When Dad died, it was the cat that became the ghost and broke my heart.
Four years ago my brother gave my father a cat – a pretty little seal point Siamese that was neurotic as Hell. She hated my mother, hid from guests and generally disliked any sort of frantic activity. But she liked me and she adored my father.
My father became ill just a couple of months before my mother experienced a psychotic break and had to be placed first in a mental hospital, then a nursing home.
With Mom gone and Dad as ill as he was, I urged him to move in with us, so we could care for him. After several months, a couple of falls and a few other scary episodes, he relented. He moved in with us on January third, last year.
Despite our own attitude ridden cat, and the puppy that would be joining us shortly, Dad’s cat had to come. We would neither have considered taking a healthy animal to a shelter, nor of depriving Dad of his pet.
So after a long, heartbreaking day of uprooting my Dad from the home he’d shared with my mother for so many years, I went back into their house alone to corral the cat.
The day’s activities had alarmed her and when I finally found her, she was nestled in a pile of my father’s clothes at the back of the closet. She came to me willingly, and I put her in the crate to bring her home to Dad.
She hid in our basement for two days, worrying my father. Finally, on the third day, my husband went down and found her, bringing her back up to my father’s room where she was safe from our son, our cat and any major activity.
She only came out of the room when my father did, and only after the kid was tucked into bed.
She had no use for me any longer, holding a grudge for the transport and wanted only to stay by my father’s side.
Less than a month after moving in with us, my father had another fall, only this time I couldn’t get him up by myself – he was deadweight. My husband helped me get him back in bed, and the next morning we called an ambulance to take Dad to the hospital.
Four days later he was dead.
And the day he died, the cat became a ghost.
She crept from room to room, only when the house was dead silent. By day we saw no sign of her, and by night, if she thought she had the house to herself, she’d come up and pace to my father’s room. Some nights she slept in there, but as soon as I came down the stairs in the morning she evaporated, disappearing into the basement, into a hidey hole neither I nor my husband can find.
My father’s death was hard for me on a number of levels, but the cat has haunted me. One of the last things he asked me was to take care of the cat. And for over a year now that care has consisted only of shelter and food.
I’ve spent hours in the basement, sitting still, hoping she’d make an appearance. Bringing her offerings of tuna or milk. Crooning, “Heeeere kitty kitty.” Nothing worked.
So for over a year I failed my father in such a stupid, simple task that it broke my heart. The poor cat, loveless out of fear and confusion has periodically been an obsession. I can’t give her back my father, but I know how she feels about it, because he was my best friend too. I want to give her love, give her some comfort.
Today she made a miscalculation. The house was quiet, so she crept upstairs and was irresistibly drawn to a sunny porch, open to the spring warmth. She went in to find herself cornered by the dog suddenly blocking her only retreat. And the porch was already occupied by Boris-kat, who has an attitude to match his name.
Happenstance had me out on the porch to check the mail in time to find the animals squared off. I coaxed the dog away to a locked room, and went back to find poor Muffet still on the porch, hunched down and quivering in fear, too afraid to move.
Fearing she’d gone fully feral after so long without human contact, I approached her, one hand out. She didn’t move. I touched her back and she stiffened more, but let me stroke her. Talking and humming, I stroked her back and rubbed her chin until I finally coaxed a purr out of her. She relaxed into me, then came closer to lean against my shins.
Over a year later, I was finally able to offer a little love and sympathy to my father’s pet. I hope she begins to forgive me, I hope she will come up again, even if it’s when I’m home alone.
She needs to. She deserves the love. And I need her to. Because I need to give it to her, for my father.