Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Favorite Story About Harry

Just before he passed away, our big black cat wasn't so big anymore. He was 21 years old and so sick he stopped eating and lost almost half his body weight. We thought it was his time, and we began to mourn. But he recovered. Still, not many cats live to be 21. We knew we didn't have much time left with him. 

One of my favorite memories of Harry was an incident that happened in July 1996, Kathleen and I selected October 13th, 1996 as our wedding date. We mailed invitations in late August. In mid-September we found a lump in her breast. By late September we knew it was malignant.

Kathleen’s surgeon was highly skilled. He was also a caring person who understood how important it was to these two people in their fourth and fifth decades to marry each other at sunset on October 13th with their families and friends gathered around them. He knew that the operation would have to take place in the week following the biopsy if the wedding were to happen as planned. He couldn’t eliminate any other patient from his packed schedule, so he booked her surgery for Saturday.

On October 3rd, he removed a generous handful of tissue from the cancer site. He also removed a plug of lymph nodes from her armpit, around 15 of them, to be checked for metastasis. He did a great job and we’re grateful for his expertise and his kindness.

On Kathleen’s first day home, she stayed in bed most of the day. The anesthesia had been disorienting and she was groggy with medication and pain.

By the second day, the pain was intense, her body crying for the part of her that had been removed. The nerves that had been cut radiated a burning pain from her breast and underarm. She couldn’t find a position that didn’t hurt.

On that day, something unusual happened. Harry, our big black cat, jumped up on the bed and stretched out next to her. Instead of curling into a ball next to her feet, as was his custom, he laid the full length of his body against her right torso. Kathleen lifted her right arm and laid it on top of his body. The slight elevation positioned the arm perfectly and the heat from his kitty body seeped into her side, calming the pain like a balm. Strangely, in spite of the weight of her arm, Harry didn’t move. And he stayed in that position all day. Kathleen says that the soft warmth and comfort of Harry’s body had a healing effect.

The next day, Harry did the same thing. He jumped onto the bed and quickly assumed the same position as the day before. It seemed like a loving gesture, to bear the weight of Kathleen’s arm to give her comfort. Once again, she stayed in bed most of the day and Harry stayed with her the whole time.

Harry gave Kathleen this gift four consecutive days, after which she felt much better and began to get on with life.

The strange thing is that this kind of intimacy was out of character for Harry. He had been a street cat before he found Kathleen, and he still spent a lot of time outdoors defending his territory. He had never cuddled this way before, and he never did again. Why did he do this? Did he sense that she was hurt and in pain? We never knew. It was a mystery.

Kathleen had lived with Harry only five years at the time, and I had known him only a few months. After this incident, I would refer to him as “Sweet Harry.”

Harry in 2010...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength. (1996 photo and 2010 photo by Kathleen Scott, used with permission)


Bill Blake said...

A really great story, Denny. My life has been filled with dogs, and I have many similar stories. The hard part is always saying "Goodbye", but the joy they bring is incredible. I cannot imagine Heaven without dogs!

Nita said...


You write this so well. Tears came to both Richard's and my how did the cat understand exactly what she needed? He could perhaps sense that she was in pain (her behavior was very unusual for her too) and perhaps where the pain was by all kinds of visual or olfactory cues...yet... there are mysteries...and we'd like to think all creatures can be loving and caring to make this a better world.

Thank you and Kathleen for sharing.

Kathleen Scott said...

I was unbelievably fortunate that October, to marry Denny, a man who loved me in spite of cancer, without knowing the future--whether he'd celebrate anniversaries or hold a funeral.

Harry is thin and slow now, but still sweet. And we're making this last period of his life as good as it can be.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I didn't even know you have a blog. I was so excited when Kathleen told me, I rushed right over here! I was so happy that I almost followed you twice! Laugh.

Poor dear sweet Harry. What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing it Denny. You are a fine writer and as Kathleen said, a good man.

Kathleen, who wouldn't love you? How could anyone help it?

I love you both. Please hug and kiss Harry for me.

Unknown said...

My daughter is going through a very tough time right now with numerous health and pain problems. Her dog is a constant companion and source of comfort for her. I was touched by your story. Thanks for sharing and glad that Kathleen has fully recovered.

Anonymous said...

Sweet Harry, He made me cry sweet tears. I'm very excited to follow your work. I only discovered you 3 hours ago but feel like you are now an old friend. I look forward to learning from your wisdom. Blessings, Judy

Marcy said...

Thank you for this very touching story. Animals are our companions and often healers. They flow loving energy, healing, and sometimes even instinctively absorb the energy of our pain and illness.

What a special cat you had!!!

Valerie Blackwood said...

This just confirms what we know about our pets. They really do know when we need comfort in distress.Lovely, stalwart Harry. You had looked after him and now he knew you needed 'looking after' too.Keep well.