Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Elsie Cat (Khanate Miss Moneypenny) - Tribute to a Lost Friend

[The post below was written several months ago when the pain was raw. I felt that I needed to announce Elsie's loss to those who are close to me, who knew that Elsie was a dear friend.  I always meant to add it here as a tribute to her, and as it may perhaps be of interest to others who have lost feline family (although I know many will find it silly). Then I got too busy and it seemed too personal, but I have decided to add it now. I still miss my lovely furry girl.]

It is with absolute devastation that I must announce the loss of my most precious darling Persian Elsie, who died a few weeks ago after a far too rapid downturn owing to kidney disease.
I wanted to write these words the second that she left, but apart from feeling rather traumatised, I had to focus on pretending to be fine because Elsie died on my second day in a new, much needed job after I had been out of work for months.  But even belatedly, I must pay tribute to my sweet little girl and hope that it will give a feel for her dear magnificence. She was so warm and loving, so much fun every minute, it was a comfort just knowing she was in the world. She made me smile at the darkest of times, and my heart leapt a bit as I walked home knowing that soon I’d be enjoying that bewitching disposition again.

Elsie brought a new sunshine into my life in October 2008. Some months after the dreadful loss of my 19-year-old dear Darryl, my mother sent me details of two Persians. They were no longer available when I contacted the Rushden Persian Rescue Centre, but two other cats needing one home had arrived that day. They were put on reserve for me and when I later saw the photo of a blurry Alfie and gorgeous blue and white Elsie, I was firmly hooked, but an email going astray meant I nearly lost them. Happily, things were saved in time so I drove the 100 miles to reach them.
The eight-year-olds looked like kittens and had recently been shaved because their last owners hadn’t maintained their coats. They’d been raised on the cat equivalent of Fruit Loops, so had many of their teeth removed at the Centre (and most of the rest soon afterwards). As I filled out the adoption paperwork, Elsie jumped up on the table and affectionately rubbed my arm, so the people at the Centre said she was a lucky girl, but I knew I was the lucky one. 
On the long drive home, Elsie and Alfie each meowed incessantly to a different beat, with Elsie adorably sticking her giant white mitts through the bars of the carrier, which I learned was a crucial art of travelling for her. She panicked the one time I put her in a carrier with a door without paw access. Whenever we journeyed to the vets, she would calm as I patted her, stick her furry white mitts through the grill and watch with fascination all that the cab passed.

When I first brought Alfie and Elsie home, I expected them to hide for days and make a mess as potentially frightened, disoriented rescue cats can.  But Elsie came straight out of her carrier, used the new scratching post, and calmly stretched out on the bed, purring as though she’d lived there for years. I look at the pictures I took then and long for that day that was all about hope and beginnings, not the tragic end.
From that first night until the last month of her life, Elsie slept on top of me. That made waking such fun, although once she’d built up her strength, it meant I was pinned down by a relentless great weight.  Sadly later in life, she weighed almost nothing and struggled to keep her balance on the mound of me. But she’d immediately become indispensable. She was my little lapdog, without sitting on my lap. She would stretch out beside me, usually on the back of the sofa after kneading it whilst purring. She’d lie at my shoulder for hours as though she were my parrot and I was a lucky pirate.
Elsie quickly taught me how she loved to be tickled under her ‘arms’, manoeuvring my hand in place and slinging a back leg over my wrist to hold it there gently, as though I wore a furry mitten. She’d purr blissfully, as she did when pointing her chin skywards whenever I rubbed it. She treasured most contact and relished head massages, which I did when she was at the vets recently and in her last hour when little else made her comfortable.

Quickly after she came to me, Elsie’s coat became double-thick, which made her a stunningly gorgeous fluffball but was painful for her when tackled with a brush. Dear Elsie was so patiently angelic, sitting without complaint, that I had to watch the clock to ensure I didn’t torment her for long, whereas I could never wait to release the struggling, scratching Alfie. Often the vet remarked on how perfectly behaved she was, suggesting she wouldn’t need to be sedated for a procedure that required the cat to remain still.

It soon became obvious to me that, although their past owners had asked that Alfie and Elsie remain together, Elsie might have voted differently had she been consulted.  Although she initially seemed twice Alfie’s size and was some months older, he had established himself as a brutal Alpha-(Alfie)-cat, who imagined he was a lion cub and Elsie was his own personal gazelle. I’d sometimes rush to the sound of a struggle and find Elsie pinned down, Alfie’s claws and teeth ruthlessly preventing her escape like a tiger in a Rousseau painting.  He valued her company when he needed a pillow or felt chilly, and she showed remarkable patience, only looking irked when he pushed her off her chair. If I weren’t nearby playing lunchroom monitor, he’d push her away from her food as well. Elsie generally accepted her lot, bless her, but I helped when I could. 
She was fascinated by running water, watching the washing machine and seeing the bathroom as an adventure. After witnessing her often precariously balance on the edge of the tub and stretch into the sink to reach running water, I bought her a cat drinking fountain, which she used all the time. Her apparently supersonic hearing meant that, even if she were asleep in a distant room when I momentarily turned off the fountain to use that socket, she’d be there in seconds, looking up at me with an irresistible, urging face. She was often waiting for me as I showered, keen to watch the water drain, sometimes leaping into the tub once I’d left it, but fortunately never into a pool of water.  I still find myself arranging the shower curtain to make it easier for Elsie to jump in, ‘til I remember. 

So she brightened many of my dull routines. One of her favourite places was atop a little drawer tower by where I put on my face each morning. She’d be curled up cutely at my eye-level, often with her foot dangling in the top drawer, gazing out the window to watch the world go by on the lane opposite the garden.  I would pass through there not long afterwards, and I’d always look up to where I knew she was watching although I couldn’t see her through the net curtains.  It warmed my heart and sent me happily on my way, imagining that I met her gorgeous gaze, feeling her calming presence.  As it’s a habit of many years, I still look up hopefully at that window as I pass, but then remember there’s no one there, and it leaves me sunken and hollow.
Elsie even made using the fridge fun. She adored peering into this mysterious alien world, experiencing the new smells and cool feeling, so I got into the habit of holding the door open a bit longer. Similarly, making the bed became a game with Elsie and Alfie ‘helping’ by hiding under the covers and climbing onto each new layer, pouncing playfully on my hand beneath it.  Elsie also loved boxes, and as soon as I opened a delivery, I’d hear a gentle thud and find an adorable little deliriously happy face peering out from the packaging. Elsie’s enchanted interest brightened everything. Now I hold open the fridge door, then realise there’s no point, and unpack boxes with little zeal. Everything’s dull once again. 

Wonderfully calm as she was by default, Elsie turned delightfully, feistily wild when it was playtime, adorably amusing in her madness when a game was on. Her preference was for balls, which she would dribble down the hall between all four feet like a professional footballer with two advantages.  She particularly loved a ball-shaped mouse, which she would catch on her claw, fling across the room in a lacrosse move, then run to chase it.  Her eyes would even light up expectantly as I flossed my teeth, looking deflated when I threw away the floss until I got a new piece and played with her.  She loved--and I quickly learned the hard way that she would swallow--anything ribbon-like, so I had to be careful that nothing remotely like string (even paper from a straw) was left out, as on more than one occasion, we did a magician’s trick where I pulled what seemed to be an endless length of ribbon from her mouth (and, I fear, beyond).
She would often Tigger-bounce with glee and attack a toy suddenly, then rush away. She adored two ball-in-track toys, one she preferred to tackle whilst upside down, and a circular one that she would literally leap for joy towards when she saw it. She’d stretch each of her front legs into either side of the tubular track and bat the ball between her paws with great vigour.  If she’d stood up suddenly, she’d surely be entangled in the toy, so it was only used under supervision. That favourite toy that brought such excitement now lies joyless and still.
Elsie walked like a casually stalking tiger then would suddenly gallop away like a polo pony. She had an expressive tail like a fuzzy elephant’s trunk with a life of its own.  While the rest of her lay still, her tapping ‘trunk’ would often reach out and curl affectionately around my neck like a mother elephant calming her calf, or a friend’s gentle arm. She adored balancing on top of chairs, but in her last fortnight, she was so frail, she nearly toppled off, so I bought some pillows to pack high behind the chair to protect her. Sadly, she faded so quickly that she never climbed that chair again, and seeing the pillows she never used makes my heart sink.
I’m similarly gutted that I don’t have a recording of her beautifully sweet voice. When she first arrived, I’d sometimes hear what sounded like an urgent call and would rush to answer, only to find her sitting innocently wondering why I was rushing around.  She spoke rarely but with a sweet, warm trilling, a high-pitched yet smoky “Brrrr-ow?” Unlike a Lassie-style urgent demand, it was more of a delicate request à la, “I’m so sorry to trouble you, but would you mind awfully changing the filter in the drinking fountain, if it’s no bother?”’  

Apart from a wee bit of clawing on a chair and suitcase—which she would instantly stop with a look of surprise when I gently admonished her--her only slight naughtiness was something she didn’t understand to be bad, as it was purely a safety concern. She adored out of the way hidey-holes, such as sleeping behind the telly amidst a worrying tangled web of wires on a socket.  She’d occasionally crawl on top of the sideboard, turning brightly to me to share the delight of this activity as she accidentally knocked over silver candlesticks and picture frames with every step.

The rare times she wasn’t on me when I woke, I could feel her furry self slotted in the low narrow gap between the bed and bedside chair. On the morning of a job interview, I became nearly hysterical when I couldn’t find her in any of these places, and eventually learned that her cloak of invisibility was in fact a tiny spot under a precarious pile of heavy things including an old printer/scanner in the spare room. Once, when my plumber popped out for tools after removing the cover of my fired-up boiler, I raced to the kitchen to find dear Elsie heading for this newly revealed space despite the exposed flame. She was never stupid, but I always worried that the old adage about curiosity and cats might apply to her one day.
Happily, not every joy spot was dangerous. She preferred to sit on paper, stacks of magazines or gift wrap left out for her, as well as canvas or crinkly plastic.  I was often pleasantly foiled when I couldn’t see my work as Elsie draped herself across it. Not long ago, she started sleeping on my camera bags on a wheeled desk chair, which required impressive balancing, and on a garment bag that I’d left on the bed as it inspired such amusement. I could never keep the cover on my printer, which she would paw at until she pulled it on the floor, where she would arrange a little Elsie nest, enraptured for ages.  I can finally return the cover to my printer, but can’t bear to. It remains on the floor with an indentation in the shape of a little curled up Else.
Near the end when she was feeling rough, Elsie retreated to a hidden spot on top of some tucked away shopping bags. I added a soft blanket and orthopaedic pad to make her comfortable, but she moved them aside in favour of her beloved bags, so I covered her with the blanket at night, like tucking an adored child into bed. 
A beautiful, gentle soul she was, here was a cat that was sweetness all day long.  She yawned as though she were laughing and was a captivating whiskery sleeper who tucked one cheek under to become an abstract ball of fluffy loveliness. She held no grudges despite my regularly brushing her and doling out tablets, which involved picking her up, which she hated. I’d warn her with a sinking, apologetic “I’m sor-ry” in a Scooby Doo voice, and she understood with golden patience. She always wore a smiling, wizened look that exuded calm, and I’d brush my face against her gorgeous fur while with a sniff, she checked what I’d been eating, politely never grimacing.
She’d always rush cheerfully to me when I called, and her darling, affectionate behaviour meant she was near me most of the time. She slept on me, sat by me, watched me brush my teeth, kept me company in the kitchen, greeted me at the top of the stairs, ‘helped’ me put on my face each day, and brought me constant joy. So you mustn’t think that because I was only able to share some years of her life, that lessens my pain. We instantly took to each other with a mutual adoration, and I am haunted by her absence at every step as she was always by my side.  I often rehearsed a mantra in my head to remind me of my blessings in her and Alfie no matter what grief I faced, and when I catch myself thinking it now, it’s painful. I look for her when I come home, when I get out of the shower, when I wake, but she’s no longer waiting for me.  I see her ghost everywhere in the outline of the void.

I do have a picture of Elsie as a kitten, which my mother found on her breeders’ website, where they explained how they socialised their kittens, which worked wonders. She was a precious princess without airs and a joy to spend time with. I gladly indulged her odd hobbies, like her love for licking textures, from a rough cardboard scratching ramp to the wall inside the porch where paint had peeled away. Our visits to the porch turned her into a breeze darting past my legs with child-in-Disneyworld excitement.  I would sometimes leave her to her elation and loved hearing her push open and shut the toddler gate on the stairs when she was ready to return.
Elsie was gorgeous from every angle, with those darling big mitts and a splendid white ‘tache that I could see emerging from the darkness. Most pictures don’t do her justice because she was wary of the camera, but she seemed gloriously designed by a star architect and perfectly painted.  A breathtaking beauty and always a lady, she rarely failed to cross her (front) legs.  Looking at her photographs warms me as I’m reminded of her eternal cheerfulness and her affectionate gaze that really looked into my eyes, and I become immersed in the awesome experience of Elsie. She was beautiful inside and out, always brightly welcoming and would move toward my outstretched hand for a pat, gently purring.
Elsie in the past year developed a horrible cough, first thought to be asthma, for which she took steroids. She coped beautifully, but her weight loss revealed kidney disease rearing its dreaded head.  As she still raced around enjoying life, I remained hopeful that she would live for many years, but her test results regularly worsened. The vet was always astonished they belonged to this bright and cheerful cat. I considered myself lucky and valued the time with her, but that luck could not last.
As toxins built up in her body, she felt sick and developed ulcers, but always angelically took all her tablets, just gently voicing protest when I picked her up. In the end, she refused only the treats that I gave her as a “spoonful of sugar”. I hated making her, even for a second, dread my coming near, but she never held grudges and always returned to her extraordinary exuberance.
When she lost interest in her food, I was thankful that being out of work meant I had time to follow and coax her with an enthusiastic “Eez yummy, Elsie Cat!”, to which she’d respond, often eating whilst balancing atop a living room chair. Her special dish now lies heartbreakingly empty and unused by the sink. 
I somehow mustn’t let the gnawing guilt and horror of the very end overshadow the astounding happiness of my time with her. But the night before I started my job, my dear Elsie was in the vets on an IV drip. I’d visited her after leaving her there that morning, and I had naively expected her to be revived as Darryl had been after IV fluids, forgetting that Elsie’s condition was part of a terminal illness and not dehydration. The next day, ringing from my new staff room surrounded by strangers, I used all my energy not to react as I heard the horrid news that there’d been no improvement and she still wouldn’t eat. I sobbed the whole way on the train to the vets,  refused to end things there and expected to leave her another night, but despite her being weak and tethered to an IV, she rolled lovingly in my lap to make it clear she wanted to come home, so she did. 
Elsie felt too ill to leave her carrier, refused food and disliked having fluid syringed into her mouth.  I slept on the floor beside her and was desperate for her to make it to the weekend so I could spend time with her, but when I thought how long it had been since she’d eaten, I realised I couldn’t keep her going in what must be great discomfort just to suit my schedule. Dreadfully, I arranged for a vet home visit, and on my second day of work had to ask my new boss as soon as he arrived (painfully late) to let me leave, trying not to explain as I would sob uncontrollably.  I tragically barely had time with Elsie before my vet was due to arrive, but I massaged her head, explained what was going to happen, how I adored her and how happy she had made me. She suddenly lumbered into the bed by the carrier just before the vet came, collapsing where I could pat her more easily and take a last photo of my beautiful girl.
I’m thankful that being out of work for so long gave me so much blissful time with her.  Although nearly 12 was a respectable age, I had hoped for many more years together, and now struggle to suppress my agony. Thankfully Meowfie is a loud purr therapist who has been cuddling me as a poor substitute for his Elsie pillow. Earlier tonight, he was sitting on me as I found a video clip of Elsie cutely yawning out of a snooze on a stack of newspapers. Alfie bolted upright and was transfixed, leapt towards the screen, then realised it was a flat image and left.  I wonder what he makes of it all. It brought me some comfort seeing her, but I miss the reality of her, her presence, sweetness and purr. 
A couple mornings after she died, I put the blind up and realised I’d just caught sight of her face. Compelled to look again, I saw that in a puddle on the lane that she had often watched over was Elsie’s face looking up at me.  Unlike a fleeting image picked out of a cloud formation or an awkward constellation in the stars, her image was clear, with no other shapes or colours near it.  The cause was the marque of a car reflected upside down in the water, but it was Elsie’s face. I am not mad, but it brought me silly comfort that morning, which I needed.
What keeps me going is the residual joy of having had her in my life at all. Her stunningly beautiful personality seems to burst from every photograph, and immersing myself in her memories cheers me somewhat.  My gorgeous girl gave off a constant air of joy, grace, patience, fun and warm affection.  For years to come, whenever I travel with the suitcase that I left too long in the hall, I will smile fondly at the fringe down the edges, an Elsie Claw design.  In many ways, I feel I’ve lost my closest friend, who lit up my life every moment of the day, so I’m struggling with the blunt weight of the void. I’m tormented by the brutal memories of the last minutes of her life, and am utterly gutted to be without her. But I thank God for the time I did have with this enchanting gorgeous girl who changed my life for the better.  May she be bounding around somewhere heavenly now, free of debilitating disease, and loving an afterlife as she loved this one.  Bless you always, my beautiful, beautiful Elsie girl.