Monday, February 16, 2009

Let Me Tell You a Story About a Man Named Jed

No, not really. Instead, let me tell you a story about a cat named Shadow.

I was at work in the ER one night back in January, 1997 when I received a phone call from home. My daughters Sarah and Jennifer were on the line, flush with excitement after visiting a local pet shop with our youngest offspring, Mary Caroline.

For weeks the two girls had been after me to get a kitten for Mary. Sarah and Jenni were both getting married in '97, Sarah in April and Jenni in October. Sarah was taking her orange tabby cat Woody to her new home while Jen was marrying a man who was owned by a big black and white tomcat named Frank. (Yes, I say 'owned' because any cat lover knows that people don't 'own' cats -- we are simply the servants of our beloved felines.) According to my oldest daughters, Mary was going to be lonely enough without them at home. How in the world would she survive without a cat to keep her company?

I'd been resisting their pleas since before Christmas, but with me out of the way at work, the three girls had worked their charm on their doting father. They'd found the perfect kitten for Mary, and being a cat lover himself, my husband had caved in quite easily. But he ageed to their plan only if I said yes. Thus the phone call.

Given the hectic atmosphere in the ER that evening, I had no time to argue the merits of bringing a new pet into the house. And what could I say anyway now that Fred was behind them? I knew when I was beat, so I surrendered with hardly a whimper.

I returned home that night expecting to find a kitten curled up on Mary's bed. Instead, I found THREE kittens! Two of them were females, striped tabbies from the same litter. The third was a big pawed gray tabby from a different litter, a male who looked up at me with soft eyes that said, "I'm all yours!" I immediately fell in love with him.

My daughters spun me a long involved story as to why we now had three newcomers in the house instead of one. It didn't matter; I was won over by the gray cat and the other two were just bonuses. Shadow (as we named him) grew by leaps and bounds over the next few months. His playmates were on a slower growing curve, always a pound and several inches behind him. The difference in size caused problems. Shadow wanted to play with his adopted sisters, but his roughhousing turned them into shrinking violets. They began hiding behind the couch each time he approached.

Shadow couldn't figure it out. He'd cock his head to one side and look up at me as if to say, "Hey, ma! Why won't they wrestle with me?" Our vet supplied the answer: the girls were afraid of Shadow. They weren't developing as they should and they needed to be separated from the big gray cat -- permanently. Eventually our son Matt took one cat to his apartment and a friend adopted the other. Shadow stayed with us.

Over the years Shadow grew into his paws and became, as my husband put it, "one pound short of a puma". During the day he followed me around the house, sitting on my lap and checking out the computer while I wrote, or helping me in the garden by stalking and destroying any leaf that dared to fall from a tree. Each morning he would circle the yard looking for intruders in the form of mice or rabbits, then trot back to the door and meow as if to say, "You can come out now. It's safe!"

In the evening, Shadow would lie on the patio next to our chairs, guarding us just in case a stray sparrow flitted our way. Then at night he would jump up on the bed, curl up next to my husband, and stare me in the eyes as he placed one paw on Fred's hand. I always felt he was claiming Fred as his own, letting me know Fred was his guy as much as he was mine. When he was sure I'd gotten the message, he'd jump down and go upstairs to sleep with Mary Caroline. Promptly at 5 a.m. he'd be back to wake Fred for work. We never needed an alarm clock; Shadow did the job for us.

I grew up with cats, lived with cats most of my life. But never have I known a cat like Shadow. For love and companionship, he had no equal. I will miss him.

In loving memory, Shadow, November 1996 - February 16, 2009.


  1. What a wonderful story about a beloved friend. I am so sorry to hear Shadow is gone but he will live on in your heart, as I can tell from this post. My three cats are all over 10 years now and I just dread losing any of them.

    Take care and blow a kiss toward cat heaven.

  2. My heart goes to you, Mary, and all your family, two legged & four. We lost our two kitties within 60 days of each other about 18 months ago. We still miss them like crazy, and struggle with adopting two more. How can Chrissie & Charlie be replaced? I know, they can't nor should they be. And so many kitties need good, loving homes. Still I can't get myself to the humane society...What if this time our kitties aren't so special? Like any kitty isn't special...Anyway, enough about my heart. Back to yours. Memories are good. They curl up with us at night, and hold our hands.


  3. Thanks for understanding, Leann and Diana. I know that everyone's pet is special to him/her. We all feel our own can never be replaced. It's amazing how much pleasure and comfort we derive from our pets. It's good to have them, even when we know we'll eventually lose them.

  4. I'm so sorry, Mary. Our friends, our buddies can't be replaced. Their loss leaves gigantic holes in our hearts.

    We lost our dear little Molly (dog) four months ago and I still imagine I hear her toenails clicking on the hardwood floors.

    Beautiful testimonial to your special buddy, Shadow.

  5. I have lost one especially beloved cat and the palpable grief in this love story about Shadow certainly takes me back to everything about that old friend...her smell, the way she waited for me at the door, our little house rules the origins of which I do not know, other than I was compelled to follow them. Cats, as you correctly say, own us. Somehow they communicate to us how we must serve them, and it is our deep pleasure to do so. What better reward than the love of a cat?
    But I sit here crying not for her. so much, though she and the circumstances of her dear life and soul wrenching death certainly came to mind when I read about your loss of Shadow. No, what I am now weeping about is the anticipation of future losses, of longing for beloved creatures who are still with me! Would that I could live as fully in the present as they do, and love as single-mindedly as well, but no. I am bound to feel the full magnitude of my love by anticipating the incalculable sadness I will feel when I can no longer reach for them.
    Thank you, Mary, for sharing these beautiful reflections on your very good boy, Shadow, and reminding me about the awsome but worthy price of love. I never knew Shadow, but I know the place where Shadow resides in your heart, and I know the ache that comes with loving and loss. I am so very sorry your good buy has had to move on.

  6. I've never had a cat because we're allergic to them, but I remember every dog we've ever had. Each was special and unique. Unfortunately, I also remember the days each of them died. That's something you just don't forget. They have such short lives, I guess so we can love more of them.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. Mary, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. I will pick up each of my four cats and kiss them over and over (which three of the four will hate) in honor of your Shadow.

  8. I got to spend time with Shadow and Mary and Fred, too. It was an amazing experience. I told Fred just a week ago that I knew people who talked TO their animals, but Fred talked with Shadow. Fred would ask questions and Shadow would answer. And the reverse. It was great. Shadow was very vocal about letting them know what he needed and they immediately understood.

    It was so cool to watch. I am glad I got to be there when Shadow needed the attention the most. It was an honor.

  9. Mary, this is the first time I have ever told someone, "Thanks for casting a little Shadow into my life."

    Shadow sounds like one of The Great Cats. They are few and far between. Thank you for sharing him with us.


  10. So sorry for you loss, Mary! He sounds like a wonderful kitty, and in many ways, similar to my own Shadow. I pray God brings peace and healing to you heart as you mourn the loss of a wonderful friend and fur-baby! Thank you for sharing your Shadow with us, in this lovely tribute. Hugs!

  11. Thanks to all of you who responded so kindly to my post about Shadow. Your thoughtfulness is much appreciated.

    Karen mentioned that my husband talked with Shadow and Shadow always answered back. Did you know that cats don't meow or mew to other cats? They only do that with humans. Apparently cats know what each other are thinking, but need to communicate verbally with humans in order to be understood.

    Makes you wonder: who's smarter? Cats or humans? :)

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