The cat who saved my father’s life

Posted: March 26, 2018 in Miscellaneous
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My Dad brought home his first pet when he was 85. His family had collies when he was growing up, but when Dad married Mom and they moved to the country, they had human creatures, not creature creatures. The reason for this is unknown, though for years Mom could unintentionally start an argument by wondering, “Why didn’t we have a dog when the children were small?”

When Dad was 85 and Mom was 82, my sister and her daughter, who were visiting, spotted an ad in the Sunday paper for a kitten who needed a family. They urged my father to go look at that cat first thing Monday morning. “This house is dead,” Gayle told him. “You need some life here.”

Elliot was the sole survivor of a litter left behind by a feral cat. Dad, who often said, “I never thought I could love a cat,” loved Elliot beyond all measure. Adopting Elliot was one of Gayle’s best ideas and one of the best things Dad ever did, because as my mother slipped into dementia and eventually into a nursing home, Elliot took her place.

Elliot gave Dad a reason to get up in the morning. Elliot created movement in the house. Elliot spoke Yiddish with Dad. Elliot was always waiting when Dad came home. In his excitement at seeing Dad, he’d stand on a table by the back door we always used and claw at the metal venetian blinds over the back door window. Dad eventually sliced the blinds until he had cut an Elliot-sized gap.

Recently, when Dad had a fall in the kitchen, Elliot stood guard beside him until the ambulance came.

My father will be 91 in May. He’s currently sharing a room in the nursing home with my mother. We’re hoping he’ll get strong enough in physical therapy to go back to his house.

I went to visit last week. I stayed in the house. The first night, Elliot hid. The second night, a few minutes after I turned out the light and rolled onto my side, there was a thump beside me and then paws started punching my back, trying to mold me into a more Dad-like lump. Then he rucked up the blanket, because that wasn’t right, either. Then he curled into a ball and began to purr like he was motoring across Lake Michigan.

(I’m allergic to cats, but I have a new combination of meds. Dad had been worried about Elliot being alone. Elliot is an indoor cat who lives a quiet life. I did my best to keep the little man company.)

This went on for three nights. Around 4 a.m. each morning, Elliot put on his miniature hard hat and reported to various work stations around the house, banging on objects, racing from Point A to Point B, and fighting a war inside a paper bag.

On the last full day of my visit, my parents’ caregiver, Melissa – another hero in my parents’ story – brought Elliot to the nursing home. Dad, who is in a wheelchair, held and kissed Elliot. Mom, who is on a walker and who was never a fan of cats, was happy for Dad, I think. Elliot, like all cats, was unimpressed.

Melissa was about to put Elliot back in his carrier when he went limp. She screamed. She put Elliot on the floor and ran for a nurse, as you can’t leave Mom alone and we were about to drive to an emergency vet down the road. There I was, holding the cat on the floor while it convulsed, shouting his name, with my father three feet away. I knew Elliot was dead. Melissa returned and we ran for the car. She drove. I held Elliot. I had never held Elliot until this moment. He was silky. I used to make fun of his excess weight, but now he felt tiny.

The vet couldn’t revive him.

Elliot, the one factor in my Dad’s situation that we all thought was a constant, the cat who would surely outlive a 90-year-old man, was a couple of weeks short of his sixth birthday.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was face my father on our return. He was waiting at the nursing home, in his wheelchair, by the back door we always used.

It’s difficult to know how Dad is feeling. How can we understand the emotions of people this age? I doubt that anyone reading this blog has 90 years of ups and downs trailing behind them, with all the emotions that follow along. Sometimes Dad is teary. Sometimes he reminisces. Mostly he’s calm. Once he said, “Now I really am alone.”

“I’ll miss him,” Mom said, and then asked if Elliot was a cat or a dog.

You could say, if you’re a Christian, that God has a plan for everything. Was it a plan to give my father a heart attack? Einstein said that God doesn’t play dice with the universe. Then how do you explain Donald Trump? Depeche Mode said that God has a sick sense of humor. I’m tending toward Depeche Mode.

But in fairness to that bumbler, God, at least Dad was able to say goodbye, even if he didn’t know it at the moment. What if I had come home that night to a dead cat in the kitchen? How would I explain that?

Why am I telling you this?

I’ve been writing this blog since 2010. In 2011, I asked you for money. I am asking you again. I want you to make a donation in memory of Elliot Bieler to the Town of Swansea Animal Shelter, 68 Stevens Rd., Swansea, MA 02777, swanseashelter@yahoo.com. These are the people who saved the abandoned kitten who saved my father.

Thank you. If you have a pet, please give it one of those treats you hold for special occasions. With Elliot, it was herring.

 

 

Comments
  1. mikener says:

    I put off reading this post as long as I could, fearful of the emotional rollercoaster my heart goes on every time you share a visit with your folks.
    Damn you Steven Bryan Bieler for making me cry.
    Thank you Steven Bryan Bieler for making me laugh.

  2. Philip Dickey says:

    Wonderful story, Steve, and a nice tribute to Elliot. It’s too bad about your allergy. You could really be a good cat person, I think.

  3. Sherry says:

    Wow. He was waiting to say goodbye. Breaks my heart

  4. Accused of Lurking says:

    You had me crying at 4:30 am this morning. My thoughts go out to you, Melissa, your Mom, and your Dad.

    It seems like Elliot was one of those everyday hero felines, as opposed to those preening film-me-again-and-post-the-video-on-YouTube cats that have taken over the internet.

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