In memory of Fred
By Harriet P. Gross

grossforwebThe cat was named Bright Eyes by my daughter, who was about 10-years-old when he came to live with us.
I have never had to go looking for a cat; cats find their way to my door.
But a stray siamese with a cared-for coat, already neutered and declawed?
He must have gotten out of a car passing through our area, been separated from the owners who were certainly searching for him.
I tried to find those people, without success.
And so he was mine, a feisty feline youngster with the clear blue eyes that inspired his name.
Years later, those eyes clouded over, the feistiness disappeared, his once-powerful hind legs lost their spring and strength.
Bright Eyes took to spending most time in a sort of “nest” on my spare-room bed. After a while, he never left it; I took care of him there.
One day, I faced his awful inevitable, and asked a friend to drive us to the vet. I couldn’t bear the thought of that euphemistic “putting down,” but it was obvious that his time on earth had almost run its course.
I couldn’t even put him down in the car next to me, which is why I’d asked for help; I held him, wrapped in the blanket that had been his comfort in recent days, on my lap, for that final drive.
When we reached our destination, I found that he had taken his own leave of life while we were on our way.
I wrote a column then about that simplest of ways to die: wrapped in the warmth of true love and a comfortable blanket. That would be, I said, my own preferred way to depart from this earth.
But my time did not come before that of my husband. He passed away quietly less than two weeks ago, wrapped in the double warmth of a comfortable blanket and the words of hand-holding loved ones at his side.
First, Fred’s legs, once strong like my dear cat’s had been during his prime, had lost their power to that insidious thief, metastasized bone cancer.
Then the cells of his relentless disease invaded other vital organs — liver, lungs, brain.
All anyone could do was keep him comfortable as he rode those last final breaths to his end of life.
Countless compassionate doctors and nurses attended him.
Five rabbis came and went and came again, talking to Fred for as long as he could understand them and respond, and even after that, then reading psalms to the rest of us who were watching and waiting. Two of them officiated at his memorial service, his burial, his shivas.
Then we — his wife, his son, his nephew, his loving cousins — walked together into the sanctuary of our synagogue, where we were welcomed as the Sabbath Bride had been just moments before.
The warmth of many surrounded us. Life was as good as it could be for us who survived to mourn, blanketed in kind words and the touches of love from those who truly cared. I, like my dear husband, was able to relax and let go of much.
But the grief remains, of course.
I grieve the loss of my life companion. I grieve my inability — and that of all the medical community, even at this time of ever-advancing medicine — to recognize his disease in time to hold it in check, to grant him longer life.
Fred had been, in all those first good and then not good years and months and weeks and days and hours and minutes and seconds from diagnosis to death, passionate about encouraging early detection of that rarest of maladies in men: breast cancer.
I am pledged to continue his quest, to go on encouraging the search, in his memory.
Strengthening me is the welcome companionship of that same daughter who named Bright Eyes more than 40 years ago.
Please join us.

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