattered collar. Aha! His name is Jean-Claude. Below his name were his initials “JC”. Now, where have I seen those initials before? Hmmm. I picked him up and brought him inside. He instantly began emitting the deepest purr I have ever heard – and after stroking him, his purring became incredibly deeper, sounding more like a relief. It said, “I’m home.” I know we both felt it. It felt good.
In addition to his name there was an address in Gainesville, some 2 hours away, a phone number, and a rather unusual last name. I called the number. No longer connected. I searched Facebook, googled pet finder lost and found sites etc for hours. No luck. More on this later.
I called Jeanie. She asked me if I needed anything. I said, “I have dry cat food (as I like treating our community’s cat population) but I could use some wet food because Jean-Claude is only interested in eating from my safety can of tuna fish. That tuna happens to be my safety net for food. Only to be opened for ‘Joey emergencies’ – that is, when I have put off going to the market. Jeanie replied she’d be at my house as soon as she went shopping.
Meanwhile, I started examining Jean-Claude. It was clear he was an old, old soul. He was so thin his spine practically pierced his skin. He had the clumsiest walk because his hind legs didn’t bend like nimble young cat legs. He walked a bit like a lizard. In exaggerated motions. He was dirty – fur unkempt - eyes crusty – claws in need of trimming…and I loved him. Oh, did I mention he was almost completely blind?
While waiting for Jeanie to come over, I wet a wash cloth with warm water and began gently wiping his fur. He was busy eating my tuna and drinking from an old cat dish I saved from my cat Jordy who passed at the age of 16. I proceeded to dry him off. Jean-Claude purred and purred and purred. I brushed him out very slowly with only the softest of brushes. Eventually clipped his toenails and wiped the sleep from his eyes.
I noticed when he went to drink water he would slowly lower his head until his the pink of his nose contacted the wet surface. Then he’d jerk back as if startled. I realized he couldn’t see the water. Probably could smell it somehow and that this was his way of successfully getting a drink.
I laid back on the couch and let him sit on my chest. Apparently this wasn’t close enough for him. He needed to be closer. He burrowed into the crook of my neck and literally vibrated. A warm natural relaxing sound. A deep tissue massage for me on the outside. But as good as it felt outside, it felt even better inside. This was a rare event. Special. And definitely Godly. Ironically, at that moment, a flea jumped on me. God’s sense of humor.
I didn’t want Jean-Claude to suffer with fleas. I took a risk of leaving him alone and ran out to the local Walmart, arriving mere minutes before closing. Purchased the best flea and tick treatment for a sticker-shocking $53. I’ve used the cheap stuff in the past and it just doesn’t work.
I got home. Jean Claude had found his way upstairs and was sleeping on the pillow on my bed. This cat was definitely communicating. I put the flea and tick ointment on him. I brought him downstairs and waited for Jeanie.
Jeanie burst in armed with Fancy Feast cat food, litter, a litter box, and a scooper shovel. Wow! She is a cat lover too and has rescued so many animals I have lost count. I tease with her that when she is driving us, there is no guarantee we will make it to our destination on time. That’s right, if she spots a stray animal, all punctuality goes out the window. It’s rescue time. As disruptive as that can be, I love that quality in her.
She set up the litter box and I told her about running out to the store, last minute, to pick up the expensive flea treatment. I realized all too late I had set myself up for one of her smart-alek jabs. You know the type. The ones that only people who know you really really well can fire back quicker than a reflex: “Joey, I can’t believe you actually went out that late and spent that much money. What’s gotten into you?” And we both laughed at the absurd yet amazing difference this little animal had already made in my priorities. Yes, God had provided a perfect outlet for me to escape my self-absorption and concentrate on helping another.
I said goodbye to Jeanie and asked her to come back in the morning to help me find the owners.
That evening I made a ramp from the floor up to my bed to help Jean-Claude. Jean-Claude saw his opening and waddled up the ramp and attached himself to me like glue. Purred me to sleep.
The next morning I resumed searching for the owner. In the process I noticed there were people living in Gainesville with that unusual last name on his tag. I started googling them and making calls to Gainesville. Bingo. I got a call back from a neighbor living on the next street over. His name was Wesley. The owner.
Wesley came over and picked up Jean-Claude, very appreciative that we had taken care of him. He gave us a little peek into Jean-Claude’s history. Jean-Claude was 25 years old (are you kidding? !!!), born in Italy. His original owner, Wesley’s uncle, had died and left Jean-Claude to Wesley. He said Jean-Claude was diabetic. He mentioned that it was probably past due for him to be put down but that he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Well, that explained a lot.
I totally understood where Wesley was coming from. In the past several months of my late cat’s (Jordy) life, I worked diligently with the kindest vet to confirm when it was “time”. And when it was time to say goodbye to Jordy, my dear friend Jeanie came with me. We sat with him the entire time. I continuously petted and talked to my dear sweet 16 year-old companion. It was, and still remains, the hardest day of my life.
Wesley left that morning, cat in hand. Before the days end Jean-Claude was back. Since all his “stuff” was still inside (food, water, litter) I picked him up and brought him in. As soon as I held him against my chest his deep soothing motor began rumbling.
He made himself “at home” and followed me around keeping very close. It was as if he kept himself within some invisible boundary known only to him. It seemed all this miracle-aged cat wanted…no, let me change that, all this cat needed was to be close to me. To be held. To love and be loved. It is not lost on me how similar this relationship is to that of our heavenly Father and His children. In fact, throughout the 17 days, there was much Godly symbolism. And I believe there is much more overflow to be revealed from the encounter, in addition to what is written here.
I finally gave up taking Jean-Claude back to Wesley’s because he would come back again. And over the few short weeks, a loose routine developed. Jean-Claude would spend time with me. Inside on the couch. Outside on the porch. Night time in my bed. A bit of a dependence was developing - for both of us. I asked myself, “How can this be possible in the short time I’ve known him?” I found myself looking forward to snuggling up with him and greedily soaking in his generous healing waves of massage-like healing. It relaxed me. Purposed me. The relationship made me more responsible. Matured me. Grew me. Put life a bit more in balance as far as self-centeredness versus service-oriented living. And truly, I say, it is much more rewarding to leave self-centeredness for the sake of helping others.
May 1st 2016 was the last time I saw Jean-Claude. A mere 17 days after we met. I went to church that morning. Instead of returning straight home, Jeanie and I had a concert to perform downtown. I was away about 5 hours.
When I arrived home, Jean-Claude was right where I left him on his blanket on the floor near his food and water. But something was wrong. He was lying on his side. Something he never does. His little hands were twitching. I dropped everything, only slightly aware that I had left my car open and all my equipment exposed.
Immediately I bent down and rubbed his delicate bony side. “It’s OK Jean-Claude, I’m hear, I love you. Hey sweet boy.” He responded. But it was a blood curdling scream. “What’s wrong baby? Are you having trouble standing up?”
Things started to add up. I had left a message with Wesley the day before telling him that Jean-Claude wasn't doing very well. He was having more trouble walking than usual. His appetite had diminished, and he was not making it to the litter box in time.
I picked him up. Carefully. Like I always do. I stood up with him and let his front paws hang on my shoulders. He relaxed a little. With cat-in-hand I rushed to the medicine cabinet to get a plastic syringe. The idea I had was to fill it with water and feed it to my poor kitty. Maybe he just needed hydrating.
Just as I got the syringe filled, Jean-Claude arched his head back in an impossible position and then became still. I sat on the couch with my little baby stretched out on my lap. Jean-Claude had died in my arms.
I had never before heard the sounds that came out of me that day. “Wailing” just doesn’t seem to be strong enough. I screamed, “No! No! Please no!” All while petting his still warm frail body with both hands. And oddly, in my agony, rage, and devastating inconsolability, I noticed something. Jean-Claude looked so peaceful. At peace. And then I got the point. He had gotten exactly what he wanted – to spend his last days on earth with those that sincerely loved him. Yes animals know the difference. And to, at last, die in the arms of one that loved him.
It is both hard, sad, and healing to tell this story. I cannot let the traumatic, painful, final hours with Jean-Claude obscure the immense good and joy he brought into the world. It would be unfair to him, selfish on my part, and simply wrong.
And yet therein lays a weird characteristic when we experience the death of a loved one:
When tragedy and loss befall us, it is overpowering. For it requires our complete focus to absorb it. Yes this single event has the power to wipe from our minds, at least temporarily, all the good God has surrounded us with. We can’t see God’s timing nor purpose at all. As a result, the good in our world shrinks. We can’t see it because it is obscured by the huge amount of attention that our loss demands.
I have had the consoling benefit of seeing many of Gods awesome works in this experience. And I think that is the reason I want to share it. There are a few special folks that I especially want to share my grieving with. They fall into a rare category I call "compassionate listeners". And I wish to tell readers that the best in people can be brought out in the most unusual situations.
For instance…two dear friends, Chuck and Jeanie, came to my rescue that day. Yes, they both just dropped what they were doing and came over. They quickly responded to my phone calls as my still weeping wavering voice cried out, “Help me, I don’t know what to do.” I will NEVER forget their love, their soothing words, and even more, their soothing presence. The comfort of the Holy Spirit worked mightily through them that day.
Chuck and Jeanie quickly, gently, and respectfully went into action. I asked Chuck to verify Jean-Claude’s condition. We needed a blanket to wrap him in. Excellent, my prayer blanket from church. Perfect. I asked Chuck to please take Jean-Claude from me and wrap him. He did. Ever so gently. And as if that weren’t enough, Chuck allowed us to bury Jean-Claude along the wooded acreage by his home where there is a small Pet Cemetery. So the three of us took Jean-Claude to the site and placed him lovingly in his final resting place. Even one of Chuck’s cats came over to attend the funeral and say goodbye. It was beautiful.
I welcome tears. And it has been a long time since I have cried. With the passing of this precious creature of God - my dear pet, the tears are pouring out. This is a good thing. God knew I was overdue for release of much held-back emotion. And in writing this, crying on and off, I am honoring the life and contributions of a little animal that roared life into a soul and into a community. A creature God used to bring out the very best in His Children.
Most importantly this writing documents God’s hand in our lives - His incomprehensible love and mercy for us. Jesus who cries when we cry and grieves when we grieve (my interpretation). God the Father, whose workings and timing of events in our lives are always with precision, even though they seem to be out of control. Truly our best option is to “take it on faith” which, at times, is possible only with great difficulty. But God knew this and gave us each other so that we might be comforted through His Holy Spirit who dwells in us. It is our decision whether or not to seek God’s beauty in all things. When we can’t understand the whole picture, we need accept that God’s ways are higher than our ways. And take one step forward.