My Mom was diagnosed with metastatic cancer this summer. She was happy and full of life the day my daughter graduated from college; she walked 2 miles, navigated the tortuous hills at Lehigh and took pride in her granddaughter graduating as the first Engineering-Psychology major at Lehigh. The next day she had a CAT scan. The results showed that she had a large tumor in her lung. The following morning she bled into her kidney and we were in the emergency room. She had metastases in her kidneys, liver and hip. One day later, the PET Scan confirmed the devastating final blow that she had metastatic lesions in her brain.
Almost immediately she said, “Aim, I need to put the cats to sleep, I don’t want you to have to deal with this, you can’t take them, and you won’t be able to find a home for them – they need to be together.” My Mom loved animals; but these 2 cats, my Mom loved desperately. They were her “girls.”
I begged her not to put them to sleep. I wanted her to have as much time and happiness with them as possible, and somehow I convinced her to wait. And, honestly, changing my Mom’s mind was no easy task.
My mom passed away 5 and a half short weeks later. We watched her slowly lose her ability to drive, her strength, her energy, and her independence. Every day she lost another small piece of herself. What she didn’t lose was her dignity, her pride, and her ability to speak her mind. She spoke openly about how there is “no blueprint for how to die.” She spent time with us, loved us and cried and laughed often. She taught us many things but perhaps the greatest lesson she taught us in those few weeks was that even in the most horrific of circumstances one can find a reason to get up and get out of bed in the morning, and that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, in life and in death. She modeled true bravery and courage. She was the family matriarch, the family comedian, and everyone’s greatest supporter and champion. We miss her profoundly each and every day.
As predicted, we tried endlessly to find a home for her adored cats. We asked everyone we knew, we advertised, we emailed, and we called at least 50 non-profits all over the country, often with no response. What I didn’t know was that 70% of cats and 60% of dogs are euthanized when their owners pass away.
At the time, our beloved 15 year- old cat, Chocolate was being treated at the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center (VSEC). I asked one of the vet techs, if she knew of anywhere that might take my Mom’s cats. She suggested contacting Tabby’s Place in Ringoes, New Jersey, although she thought they only rescued cats from shelters. I wrote an earnest heartfelt email to Angela Townsend, the Development Director telling the story of my Mom and her “girls.” Angela doubted they would be able be able to take my Mom’s cats, but offered to speak with her Board of Directors. The thought of not being able to find a home for my Mom’s cats was unfathomable, and honestly we were so close to losing all hope and thinking the worst. A true miracle happened a few days later when Angela called and informed us that Tabby’s Place would be willing to take “the girls.”
My husband and I brought “the girls” to Tabby’s Place. What an amazing place. Tabby’s Place is a cage-free sanctuary that provides impeccable care to cats coming from otherwise hopeless situations. Most of the cats are adoptable but may stay there and be cared for, for their entire lives, if not adopted. In a true collaborative effort, volunteers make a huge contribution and each cat is a cherished member of the Tabby’s Place family.
A few weeks later, I was in my living room, and Angela called. She asked if I was sitting down. My heart sank: was something wrong with one of my Mom’s cats? She told me the following story.
A few days prior, a woman had walked into Tabby’s Place inquiring whether they had a pair of cats whose owner had recently been unable to care for them? Not your average question, for sure. Angela informed the woman that they had 3 sets of cats meeting that description, each coming from very different circumstances. The woman then asked, “Are any of these cats both female? Because all my life I have wanted to have 2 female cats and name them Thelma and Louise! “
As hard as it is to believe, my Mom’s cats are named THELMA AND LOUISE!
The woman did not know this! How could she have? The odds of this are seemingly astronomical. Improbable that Tabby’s Place would take them at all, doubtful that 7 ½ year old cats would get adopted, unbelievable that they would be adopted together, and astronomical that the amazing couple who adopted them would be looking for 2 female cats to name Thelma and Louise!
I hung up the phone with tears streaming down my face and looked up at the sky. “Mom, I know this is you! I know you are speaking to me, saying, Aim, you did a great job, I’m so proud of you, but honey, I wanted Thelma and Louise to be together in a loving home.” Yup, this was definitely my Mom’s work from up above.
In the blockbuster movie Thelma and Louise, Thelma and Louise are both strong women, just like my Mom. At one point, Thelma says to Louise:
“You’re not gonna give up on me, are ya?”
This story is about not giving up. I will forever be thankful that somehow I convinced my Mom to keep Thelma and Louise with her for those short weeks. Just two days before she passed away, she was on the floor loving them. Moreover, I am forever grateful to the many people who never gave up on us. To Brooke from VSEC for telling us about Tabby’s Place, to Angela for being an actual angel and for her huge heart and discovery of a way to offer Thelma and Louise a new home. And to the anonymous couple who opened their hearts and home to give Thelma and Louise their second act. And most importantly, to my Mom, for fighting as long as she could, and for teaching us all, to stay strong and never give up.
Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul:The Cat Really Did That? August 2017