nermal: in memoriam, by way of a photo essay

L.G. Nermal was born on August 9th, 2010. We didn’t meet him until November 11th. Some people say that cats adopt humans, not the other way around. Nermal didn’t adopt us: he never once gave a sense of ownership or superiority to either of us.

But he did choose us, out of the crowd, as it were. The very next day we had him in our home.

L.G. Nermal - day one

He was pleasant to the other cats from the get-go. They, on the other hand…

Not pictured: Switters's sense of impending doom

It was Ashley’s turn to name the new pet, and it took her a few days to come up with something. She eventually settled upon Nermal, from Garfield, because he made happy little quasi-twittering-type-noises just like the cat on the cartoon. And because, well, he wasn’t quite normal.

I added the L.G., which stood for Little Guy. The idea was that the initials would change over time or whenever a couple of adjectives were needed to describe him or his behavior.

He never got the chance to be anything but a Little Guy.

He liked to hang out in whichever room Ashley and/or I were in. Even if he was just sleeping.

He also liked helping us with homework.

The other cats, in time, warmed up to him. Randal isn’t one much for other living creatures as all, but he liked Nermal because Nermal played with Switters, meaning that for the first time in over a year Switters wasn’t forcing Randal to play with him. Switters and Nermal played together a lot initially.

They even kinda became buds.

Nermal had three favorite activities.

Any time I did laundry he would play in the empty laundry basket, sometimes moving it from room to room. I’d set it down by the closet, put some clothes away, and I’d find it almost in the living with one L.G. Nermal inside it. He would playfully attack anyone – felis catus or homo sapiens – who happened to walk by.

He also would run into the bathtub just as soon as someone finished showering. He would sit in the still-wet basin and watch fascinatedly as the droplets ran down the shower curtain and the walls.

And he loved it when we came home with groceries. Not because he was interested in the new foodstuffs. No no. He loved the bags.

He was a gift to us, and especially to Ashley. The other cats aren’t as friendly with her as they are with me, for reasons only they know. Nermal, though…Nermal loved her and wasn’t afraid to let her know. Any time he cuddled up to her, she was happy. He would sometimes wake her up in the middle of the night just because he wanted her to pet him for two minutes. Then he’d let he go back to sleep.

Christmas Eve. Ready to go.

Not long after the above picture was taken I noticed a sudden change in Nermal’s behavior. Normally in the morning before work I’d put some food in his bowl and he’d eat it like there was no tomorrow. (He was the loudest eater I’ve ever heard, especially for a cat. Sometimes it was just gross to listen to him.) Then he’d go over to the big boys’ bowl and eat their food.

On this particular morning – a Monday about a month and a half after he brought him home – he ate about five bites of his food and then started scraping the floor next to his bowl. When I came home from work later that day, there was food still in his bowl. This was unprecedented.

This behavior continued throughout the week and into the next. We’d battled some fleas right around the time that Nermal’d come into our home, so my guess was he had worms. The next day, though, was when I noticed his belly.

See how small his head is? That's because his tummy is huge.

Two weeks ago today we learned that he had F.I.P., something for which there is no cure. We chose to take him home and care for him rather than having him put down. These last two weeks were rough. He stopped playing with Switters. He stopped running into the bathtub when I got out of the shower. He slept more. His stomach got bigger while he got smaller.

We tried not to hold out hope, but at any sign of normal behavior – even just eating solid food instead of the Ensure we were told to give him – we both secretly and silently hoped that he was getting a bit better. I tried not to tell myself that maybe he’d just learn to live with his big belly, that maybe he’d achieve some type of homeostasis with it and he’d be the first-ever cat to survive F.I.P. It sounds crazy, but then again…I live with a woman who was not supposed to live past ten.

And I think this was especially hard for Ashley. More than just losing her buddy, Ashley knew what he was going through and how it felt. Back in the summer of 2007, her lung-function dropped enough that she didn’t have energy to eat. She couldn’t find a way to get comfortable that would allow her to breathe. She felt like she was suffocating constantly.

The problem with F.I.P. is that it dumps nourishment from the veins into the belly. The belly swells, unable to drain. In time this begins to compromise lung-function.

Ashley hated that he was suffocating. She hated that he was going through what she’d gone through.

But that was why he chose us. Whether he knew it then or not, Nermal had an anomaly in his genetic code that would eventually cause him to die. In Ashley, he saw a mother who would be closer to him in a fundamental way that his own feline mother would never be. He saw a mother who would understand.

There’s another reason he chose us, but I’ll save that for another time.

Last Sunday was when I knew Nermal wasn’t going to make it. He’d developed a wheeze to his breathing and he couldn’t sleep for lack of comfort.

And he stopped looking happy.

I didn’t think he’d last the day. Late in the evening he climbed onto my lap and as I watched him lie there unable to sleep, the tears started. Ashley and I began our mourning then. We were up very late that night, neither of us wanting to be asleep when our little guy couldn’t fight anymore.

But he made it.

None of us slept well at all this week, especially after he began to behave erratically.

Finally, he was capable of little more than lying around.

We moved his box from room to room so he could still hang out with us like he liked to do so much.

Saturday night, around 7:30, I knew somehow that it was time. I scooped him into my lap and sat with him on the sofa, swaddled in one of the fleece blankets he loved so much. I kissed his little face and told him that we loved him, that we would miss him so much, and that it was time for him to go. He lied back in my arms and went slack. He cried out once or twice and Ashley and I moved him to the bed, where he could be warm.

Ashley told him then that it was okay to go. She said, ‘Go play.’ She bent over him and combed out his fur, fur he’d been too tired to clean for the last week. She cleaned him up and made him soft again and that is was brought him peace enough to let go. Inside his little shallow-breathing body, Nermal fell asleep.

Four hours later, L.G. Nermal exhaled for the final time. I was right there with him, holding his little paw. When I heard the final exhale, I knew it for what it was. I put my head on his little side and listened as his tired little heart stopped beating.

And as crazy as it may be, under that sad sound I also heard him purring. I knew he was gone, but the purring sound outlasted his heartbeat by about thirty seconds. I wouldn’t believe I heard it except that no scientist anywhere can tell me how it is that cats purr. Let alone if a cat can purr after his heart stops.

Nermal did.

Once he was gone I moved his paws closer to his body. I wrapped his tail around him. I held his eyes closed. I scooped him up, kissed him a final time on the cheek, and put him in his favorite blanket so that, as Ashley’d said, he wouldn’t be cold. Wrapping him in it, I placed him in his box.

L.G. Nermal died on January 30th, 2011. His was not yet six-months old.

And I cried. I cried and cried and cried. I’m crying again.

But that’s okay. I love our Little Guy Nermal, and I know I’ll miss him for a long time. I’ll think of him every time I get out of the shower. Every time I do the laundry. Every time I use one of the fleece blankets he loved so much.

I know how you were when you died, little buddy. But I’m going to choose to remember you differently. I’ll remember you like this, which was the third day after you’d come into our lives and the day I knew I loved you.

Goodbye my friend. I hope you’ve found a way to be able to play again.


5 comments on “nermal: in memoriam, by way of a photo essay

  1. so beautiful and such depth of feeling! with animals, we are free to love in a way that we are sometimes afraid to allow with other people. bless the animals and the children! (in this world, they have no voice – they have no choice)

  2. Pingback: sometimes i think time’s healing powers are highly over-hyped | a heap of broken images

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