House of Splenda

House of Splenda

Departures can catch us off guard.

Just when you’re sure you’re 100% happy and 0% sad about a cat’s adoption, you’ve got the wild weepies.

Just when you’re convinced you’re “not one of those people” who gets sad over celebrity deaths, you’re snuffling your way through Frasier reruns.

Two very different departures did a number on me this month.

We didn’t expect 16-year-old Sugar to be adopted, and I certainly didn’t expect to be gutted by that “goodbye.” After all, the adoption of any cat, particularly a super senior, is cause for celebration.

But more on that variety of sweetness in a moment.

The other surprise came in the entertainment news feed. John Mahoney, best known as “the dad from Frasier,” died at age 77. Now, I normally greet celebrity passings with a sympathetic frown and a quick prayer for the family, but this one shot straight through me. “Marty Crane died!” I swooned to anyone who would listen.

And then I cried.

Growing up in the 90s, Frasier was a fixture in my family, and Martin Crane wasn’t so much “the grandpa I never had” as a remarkable echo of the Grandpa I did. Very much a nervous, neurotic Niles myself, I glommed onto my earthy, honorable, cranky and loving Grandpa from the earliest age. Like Marty, he was a retired cop; like Marty, he brooked no nonsense but spared no solid sweetness for his family. Somehow you knew that these men, not given to sentimentality, were worth the weight of ten trillion Valentines. They would die for you, stay with you in the dark hours, and drag you kicking and screaming back to righteous reality when your airy head threatened liftoff. They were Integrity and Goodness and The Utter Absence of BS in a world where we all need a very large shovel.

Now they were both gone.

Reading John Mahoney’s tributes, I was struck by the standout word “kindness.” It seemed the man was much a match for his most-loved character. He loved his God and his dear ones; he made peace with the dreams that didn’t come true, surrendering to the joys that did; he gave his all to making his fellow creature feel cherished.

And, twenty to thirty times every day, he prayed these words: “Dear God, please help me to treat everybody, including myself, with love, respect, and dignity.”

Which brings us back to Sugar.

With her strident squawk and permanent expression of indignity — “You are not presently petting my person?!!” — Sugar might have struck you as demanding. From the Lounge to the Lobby, she was not content to simply sweeten you with her presence, nor even to sprinkle her manic magic on your day. Over and over and over again, Sugar dumped the entire five-pound bag of herself onto laps, into lives, loving with wild urgency.

Cats are known for being blind to the foolish things we humans usually judge — fashion, awkwardness, Special Needs — but the Lobby can test even the largest-hearted among them. If someone is too loud or too odd or too much, many cats will charge off to a safe distance.

Not Sugar. If her supercharged sweetness was her gift, she gave it to everyone equally. Whether you arrived in a wheelchair or with an “outdoor voice;” whether you were awkward or elegant; Sugar let loose the full force of her love.

Love. Respect. Dignity. For you — whoever you may be. And, of course, for herself.

So it’s no surprise, really, that despite being sixteen, Sugar has left for the permanent love of her life. How could such a screaming saint not be scooped up, sprinkled into a bowl of cherries all her own?

And how can we keep from singing…and weeping…and praying to be more like the ones we’ve just lost?

Tabby’s Place may now be the House of Splenda, deprived of the genuine article. But just like those yellow packets couldn’t be created without “real” sugar, so we’ve had our atoms reorganized by something sweeter than ourselves.

Go with God, John and Grandpa. Go merrily off to your forever home, Sugar. And please, pray for us, too.

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