If you’ve read The Conscious Cat for a little while, you may remember reading about Steeler. Steeler was a tortie who belonged to my friend Bernie. Steeler had come into Bernie’s life during a time when she really needed a little angel. Her husband had become severely debilitated by Alzheimer’s, and after Bernie took in the the little stray cat sporting the colors of her favorite football team, she quickly won both of their hearts. Miraculously, Bernie’s husband, who didn’t respond to anyone else at that stage, not even to Bernie, still responded to Steeler’s presence.
After her husband was hospitalized, Steeler became a great comfort to Bernie. Sadly, fate wasn’t done providing challenges for Bernie. Bernie’s husband succumbed to his illness last December. A few weeks later, Bernie’s son Eric lost his battle with lung cancer. And four months after that, Steeler passed away after dealing with multiple health issues.
It takes a strong person to go on after so much loss in such a short period of time. Bernie found comfort with family and friends, and that helped. But grief is a lonely business. When you’re grieving this much loss, you become a little fragile on the inside, no matter how strong you look on the outside. And coming home to an empty house, day after day, wasn’t helping.
Last week, she got a call from the nursing home her mother resides in: her mother had had a series of small strokes. The same day, her stepfather was taken to the hospital with heart complications . Bernie knew that she would be facing more loss in the near future, and she wasn’t sure she could bear it. On the way home from the hospital, she stopped at the cemetery, sat by Eric’s grave, and wept. For two solid hours, she cried. She cried for Eric, and she cried for Steeler. She kept asking questions that have no answers. She felt like she just couldn’t go on anymore. She begged for something, anything. “There has to be something more,” she said to me when she told me about that day. “I needed a sign that Eric and Steeler weren’t really gone.”
After she had cried herself out, she drove home, and went inside through the back door, as she usually does. Her son Wayne, who is currently staying with her while recovering from eye surgery, greeted her excitedly. “Mom, you’re not going to believe what’s on your porch!” He practically dragged her to the front porch of the house.
There, on the front porch, were two kittens: a tortoiseshell and a grey tabby. They looked to be about six weeks old. They were a little skittish, but Wayne managed to catch them.
Bernie named the grey tabby Liberty, and the tortie Justice. Eric worked for the US Department of Justice, and it seemed like a fitting tribute to him and Steeler.
You already know that Steeler was a tortie.
What you don’t know is that Eric had beautiful, thick, grey hair.
June 27 update:
A week after she found the kittens on her front porch, Bernie was able to trap the kitten’s mother. The gray cat had been coming to Bernie’s porch for quite some time, even while Steeler was still alive, and Bernie had been feeding her. The cat was shy, and Bernie never thought about bringing her into the house, especially not while Steeler was still with her. Steeler fell into the category of confirmed only cat.
But now, the mother cat has become part of Bernie’s family. Bernie named her Freedom.
The day Freedom came home, Bernie received a letter about her son’s burial site. It informed her that Eric’s headstone will be placed this week, in a portion of the cemetery called – Freedom Garden.