are My Sunshine
In much the same way as couples remember the day they brought their child home from the hospital, I remember clearly the day Sunshine came into our lives.
|It was a Saturday, and we were out at a mall doing some shopping for
my husband Phil's grandparent's golden anniversary—we were attending
the party that night. This was back before I became as completely aware
of the practices of pet stores, but I was gaining some enlightenment,
and so we always made a point of looking in the pet stores, checking
on the animals to see how they were being treated and what kind of condition
they were in. In this particular store we saw a small marmalade tabby
who looked much like my cat Tuner, who had died in the fall of 1990.
It was true love. But, the practicality was that our apartment only allowed one cat, for which they charged pet rent, and we already had one. We reasoned, she was lonely and needed a playmate. We spoke to the person behind the counter and told him we needed to discuss it; he assured us the kitten would be waiting if we came back shortly. We walked the length of the mall and even sat down to discuss it. It was evident to Phil that I had my heart set on this beautiful orange-blond tabby. We walked back to the pet store to find that clerk giving away—selling—our kitten to a complete stranger. The deal was done—she'd bought our baby.
Heartbroken after falling so madly for this soft bundle, we went home and dressed for the party. I was nearly inconsolable having lost Tuner not so long ago. Phil knew there was another pet store—the one that had yielded our beautiful Marble—on the way to his grandparent's party. He concede we could stop and see if there were any kittens in need of a loving home. Like magic, like kismet, like destiny, there was a single marmalade tabby there with the world's sweetest face and mew. We purchased his freedom then and there and proceeded to the party, which due to the magnitude of the celebration, was at a party center—not a house. The tabby fit in my hand and curled up to sleep on chest as we drove to the party. We would only stay a couple hours and then take our new baby home to meet his older sister.
Phil's young cousins were similarly mesmerized by our bundle of fur and joy. The little guy spent a little time in the hall with the guests (being shown off) but most of his time was spent in the cool car parked in the shade with frequently (boarding obsessive) visits from Phil and me. Despite our inability to locate it (we later would—in the car's back window!) on one of our visits we found the sleeping kitten surrounded by the aroma of a tiny kitten pooh.
We debated all evening about a name, and finally it struck us (I don't remember which was hit first, but I actually think it might've been me) as we watched the sun begin to set...he was a ray of SUNSHINE in our lives. We departed the party with our Sunshine once again asleep in my hands, leaning on my chest with his head nestled in my neck. He slept all the way home.
Having found our Sunshine, we gave the other sweet kitten only a few thoughts after that day--hoping the home he found was loving and good to and for him. We never regretted for even a second after Sunshine came into our life that we hadn't gotten to take the first kitten home. Sunshine was meant to be our baby boy, and he brought a lot of joy to our lives. It was destiny...
We brought our new, young bundle of Sunshine home to our apartment in Bedford Heights. It was already pretty dark-maybe about 9:30 or so-I do recall the sun had set. We entered the apartment ready to introduce Sunshine to Marble and vice versa we assumed that since she'd shown her mothering tendencies to a stuffed Pound Purry (who we dubbed merely, "The Baby") that she's love Sunshine immediately and want to mother him as well.
We were sadly mistaken. She took one look at that orange, fluffy ball in my hands and instantly doubled in size as every single hair on her body stuck straight out and a noise I'm afraid I've heard still too often since then exited her usually purring being. At once Sunshine likewise doubled in volume-little guy though he remained-puffing out his own hair. Though I must admit his pomp and circumstance drew more laughter from us than fear from her. That pencil thin tail with bristly little hairs sticking out was neither intimidating nor menacing. Lesson learned, they would need TIME and SPACE between them with a gradual introduction.
We set about making a bed for our new baby boy and chose a wicker basket no much larger than your standard issue Easter goodie model. We fitted it with a baby pillow I've had all my life and Sunshine equickly took a position that would dominate large blocks of his life and come to epitomize our tiger-striped big boy-curled up in a ball asleep.
I remember soon after his arrival my mother visiting and cooing at him just like a grandmother would a new born baby. We carried him from room to room in that basket, by it's handle, and often he stayed asleep no matter where it was set.
It didn't take nearly so long as we feared after that first disastrous try at an intro to get Marble to warm up to and eventually welcome her little brother. And soon they grew to love one another and care and look after one another. They slept curled up together-both face to face and back to back depending on mood and location. They ate, bathed and battled together until the day the littlest Dennison came to town. When Chestnut arrived, she threw a wrench into their blissful relationship.
I always sensed from Sunshine that he would've preferred that they all get along. The middle-child syndrome I suppose wanting older and younger to unite with him like three peas in a pod. But alas, it was not to be. Sunshine quickly warmed to the new female, calico kitten (after a brief hair-raising period), but Marble remained cool, distant, aloof-jealous!
Forced to choose, Sunshine, while not entirely betraying Marble's love and affection, chose to side with the new female in the house who warmed to him more quickly as well. They too became soul mates, as Sunshine and Marble had once been, and soon grew inseparable and until the end their sweet affection for one another was almost too sweet. Them began to sleep side-by-side, and Chestnut - with little coaxing from Sunshine - would wash his face and head and ears purring all the while.
While I love Chestnut unceasingly, I have always felt a little guilty for the wedge I seemed to have placed between her and her beloved Sunshine. She never again was as close to him as she had been (but seemed to know almost immediately when he had gone from this world).
This pretty little stinker had an affinity for aromas. I don't mean meat and gravy or tuna fish. No, his propensity was for fragrant perfumes sweet, flowery, almost sickeningly so smells more than any cat I've ever known. My first cat, Tuner, he loved smelly, stinky feet (the smellier the better or so it seemed), but Sunshine was a polar opposite.
He had this wonderful habit - which became almost ritual and which both my dear husband and I miss terribly - he would lick and rub our freshly showered feet. The more fragrant the soap used, the more enthusiastically he'd go after our tootsies. He'd follow us from room-to-room as we got dressed and ready for the day (or evening plans) just waiting and watching for an opportunity. A long pause. Then, given that window, he'd roll onto his side and rub, roll and bath our feet with his rough little tongue. Sometimes he'd even grab hold of an ankle with his paws to secure his prize. He's rub so hard with his chin and cheeks that he's scrape our fresh flesh with his tooth.
His other fragrance fettish was dryer (fabric softener) sheets. Again, the stronger the perfume, the better he'd like them-no "unscented" would do, always "breeze fresh" or "spring flowers" for his taste. He'd snatch them from the warm laundry in the basket, or manage to find one that wasn't quite all the way in the trash basket. Sunshine would delight in rolling on it and holding it with his paws and ripping it apart with his teeth, and all the while his eyes would pinch tight and squint with joy. He didn't do this with any other type of towel or paper product-just highly odoriferous dryer sheets.
We'd procrastinated all winter, but finally relented when we stopped for a new flea subscription and cavalierly made his appointment. He seemed to really enjoy the ride to the vet--I held his carrier up so he could look out the window at all the cars passing. I petted his head and scratched his ears through the top and said goodbye at the Metro (rail) station, telling him I'd see him later. My husband was taking him to the vet while I caught the Metro (train) to work. He planned to drop Sunshine off Thursday morning and pick him up in the afternoon...probably a little cranky but with shiny clean teeth and fresh breath.
A little after noon my husband showed up at my office and asked where we could talk. I immediately suspected something was wrong but for a few seconds tried to block any truly awful thoughts from my mind, but the news came just the same. During the procedure, which for cats requires general anesthesia, his heart had stopped. The vet team was able to revive him briefly but his heart was too weak and he passed away. I was flooded with grief and guilt that I'd left him. I often experience this paranoid thought when I wave goodbye to a loved one that I may never see them again—and so I try to always say, "I love you."
My husband and I pulled ourselves together long enough to drive to the vet's office. When we arrived at the vet, for a brief second I prayed we'd walk inside to see someone else's baby--that it would be a mistake, but...it was Sunshine lying on a pink towel. He looked so still and peaceful lying there--just like we had seen him so many times before laying in the rays of sunlight streaming through the windows.
We both petted him, and held him, and told him we loved him and how sorry we were. We cried, and raged, and pleaded desperately for him to wake up, to come back to us, to thump his little back foot the way he always did when we tickled it, for his little chest to rise and fall...but he didn't. His nose and paws were cold. Colder than I've ever felt before. We stayed with him as long as we could bear it, and then we tucked him in, told him we loved him, and said goodbye.
The vet offered to do a necropsy (free of charge) to find out what had caused the heart failure. She called that night, but we let the voicemail get it. The next day my husband spoke to her. She determined that Sunshine suffered from a congenital condition known as restrictive (feline) hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The wall of his heart was unusually thickened, especially around the left ventricle, which pumps the blood into the body. The vet told us that he really didn't have a very large blood supply for a cat his size, and said that it was surprising that he was as old--not only enough for us...he was only 9 years old--as he was since he had such a small heart. (Phil and I know how big his heart really was.) We were in shock--filled with sadness and guilt. He had never indicated any illness...only sleepiness. Sunshine was the epitome of a big, lazy, fat-cat who loved his namesake--sunshine (and all things warm and snuggly). He was a sedimentary cat, but always so sweet, loving, and affectionate.
Afterwards, everything in our apartment reminded us of him and the last moments we had with him...though we didn't, of course, know they would be the last moments. I had just taken pictures of him on Mother's Day since he was being so adorable, and I thought I'd share them with my mom...who refers to our cats as her "grandcats." Sunshine looks so sweet and healthy in them...not a clue to us of trouble. The vet has told us that with such a weakness he could have passed any time, and it could have just as easily been a dental or gum infection from the tartar build-up as anything else. We try to count ourselves lucky for having him in our lives as long as we did—I know many people now who have told us that their sweet marmalade tabby suffered and died from this condition at a much younger age. Still seems little consolation for the loss and emptiness we feel.
The vet staff offered to handle everything and were really thoughtful and compassionate. We had Sunshine cremated, and got his remains back the next week. We are creating a special shelf for Sunshine--someplace beautiful, from where, in our minds at least, he can sit in the sunshine and look out the window, and watching all the birds and squirrels. There was no way to know or prepare for such a sudden loss...and we are still not over it. A friend told us, "You never get over it, you just get used to it," and I think she is right.
In the coming days, weeks and months, I hope to add to this page. To share memories of the love and joy Sunshine brought into our lives, the support we received in his passing and our tribute to him as our boy.