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Tikvah Means Hope: The One Who Is Forever My First
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Tikvah, you were always so beautifully full and radiant. As a "kidden" you chased a dangling toy on my bed, in your mad circles until you became an orange blur. Sometimes you dangled upside down from my forearm with four strong paws. I called you "a cat purse."
Your first morning with me, you camped out in the bathroom sink. This became habit. Though you always slept in bed with me, you awoke in wee hours to play hockey with my make-up and adjourn to the sink for a snooze.
PUMPKIN MUFFIN: Nothing shines in my mind as vibrantly as images of you wrestling with Stanley. You stalked him with the majestic pride of a lion king. You crawled, flat to the carpet, ears laid back, eyes sharp. Stan stood in the middle of room with that clueless Lhasa look, "Where did he go?" as you circled him to close in for The Pounce.
Sometimes you darted from a corner with so much gusto, you arrived on Stanley's back piggyback style before tumbling off with your understated grin. A year apart and inseparable from birth, the two of you rolled through my apartment like orange-white tumbleweed.
Tikvah, you stood watch on my old glass-top coffee table, waiting for Stan to pass. Then you bopped him on the head with that snide Garfield smirk.
TIKKY STICKS: You twisted into an "S," with half your body pointed one direction and the other half pointed another. Your wide eyes locked with mine, as if posing for a photo. You were so funny, with that tough-guy stride and focused stare. You appeared in the strangest places — a sock drawer, a filing box, inside your carrier while stacked atop other carriers by my desk… When found you looked at me as if to say, "Got a problem with this?"
BEAUTIFUL ORANGE BOY: Every night you slept across my torso, purring and staring into my face. So blissful that your tongue poked out between two freckled lips. You seemed to be sticking your tongue out at me. Simply Tikvah in heaven.
SHOULDER RIDER: You straddled my shoulder, your magnificent head peering through my hair. Sometimes you took a feline swat at the hair, which always killed me! I backed into the bathroom to catch your reflection in a mirror. You relaxed like a large limp pillow, draped over my shoulder as we walked Stanley or did household chores. I can almost feel your warmth against my back. I am still in shock that you are not here.
PHONE BOY: Who could forget the time I came home to find police at my doorstep claiming someone had called 911 from my address? Officers let me listen to the recording. I heard shuffling papers and soft tapping across my desk. Suddenly I recognized the caller. You had pressed your paw on the 911 button on my office phone. When the operator asked "Is someone there?" she heard movement and perhaps a faint meow. For weeks my family left voicemails: "Tikvah called earlier and left a message. I'm returning his call."
TIKVAH HERO: Twelve years ago, I was asleep in my bed around 5:00 a.m. A deep sleep. I didn't hear a man climb the balcony to pry open a sliding patio door and enter my kitchen. He silently moved to my bedroom door. But you stood atop my belly, prairie-dog style, and sort of howled. I never heard that deep, guttural sound before or after the intruder. Your eyes popped as you alerted me to danger. I noticed a silhouette in my bedroom doorway. You growled menacingly; I screamed at the top of my lungs. Neighbors heard us and the intruder fled. Cops later dubbed you the Hero Cat. They felt that if you hadn't warned me before the man was near enough to shove a pillow over my face, he probably would have attacked me.

CAR CAT: Like Tonces, the Saturday Night Live cat. You walked across my lap until situated at the rim of my leg. Two furry paws wrapped over my arm, with your head on the windowsill. You stared out the window in awe of traffic, snow, birds, lights. Even on your second to last night on Earth, as we drove home from the emergency clinic, you crawled from the carrier. I lifted your emaciated body on to my lap and cradled your head. We crept over icy roads, your reflection in the glass. The brain cancer made you involuntarily swat the car door a few times, but you stayed in my lap for our last ride together.
STUFF ONLY A MOMMY COULD LOVE: An ever-changing pattern of freckles dotted your pink lips. And a little brown mole grew just above your right eye, until it mysteriously fell off. You also had a condition nicknamed "rodent virus." Your lower lip swelled to three times its normal size, making you look like a street fighter. Medication shrank the lip. After I married and moved from apartment to house, your fat-lip virus never reemerged.
ORANGENESS IS EVERYWHERE: Tik, you are near. You were first to greet me, even before the dogs. Your campaign to win over my not-a-cat-person husband inspired. Each morning you sat on our kitchen table to peer over Grady's newspaper, as if reading headlines. I loved to watch you two share that ritual.

By Brenda Shoss, Tikvah's Mom, Student & Friend

As a twentysomething serial girlfriend with a penchant for destructive men, I could barely care for myself much less a houseplant. So when my cousins found a homeless cat, I seemed the least likely candidate for feline foster mom. Still, I went to check out the orphan. I figured two lost souls ought to meet. At our first encounter an orange bundle leapt into my arms. Before I could say, "How do you hold a cat?" he ambitiously straddled one shoulder to let his bushy face peek through my long hair.

He was undeniably gorgeous, with deep rust rings looping through flaxen fur. An apricot "M" marked the soft spot between his ears. He adopted me immediately. We returned home with my then four-year-old cousin Lindsey, who proceeded to give me a crash course in cat.

I had just turned 30 and was studying to become an adult bat mitzvah. I asked my instructor, Esther Klevens, to tell me the Hebrew word for hope. "Tikvah," she said.

And so he became. Alive. Vibrating. Golden deep eyes. Tikvah. My hope.

As I dug Tikvah's grave the week of February 10, 2003, anger and shock maneuvered my shovel. Tikvah would have turned 13 in a few months.

When "What Next?" Ends. In early December he was diagnosed with low-grade gastrointestinal lymphoma, a feline cancer that emanates from intestinal bowel disorder (IBD). Over the weeks that Tikvah's body wasted from 10 to 5 pounds, I wrapped him in towels to syringe-feed him. I tenderly massaged and cleaned his chapped paws. I poked needles into his back to drip IV fluids into his dehydrated body. I combed food specks from the beloved orange fur that barely masked protruding bones. And I accumulated doctors — primary veterinarians, an oncologist, a holistic vet, a homeopathic practitioner.

During feedings, Tikvah peered over the rim of his terrycloth papoose. I grew to admire his spirit. We confronted each obstacle as a team. When Tikvah's red blood cell count plummeted, I raced him to the emergency clinic for a blood transfusion. I could decipher labwork as if I'd gone to veterinary school. But in less than one month, the cancer traveled from stomach to nose to brain.

Tikvah's first seizure began with moans that amplified into screams. I carried him to the litterbox, assuming IBD's wretched diarrhea was on its way. Instead, he fell over. His front legs stiffened into wooden pegs and his eyes dilated into black pools.

Within seconds, his body softened and he turned to me with a look of "Why?" One doctor thought low blood sugar caused the seizure. So I sped back to the emergency clinic. When his sugar level came back high, I realized I'd run out of "What nexts?" The oncologist confirmed lymphoma in his central nervous system. I took Tik home to die.

At Tikvah's euthanasia, my husband and friend Janet cried as I read a farewell letter. But after a few days, no one knew where to file my sorrow. Business clients nervously asked "Are you okay?" and my dance students listened reticently as I dedicated our concert piece to Tikvah.

Tikvah passed away on January 24, 2003. Months later, I marvel at the quiet where he used to be. I stare into photos, as if to animate their stillness.

"If you are grieving for an animal that is sick, dying or has died you are not alone. Such a loss can be one of the most devastating as well as physically and emotionally traumatic events you will ever experience," writes Harriet J. Cuddy, Certified Pet Bereavement Counselor and facilitator for the St. Louis Pet Loss Support Group.

Society doesn't uncontrolled emotion. When heartache is over a companion animal, portals to grieving become all the more narrow. Many don't recognize the depth of the bond. "They fail to understand that the death of a pet is sometimes more painful than the death of a person who played a part in your life," Mary Montgomery explains in Good-bye My Friend, Grieving the Loss of a Pet.

For 12 years Tikvah rode atop my shoulders during dog walks or chores. Sometimes he swatted my hair with a big floppy paw. My lap was his floor, my hair his playground. He was a warm fluid hug. I called him Little Buddha, for his gracious, accepting nature. As my family grew to include two dogs, another cat, a husband, three stepkids, and my own child — Tikvah remained its heartbeat, wise, cool-headed and kind. He was unquestionably the good kid in my brood.

I am haunted by emptiness after his death. Yet I have to authenticate my grief with metaphor: "Imagine if your child died. This feels the same way." I resent this need to qualify love. Why must I ration devotion — this much for a husband, this much for a son and this much for a "pet?" Love is measured in depth, not kind.

I've stopped seeking approval to mourn. "You alone know how much you've lost. No wonder your heart is heavy and your spirit bleak," Montgomery says. "But if you allow yourself to be sad and to grieve…bleakness will eventually pass and so will pain."

Grieving is a continuum with stages: Shock, Denial, Anger, Depression, Acceptance. Stages don't unravel sequentially. They ricochet unpredictably, fueled by dreams, memories or events.

Shock: Refusal To Believe. After Tikvah's diagnosis I sought advice from Kinship Circle members. Responses poured in from around the world. Among them, Cleo's story radiated a beacon of hope. The little cat in California had nearly succumbed to IBD/lymphoma. One year later she was alive, her weight up and diarrhea in check. I consulted with Cleo's guardian and doctor via phone. I switched to organic food and cat litter. I tweaked dosages for pills and powders. The thing that never occurred to me was that Tikvah would actually die.

When he did, I did not know how to stop saving him. Hours before his euthanasia, I administered IV fluids and homeopathic drops. Leftover medications are stashed on a shelf. I continue to rescue Tikvah in my dreams. I worry about missed meds or insufficient calorie intake.

"At this stage, we do not yet accept the reality of death," Cuddy cautions. "There is a loss of awareness and sense of numbness. 'I can't believe…' is a common response." For some people, the sorrow is physical. It shows up as pain, a trembling stomach, or pressure in the chest. Others sleep incessantly or experience insomnia.

Anger: Estrangement, Isolation. I detest the vicious cancer that ravaged my otherwise perfect cat. I resent my original veterinarian, who did not stress the gravity of IBD or advise an earlier biopsy. When I envision Tikvah struggling to breathe or balance, I revile God. My husband's inability to empathize infuriates me.

Anger stems from feelings of powerlessness. Most caregivers commit their time and heart to an animal's well-being. After a beloved companion dies, the guardian's capacity to protect and heal disintegrates. If anger seeps inward, it can evolve into guilt and depression. It's crucial to purge anger through affirmative outlets such as exercise or other physical exertion.

Ultimately, anger fades when a person can express feelings to another. But family members are not ideal listeners. They may pass judgment and urge you to get over it or get another animal. Some are dealing with their own despair over the death. To vent feelings in a supportive setting, a person may need the unconditional ear of a pet bereavement counselor or companion animal loss support group.

Denial: Saving Him In My Dreams. Denial is a last-ditch effort to negate death. I dreamed doctors said: "We were wrong. Tikvah doesn't have brain cancer. If we try this treatment, he'll be fine." And in my dreams, I save Tikvah. He is alive.

"Denial is rooted in fantasy and a deep desire for wish fulfillment," Cuddy says. "We may engage in bargaining with God, the veterinarian or clergy. Comments like, 'I promise I will be a better person if only my pet will come back to me' are common."

Guilt: "What If?" & "Should Have". After Tikvah died, I focused on details about his burial and headstone. I asked my vet to wrap his body in favorite blankets, surrounded by letters, prayers and photos. When the wintry soil thawed enough to permit burial, I gathered family and friends in a circle around Tikvah's photos. I felt serene as I told Tikvah he was as big as the sky and as intimate as the beat of my heart.

But days after the memorial, I berated myself with "what if?" and "should have." Why had I accepted the vet's non-aggressive antibiotic-and-we'll-see-what-happens prescription? If only I'd researched IBD and begun treatment months earlier. Now Tikvah was gone forever.

Guilt is a typical reflex after the death of a companion animal. When caregivers can no longer nurture an animal family member, they are plagued with regret and self-blame. Intellectually, I know I fully devoted myself to Tikvah's recovery. Emotionally, I must forgive myself for failing.

Depression: An Absence Of Everything. Misery may worsen before it gets better. Companion animals occupy nooks and crannies of daily life, from a computer-side perch to shared nap. No one is happier when you return or gloomier when you leave. Kisses occur in ordinary spaces. Home feels lifeless without the animal who personified it.

As I drift back to work and family, fragments of Tikvah remain. Orange strands caught in a brush. Silence in place of purrs. I ache to feel the weight of him over my shoulder.

I have begun to accept nightmares, panic, insomnia and lethargy as pathways. I can't accelerate the grieving process or ignore it. I simply have to journey down each corridor, no matter how dark or painful, before I can accept Tikvah's passing and cherish his memory.

These are the children who never grow up. Forever dependent upon us for survival. Forever devoted. They die as they live, pure love.

Acceptance & Resolution: When Tears Come. Today I realize that images of cancer will fade beneath memories of my mini-lion, with his studly strut and confident smile. I imagine renewal as a time when Tikvah's absence no longer monopolizes my thoughts. "Although six months is an average length of time to mourn, avoid comparing your grief with that of others," Montgomery advises. "Often it takes a year of seeing the seasons change and of celebrating holidays and birthdays without your pet before the hollow ache disappears."

Several weeks ago my father and I recalled Tikvah's wrestling matches with my Lhasa Stanley. The inseparable buddies rolled around my apartment like orange and white tumbleweed. Tikvah stalked Stan with the stealth of a puma, until he moved in for The Pounce. Then he jumped atop Stanley piggyback style. He bopped Stanley on the head before tumbling off with a Garfield grin.

For the first time in months, I remembered Tikvah with laughter instead of tears. One bit of solace lies just beyond the horrible sadness and void: I cherished someone who returned that love every day of his life.
Tikvah you are all that is within me.
You are as big as the sky and as intimate
as the beat of my heart.
Pumpkin Muffin Kidden
Sung To Bicycle Built For Two Melody

Tikvah, Tikvah
Give me your answer true.
I'm half crazy
Over my love for you.

You are my favorite kitten.
With you, I am so smitten.
My little flirt.
My orange dessert.
My pumpkin muffin kidden.

Tikvah, Tikvah
Why are you so smart?
You've always been my teacher
From the very start.

You are my little Buddha
So loving, kind and truthful.
You are my guide,
My eyes inside.
Alive in my heart forever.
Forever My First
Tikvah, it never occurred to me
that I couldn’t save you.
I poured every part of me into finding your cure.
Tube feedings, fluids, medicines, blood transfusions…
and a whisper:
I will never leave your side.
I am with you.

You are forever my first.
A thousand doorways…
You and Stanley showed me that each being is unique.
An individual, who above all else, wants to live.
You led me here: I am vegan.
I am but one of many. I am vegan.

And now as you die, you leave lessons for me.
I will never again "try this pill and we'll see what happens."
I will question. Research. Learn.
Find answers beyond apathy.

This is because of you Tikvah.

Goodbye precious orange guy.
Tikki Sticks
Tik Le Schmic
Your worn-out body needs to rest,
And rejuvenate for the journey ahead.
Where a tree-lined path leads to sunlight.
With each step, your bones gain muscle.
Your mane returns.
You run again.

I love you. I love you. I love you.
Good night angel. Goodbye Tikvah.
Tikvah Schmikvah: Stanley, Cleveland and Rebekkah miss you too. Rebekkah is left without her feline buddy. Stanley lost his lifelong best friend. The night I brought you home to die, I placed your carrier on the kitchen floor. As Stanley approached you came to the open edge. The two of you sat nose to nose for five minutes. Then Stanley began to shudder. I tried to comfort him.
Beloved, in under a month you went from a cat with "low-grade" lymphoma to a cat with lymphoma in the nose and central nervous system. It was swift and horrible. I am raw. Dazed, in fact. I can still feel the tiny chapped pads of your paws. I cleaned them throughout each day, and carefully cut the dirty fur lodged between them. Toward the end, I spread a soothing holistic gel over your bloody blisters.

Tik Le Schmic, you remained the gracious, noble gentleman until the very end. Even after cancer invaded your central nervous system, you dragged yourself to the litterbox. On the day you were to be euthanized, you struggled to right yourself, bobbing back and forth over the wheat litter. Though cancer had stolen your balance, you somehow managed to brush litter over your diarrhea before toppling over. You only wanted to be yourself. You are my hero. Courageous and precious.
I have never met another like you.
Tikvah, I tried to memorize you. Between seizures yesterday, you fell asleep with your head over my heart and your legs across my stomach. For one hour, we lay in suspended. We both knew it was our last embrace. I felt the rise and fall of your body in sync with mine. I traced your tummy, your sides, the slant of your chin and arc of your plume tail. I tried to memorize you. I always knew I loved you. I never understood the deep and maternal nature of that love until now. You were the first of my babies, and 12 years was not long enough.

Days are measured by your absence. It is unnerving to see (but not see) your puma stride across a room or your Buddha stance at the top of the stairs. You always moved in duet with Rebekkah. She even looks weird without you. Sometimes Rebekkah and I awaken late at night. We look at each other: "Where is Tikvah?"
Pumpkin Muffin Kidden, I hope you've awakened and are walking along a sunny, tree-lined trail. With each step your mane returns, your bulk returns, your strength and vitality reemerge. You become Tikvah, not cancer, noble and alive.

Forever my first. Tikvah, 12 years ago you were a new beginning. And you were my first. When I saw that I could actually love and nurture another, I began to recover from my eating disorder. You are my ambassador. Your splendor opened my eyes to all animals. Because of you, I am vegan and a voice for animals.
Tikvah, you are my hope.

On 1/24/03 at mid-day, Tikvah was no more.

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