My Cat, My Life Coach :: Life Lessons from a Tuxedo Cat Named Hunter ::
In April 2014, my cat, Hunter, was diagnosed with hermangiosarcoma. Just mention that word to a vet, and the expression on their face will invariably say it all. After Hunter’s spleen was removed, I pursued a holistic route in hopes of slowing down the speed at which this aggressive form of cancer spreads. I’ve been so fortunate that Hunter has survived for the last year and a half – a blessing in and of itself. On November 10th, I learned that Hunter has a large mass on his liver.
As removal would be a more challenging undertaking in several ways, I chose quality of life for Hunter. I am praying for months, hoping for weeks, but resigned to the fact that I may only have a handful of days left with my little boy.
I lost my Dad before I could tell him how much I loved and appreciated him because I ran out of tomorrows without any warning. I do not want to repeat the same mistake with Hunter; I want to talk about how special he is in the present tense, not the past. To celebrate and honor Hunter, I am sharing the life lessons he taught me for which I am grateful.
From Hunter to me, and from me to you, keep in mind that some of the best teachers in life are sitting at your feet, face upturned, hoping it is time for a treat.
• True friends stick by you when you are unlovable, feel unlovable, and are unshowered. I’m pretty even keel disposition-wise. Every now and then though, I get in a funk that can last a day or two (or three) when I do not want to see anybody or do anything, except have a one night stand with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, which makes me feel worse the next day. Instead of giving me a wide berth, Hunter morphs into “velcro cat” until the bit of bleakness passes.
• Live in fear, and you will miss out. I have another cat, Riley. As soon as Riley hears footsteps on the stairs, he is on high alert. By the time the knock on the door comes, he is sprinting for cover. Meanwhile, Hunter ambles behind me to the door, sits down directly in front of it, and waits for door to open to find out if he will be greeting an old friend or meeting a new one.
• Self-awareness is essential for every occasion. Sometimes I can struggle with self-awareness despite my best intentions. I’ve learned to pause, assess, and if necessary, course correct, by watching Hunter around the persons with whom I am interacting. If Hunter immediately jumps into the lap of someone he does not know well, I know that person is having a bad or stressful day. If I am speaking with someone, and Hunter begins photo-bombing the conversation, I know I am not using the right words. So, yes, I have learned empathy from my cat. Don’t judge.
• Worthwhile relationships take work, and sometimes you have to be the bigger cat. I adopted Hunter as a companion to Riley, who is big in size, beauty, personality, and need for love and attention. Riley greedily and unapologetically takes, while Hunter selflessly gives. Riley can take Hunter’s food, usurp him from my lap, prod him awake from a sound sleep for no humanly-apparent reason, or pick a fight over a spot in the sun. Yet, Hunter deftly takes all that is Riley in stride. Hunter and Riley are loving feline brothers 99.99% of the time, and seeing them contentedly intertwined or grooming each other is always a cupid’s arrow through my heart.
• Be diplomatic. Hunter regularly lies next to me. When he has had enough petting, he does not growl, hiss or bite. Rather, he gets up and moves just out of the reach of my hand and lies back down. Mission accomplished, and no one gets hurt.
• Embrace your quirks. Oh, where do I start? Hunter wags his tail like a dog while he eats; has to be first to use the cat box after the litter is changed; has a chewing fetish with plastic bags, especially those from The Gap; loves to crawl up and wrap himself around the back of my neck while I am standing; and is always posted like a sentry in anyone’s lap so as not to miss a single moment of life passing by.
• You can never have too many two legged friends. If at all possible and permissible, Hunter would be throwing cocktail parties every week. If there are people around, he needs to be part of the mix. Hunter has never met a stranger, and with his sweet, engaging personality, he has a devoted fan club.
• Material things are simply not “material”. I say “expensive furniture”; Hunter hears “jungle gym”. Three sofas, two chairs, and counting – all innocent victims despite the wide variety of cat scratchers available throughout the apartment. I would spend the rest of my days happily sitting on a shredded sofa for one day more with Hunter.
• Stay in touch with your inner cat. Hunter goes into the bathroom and howls to get my attention when he is bored. When I go to him, he immediately stops vocalizing and walks over with an innocent “Hey, what’s up, when did you get here” look. What do I do next? I get on all fours, and we crawl around the apartment together. He stays in lock step as we visit all his favorite places to scratch and relax, and all the while, he looks at me the way the Meg Ryan character looks at the Tom Hanks’ character as they walk towards the roof-top elevator of the Empire State Building in the last scene of the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”.
• Bromances are the real deal. Although Hunter is equal opportunity with his affection, he has developed deep and special connections with two of my guy friends. When Tim visited more regularly, Hunter would watch his every move and patiently wait for him to sit down. Then, poof, he would be perched in his lap happier than happy. Scott is a dog person; he never had a cat, been in a home with a cat, or petted a cat. Well, that’s changed. They are best buds who sit side by side watching sports on TV. Hunter ends up falling asleep with his head cradled in the palm of Scott’s hand because, truth be told, he is not that keen of a sports fan.
• Give and receive love - lots of it. For the last 5,292 plus days, I have come home to a hero’s welcome. When I open the door, Hunter is right there to greet me, and immediately, any stress or non-productive thoughts have no choice but to disappear. If I am sitting on the sofa, Hunter is sidled up next to me. If I work from home, Hunter is lying down on the chair next to mine. I have never spent a night alone - I fall asleep or wake up with Hunter curled up along my side or stretched out within arm’s reach. I lavish him with as much attention and affection as he can stand. Hunter has given me unconditional love, and more importantly, has shown me I am capable of giving the same in return.
• Saying goodbye is hard, saying goodbye forever even harder. As I write, my heart is a cracked mirror, hanging precariously. It will fall to the ground, scattering glass like shrapnel when I have to let Hunter go. My dear Hunter-Boy, I will miss your bright eyes brimming with love and mischief, your ever ready purr, and the too many to count moments of amusement and joy you have infused into my life. All these years, I mistakenly thought that I was taking care of you, when in fact, in many ways, it was the other way around. Thank you for being the most amiable and devoted companion a girl could have ever hoped to have. I love you, Bubba!