Richard Parker was acting out of sorts when I visited my adopted family at Christmas. His mom was worried about his lethargy. He simply wasn’t his usual commanding self. I went in to see my buddy, and he lifted his head for few pets and gave me a purr. He looked at me through slitted eyes and nuzzled my hand. But his usual robustness was gone. This was the fellow who always gave me a purr-rumph and came quickly when I called, “Where’s my Friend?” He was the one who sat on his Stanford blanket between us when we ate spaghetti off tv trays and watched The Walking Dead. When I stayed the night on a cot in the living room, it was Parker who slept alongside me, moving up to bump my hand should I awake from a curious dream. He was his momma’s boy, but he made sure to care for me as well. And at Christmas he seemed to have simply caught a cold.
With the holidays and then rough weather, it was three weeks before I made it out to visit again. When I entered the house through the kitchen, something was different. Parker’s tuna dish was not there by the refrigerator, and his beautiful orange face did not come to greet me. I thought perhaps he was upset at my long absence. But then my friend’s husband came quickly in and said quietly, “Parker had to be put down on Friday.” The air left me. I walked into the living room where my friend sat on the couch. Her grief was visible on her face. She told me how his health had rallied after Christmas but then he fell horribly ill. A trip to the small town vet and then the state-of-the-art animal hospital yielded no answers. He was failing fast and the devastating decision had to be made. My friend had to say goodbye to her dear boy. I hugged my friend and felt the heartbreak. He was the one who cared for her when she was sad, and now he was gone.
For a few days, the other cats were subdued by Parker’s physical absence, and it would be several weeks before they came out to sit with us during our Sunday tv ritual. And last week Bubba took a seat on the couch.
But I know that Parker’s spirit is still there among them. My friends have heard his distinct call in the quiet of the house. I envy them that.