Warm hold

Warm hold

hawkeye-970-3-27-2011-2-24-22-amBaby New Year is already grizzled by goodbyes.

We were squeezed beyond sympathy when the old cat swayed in. Someone had snapped not one, but two collars on him sometime past. But, from the looks of those collars, this had been in days of yore. From the looks of the brown tabby’s skeleton — of which we could see every nook and cranny through his rough fur — it had been a long time since he’d been fed with love.

Our only photo of gentle Gunner, taken shortly after his arrival by Jane.
Our only photo of gentle Gunner, taken shortly after his arrival by Jane.

Still, love was his identity. Rather than protect his tender, bony head from a world that had let him down, the old tabby bumped it into us with gusto. Yesterday was over; here and now was good and holy, and he was going to give everything he had.

As you can see, this old boy bears a gaspworthy resemblance to our late Gunther. In tribute, we named him Gunner. Despite sharing his namesake’s long, powerful body type, old Gunner was only five pounds. He wielded them with zealous love and the kind of unbitter joy we humans rarely attain.

We thought we’d be able to pluck Gunner from his past and his frailty like a single sliver from the fire. But the cascade of medical problems was too much for him. In the arms of staff member Jess, at Dr. Fantastic‘s office, he gently left a world he’d never given up on loving.

Sorrow followed sorrow. The world’s loudest cat, Hawkeye, had been fading for months. Our veterinary team fights valiantly on behalf of every cat, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen them battle anything so fiercely as Hawkeye’s mysteries.

The tiny cat with the heavy holler had always been physically fragile, although specialists had been unable to find anything all that serious. Hawkeye had ulcerative colitis, a malformed colon and a bottomless appetite combined with an inability to maintain his weight. (Please hold the jokes about “Wow, I wish I was had that problem!” No, you don’t. Really.) Through every diet, every medication, and every weird hocus-pocusy behavioral intervention, he was in flux. His weight would climb, then plummet, all with no change in circumstances.

Happy hollering Hawkeye.
Happy hollering Hawkeye.

Through those unsteady years, Hawkeye was always VERY VERY PRESENT. (Yes, I am yelling. As was he, perpetually.) If the door to his suite was ajar, he was in that back hallway in a flash, screaming and strutting like the hot stuff he knew himself to be. If you were in his suite, he was either on your shoulder or shattering your eardrums from the floor, circling you in the way only a 4-pound feline laser beam can do. “PICK ME UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUP. PICK ME UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUP. I AM HERE AND YOU ARE NOT HOLDING ME. YOU ARE NOT VERY BRIGHT. BUT I LOVE YOU. OH MY STARS DO I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!”

And then, this past fall, suddenly Hawkeye wasn’t so very present. The happy holler turned shrill, and his discomfort was over something more than inadequate human homage. Our vet team worked and tried and researched frantically.

Until working and trying was no longer kind. Yesterday, surrounded by a staff who adored him, Hawkeye quietly left a world he’d forever changed.

On days like this, words fail even those of us who traffic in too-many words. Perhaps silence is wisdom. But I’ll risk foolishness in the thicket of thought. Words and the power of story are how we make our way through the mystery, and even when they’re inadequate, they are signposts in the fog.


Earlier this week, I wrestled words with a friend as we debated death. My friend maintained that death, being natural, is not “bad,” despite our feelings otherwise. What is, he said, is right. I respect his making peace with inevitability. I respect his learning to live with the “is.” But I have to believe that the “should be” that screams from our souls reflects bedrock reality. Our pain with each goodbye protests, even without our permission, that death is wrong — and if wrong, then in need of righting. I believe with every fiber of my being that we’re in the sort of story that will end right, and that we will see death swallowed up and defeated once and for all.

In the meantime, though, there’s the ache that words can’t fix. Can we make any stopgap sense of it all?

There is a setting on certain microwaves called Warm Hold. This one button sets in sequence something different from all others. Warm Hold does not cook. It will not turn crisp onions to carmelized sweetness, or steep your tea. Warm Hold is not capable of that kind of change.

But Warm Hold will take what “is” — your reheated Easy Mac, your tofu Florentine — and keep it warm. Warm Hold is meant for nights when your dining partner is running late, or dinner is ready before you are. Its power is limited, but it will hang onto the heat as long as possible while you wait.

Until we meet again, little Hawk.
Until we meet again, little Hawk.

I’d venture to say we do a fair amount of Warm Holding with the cats. In this world, we are still waiting for “is” to become “ought.” Even our fiercest, deepest love cannot rush the wait.

But we can bring light and heat to warm it.

We could not personally defeat death for Gunner and Hawkeye. We don’t have that kind of power. But sometimes the best thing we can do is simply to hold them, loosely and tightly all at once, for however long they’re in our arms.

And even as it attempts to break us, death keeps getting trammeled by relentless life. I don’t mean that it’s forgotten or erased– as if it could be. But the news of life keeps breaking into our dead zones. Even as Gunner and Hawkeye left us, small victories kept crying out: Natalie went on hold. Sandrine was adopted. Cosita and Furball were thriving in their forever home.

Until our imperfect warmth enters the blazing light of day, we mourn. But goodbye is not forever. Life wins. Gunner and Hawkeye, your lives were not in vain. Thank you for holding our hearts.

4 thoughts on “Warm hold

  1. I can’t fully put into words how dearly I loved Hawkeye. He was my go-to kitty to spend a little quiet time with during each volunteer shift. I say quiet because, for those times when I’d sit on the floor with a blanket on my lap, Hawkeye would temporarily stop hollering at the window of his suite door.

    The profile picture on his “Adoptable Cats” page is perfect. It completely captures the intensity of Hawkeye’s radar for people, for attention. He was always so tuned-in to the window in the door, to any movement, to the possibility of somebody coming in for a visit.

    In the last days, and for the first time ever, Hawkeye did NOT climb up my torso to sit on my shoulder. It was sadly telling; instead, I scooped him up and held his little body in my lap. Despite his frail state, he was still tuned in to the presence of a person, and as I changed the blankets and cleaned up his suite, he was underfoot the entire way, watching, rubbing, radiating the endless endless endless joy and love that Hawkeye embodied.

    I will sorely miss this little spark. The sanctuary is forever changed without him.

  2. It is very sad. Cats dying is so sad I can’t handle it. But the cats will probably have a better life over the rainbow. They might even find new friends and find their old friends that died. Hawkeye was really cute and I was sad when I heard he died. Tabby’s Place Staff and Volunteers, you guys do a lot for the cats. Just remember they will never forget you.

  3. Sweet Gunner looks like a little wild cat cub…rest in peace, baby – we never even got a chance to know you but you knew love from everyone at Tabby’s Place. Hawkeye, I will miss your screaming as I walk through the hallway…you were and always will be a cat among cats.

  4. Thank you Angela, for your beautiful words. Sleep peacefully sweet litty kitties – we wanted so much more for you, but our lives are richer for having known you both.

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