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Michael Hillman

May 1995 - Jan 1, 2011

"Squeak’s death has been harder than any in the past," said my wife as she stood in the bedroom doorway. "The house upstairs seems empty … the feeling in the house is just wrong."

She was right. Less than five days had passed since we put Squeak down, but it felt like both a million years ago and only 10 seconds ago at the same time.

As I advance in age I’m becoming more aware of my own mortality. Losing Squeak left me feeling one step closer to my own grave.

For the better part of the last three years I made an effort to spend more quality time with Squeak by climbing into bed early, paper in hand. She would watch patiently as I settled in, and once the paper was opened she would crawl onto my lap and wait for the caressing she knew would follow. Occasionally I would look down at her. Her eyes were always fixated on my face. She had beautiful eyes and the sweetest of faces. I frequently reminded myself that I needed to memorize her face, for someday she would no longer be with us. When that day arrived, I wanted to be able to close my eyes and remember her just as she was. I did, and I still do today.

Squeak was given to us along with her brother Miles in an old grain bag by a local farmer over 15 years ago. Less than four weeks old at the time, she and her brother were much too young to be given the run of the house, so their first month was spent in a ‘cardboard box condominium.’ My wife doted on her new charges, and they quickly associated her voice with food, water and love. She would purr to them and they would look up, bright-eyed, and meow back to her.

At eight weeks, they were given free run of the house, and run they did. Jordie, our nine-month old male Manx, was overjoyed at the two new ‘toys’ we had brought him. Unlike other toys that needed to be wound up or held by a human, these were self-propelled and could evade him like no other toy could. For hours the three would scurry around the house in a never-ending game of tag. When tired, they would find a warm place to retire and sleep and, once revived, resume the chase. I’m not sure who had more fun - them or us - as they provided endless entertainment. Squeak, Miles and Jordie managed to turn this lifelong dog person into a confirmed cat-lover.

How Squeak got her name is beyond me. Like all our pets, Squeak and Miles were originally named after Star Trek characters. Collectively we called them the ‘Binars’ after characters in one Star Trek episode that were inseparable, as Squeak and her brother were. Individually they were Miles and Keiko. While Miles retained his given name, Squeak was rarely called by her real name, not even on her vet records

The first nine years of Squeak’s life were about as good as it can get for a cat. Summer days were spent lying on a windowsill either basking in the sun or catching a cool breeze. In the winter, Squeak would retreat to my study where she would perch herself on top of the couch in front of the wood-burning stove. As long as the fire was going, we did not need to look far for her. She loved attention, but hated to have her head touched. If I was busy and she was hounding me for attention, all I had to do was attempt to pat her on the head.

Squeak had the run of the house, until fate stepped in. With her parents’ health failing, my wife inherited their two cats. Nearly three times the size of Squeak and her brother, the two newcomers quickly sought to impose their domination over the pair, much to the chagrin of all. Peace was only restored when the Binars retreated to life on the second floor.

It was hard not to feel like Squeak and her brother had gotten the short end of the deal. As most of the action in the house took place on the first floor, they were out of the picture during the day. But in the evening, the pair had us all to themselves; Miles would curl up on my wife’s pillow, while Squeak nestled in between us.

The addition of a new summer porch off our bedroom offered Squeak and Miles the opportunity to ‘play’ outside cat. One day, while the porch was still under construction, Squeak managed to sneak out on the porch’s ledge. My wife went to grab her, but Squeak wasn’t having any part of it and jumped onto the metal roof adjoining the porch. Squeak quickly discovered that cat claws don’t offer much resistance on a metal roof, and to her horror, found herself sliding down and eventually off the roof. According to my wife, the look on Squeak’s face was priceless! The fall didn’t hurt her, but it did teach her a lesson.

The Binars may have lost their reign of the downstairs, but as long as they had each other, they seemed okay. Then Miles passed away. Squeak grieved for what seemed like ages at the loss of her lifelong companion, and became very withdrawn. Her world shrunk to our bedroom, where she would lie on or under our bed. It was sad to watch. She seemed to transform from a kitten into an old cat in the blink of an eye.

But as months became years, Squeak slowly returned to her old self, becoming more demanding as she aged. Knowing all too well our evening routine, she would sit at the top of the stairs, looking through the rails of the banister waiting for us. When dinner was served, she would yowl incessantly until she received her own meal. In the rare case when we might be late for bed, she would descend the stairs just far enough to peer into the living room and meow loudly, as if to say, "When are you coming up? This is supposed to be my time!"

On those occasions when she felt exceptionally brave, she would descend halfway down the stairs and survey her surroundings. Confident that the coast was clear, she would then dash quickly to the couch and settle in between us where she would be rewarded with a "You’re safe" and lots of attention.

When I’m old and gray, I will most fondly remember my evening routine with Squeak nestled up to me in bed as I read the paper. She would no sooner settle in with me than my wife would appear to give Squeak her pills. Wrapped in a towel, Squeak would begrudgingly open her mouth for the pills, only to promptly spit them out once released. The act would be repeated until the pills were finally swallowed, at which time she would be released, rushing once again to my side for the admiration she knew awaited her.

Squeak always slept between us. When I found myself lying awake at night, she was always there to help me occupy my thoughts with things other than worries. The morning would find her on the radiator, eyes glued to the bed for the first sign of movement. Once signed, she would give a mighty leap and resume her rightful place between my wife and I. And God forbid we were slow in responding to her. No matter how many blankets I pulled over my face, she always managed to get at least one paw under them and onto my face, where she would ‘pat’ me until I returned the favor.

Squeak’s end came too quickly, yet was thankfully brief. She put up a brave fight, but the cancer that consumed her body was too much for her. The most we could do was choose the time and place for her to join her brother. Having seen too many pets die away from home, we chose to make it as easy as we could on her. She was put to sleep on our bed, the same bed she had fallen asleep on every day of her life for the past 15 years.

Every morning I can still feel her jump on the bed and walk up my side. I hope I never lose that feeling, for as long as I have it, I still have a part of her with me.

Her death was sad, but knowing that Squeak had lived a great life, we opened a bottle of Champagne and toasted a life well lived.

We should all be so lucky.

Squeak passed away Saturday, Jan 1st, 2011 after just a three week long battle with cancer.  No matter how bad she felt, she still managed to summon up a good purr whenever someone picked him up. 

On Saturday Squeak got to do everything she always loved to do.  Sleep in the sunshine, nap with my wife, eat chicken,  sit between us as we watch TV.

She died peacefully on her own pillow on the bed she had slept on all her life.

Pastor Wade Martin: Do Pets Go to Heaven

Read other stories by Michael Hillman