Dorian and I have been married for thirty years, and no children have come out of our union because of medical issues. For couples like us, fur-people often become an important surrogate, and we’ve had a few in our time.
Shadow Maddow, so named by Dorian for her appreciation of journalist Rachel Maddow, gave herself into our care and companionship almost 16 years ago, when she was brand new at the whole “being a cat” thing. We’d lost a kitty to illness before that who was named “Mister Mistoffelees,” after the famous book of poetry by T.S. Eliot called “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,’ and later, of course, the character based on that set of poems that debuted in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical, “Cats.”
He was a slinky little jet-black cat who only lived to the age of ten, and we missed him a great deal after he was gone. He had traits that were similar to the character presented in Eliot’s poem, so Dorian named him after that magical little scamp. This was not just for his personality, but also because he looked like a REAL cat version of any costumed actor/dancer who played the part in Webber’s musical, which we saw during a 1994 trip to London.
Our apartment was terribly empty after his departure, so we set out to bring another young fur-person into the family, and found Shadow living with a local man named John who had rescued her, but he realized he wasn’t at home often enough to give her the care and companionship she deserved. He ran an ad saying that he wanted Shadow and her brother, Tazzy, to go to a good home, and someone who would have much more time to care for them.
When we arrived at John’s apartment to meet them, we fell for them right away. Tazzy was a fluffy little orange tabby with white patches here and there, and Shadow was a sleek, beautiful ‘tortie’ who looked and acted like a little Egyptian princess. John had named both of them when he rescued them from living in an abandoned boat, so we kept the names.
He didn’t want to split them up, and had declined a few people who answered his ad but only wanted to take one or the other. He said he had to leave on a road trip in about three days so if no one had come along to take both, he would contact the previous people and give in to splitting them. He was very glad we’d come along and embraced the surprise of suddenly having two new fur-kids in our lives.
We had Tazzy with us for only a few years until a serious respiratory issue set in and claimed him in 2009. The vet said it was genetic and no treatment would have given him a longer life; he passed suddenly one day in a completely unexpected respiratory arrest while at home.
Shadow remained and has been a wonderful companion to Dorian, who deals with her own chronic illness and pain issues, and has given her a great deal of love. When Dorian would get into distress, mostly chronic pain on a massive scale, Shadow would ‘check on her,’ and bring her comfort from her misery. I too have my own physical issues and in combination with Dorian, we’ve had a tough road for about the past 15 years, but these amazing little companions are magical when it comes to lifting us out of that for a time.
About a year ago Shadow started slowing down, and kidney failure (common in cats) along with dementia, became more pronounced from month to month. As June of 2020 approached, it was clear that she would be beyond any further treatment and she’d need to be released from it into what the cats in Lloyd Webber’s musical refer to as “The Heaviside layer.” In an odd twist, this place actually exists.
From a scientific discovery of a layer of ionized gas in the earth’s upper atmosphere, it’s named after the scientist who discovered it in 1902, Oliver Heaviside. T.S. Eliot didn’t mention it in his 1939 book, but his widow sent an unpublished manuscript with that reference to Andrew Lloyd Webber after he’d obtained her permission to produce a musical based on the set of poems, and he included it in the stage version.
In Webber’s musical, “The Heaviside Layer” is where good cats go after they die, at least according to the singing cats. Not much science involved.
With Shadow in preparation for her journey to that place, I realized I had never before documented our farewell to any previous fur-kids, because some had left suddenly, and some others were long enough ago that it wouldn’t have been practical. Today it can be done with a phone camera and bit of editing on a laptop, so for the very first time I have captured our final moments with a loved one before she departed to The Heaviside Layer, where we hope she has joined in companionship with Mistoffelees, Tazzy, and others who have gone on before.
Of course we know it’s all a poetic metaphor, but we also know our girl is no longer in pain and confusion. We miss her dearly, but that fact eases our own pain a bit and we hold onto a hope that there is something beyond the veil where her beautiful energy now resides.
Rest well in that heaviside layer, our dear princess.