We'd been expecting the news for months. Every time I talked to Geoff or Lynn, I'd ask if Festus was still with us. He wasn't obviously ill–just slower, thinner, quieter. When we were there at Christmas he still sought us out for loves, but couldn't jump up and would disappear for hours at a time. When I petted him into purring at the end of the visit, I did so knowing it was probably our last goodbye.
And yet with all of that, plus the fact that he wasn't even my cat, when I read the e-mail on Sunday I felt a light go out and a tiny little tear open in my heart.
Festus was an ordinary cat, slightly goofy with too-close eyes and a huge appetite for laps and pets. A deep rumbly purr. In his early lives, he'd come running when you called his name. My middle brother, Mark, taught him to eat out of his hand. During gatherings, when we'd play games in the evenings, he'd spend much of those hours on my lap or crammed between me and the back of my chair. And at bedtime, he'd follow us upstairs and start the night cuddled under my arm. Mark and I had an ongoing argument–mostly playful–about which of us Festus preferred.
My SIL, Lynn, would always include news about Festus when we talked. She'd seek him out, pick him up and put him in my arms when we visited. A few years ago when he was hit by a car, she called me to tell me and kept me posted on his healing progress. She always referred to me as his first mom.
All silly, friendly, family stuff without any particular meaning.
And that's where the power is. Festus bound us in an easy friendly love during a time when we had little access to the deeper family love that is our true connection. He was safe, silly and soft. In the last three years as our sibling bond found new light and strength, he became our mascot and our common pleasure.
We are joined this week in our sadness, in identically shaped heart-tears that will always hold the memories of a simple black and white cat whose presence brought healing and love and laughter. No being could hope for a larger life than that.