Back in February of 2001, I was at our local animal shelter Save-a-Pet to meet with a camera crew from News 12. I was designated to give them one of those “Big-Check” donations. The check symbolized the money that our record label had raised with a holiday CD called “Snappy Holidays, From Sonic Underground.” The CD sported a photo of our recently deceased kitty Charlotte who we lost to cancer the month before, so it was decided the animal shelter would provide the perfect backdrop.
As we all got into position, I felt this paw on my shoulder and heard this incessant meowing. I turned to see the scruffy, chocolate, tuxedo kitten who had “crazy mad scientist” fur. I made the shhhh gesture with index finger to lips but she persisted. I said in my best kitty-talking voice “Hey, I’m busy here.” She locked eyes with me. These deep green, watery, soulful eyes connected with me so deeply, and I knew I was done. She was to be our next kitty-baby.
The problem was, it was literally a month since we lost our dear Charlotte to cancer and my husband Gian and I were beyond weary. We were sad beyond sad and just barely functional. I went home to tell him of my encounter and he met me with strong opposition. He was simply not ready. I drew a deep breath and as lovingly as I could I responded, “Well, I know it’s only been a month, but our new daughter is ready, so we need to go get her.”
When we arrived at Save-a-Pet to officially adopt her, she was in the furthest cage in the back corner. The minute we opened the door to the place, I saw her jump up on her hind paws and she literally rattled the caged, meowing as if she was saying “I’m here, I’m over HERE.”
Thus began our life with one of the sweetest, intuitive, gentle, BOSSY beings we have ever known. At the time, Gian and I were sharing a house and recording studio with musician friends. Catrina entered her new home with an air of confidence. This was home. These are my people. Where’s my food?
She had a nasty bowel disorder from the beginning and I’ll spare you the gory details. It took many months and determination to finally land on the food she could tolerate and keep her “run-free.” She also had terrible bathroom habits from the start. Burying was just not her thang and besides, if she howled loud enough, one of her people would take care of it.
We decided to have a welcome home party and later asked our friend Sirka Louca if she would take some baby pictures of her. Don’t get me wrong, Sirka is immensely talented, but Catrina, she was a born model. She not only tolerated the photo session, she would strike poses interspersed with falling asleep sitting up. I am still convinced that she had some kind of neurological disorder akin to narcolepsy.
As a baby, she would jump onto my desk and chase the mouse on my computer screen. When we rocked her in baby-pose she loved to play “rabbit.” This entailed taking her front paws and putting them behind her head pushing her chin into her chest, allowing her paws to mimic rabbit ears. She also loved being long. Gian would hold her and she would stretch her entire body and extend her paws as far as she could. She was a puddle of fur with legs.
When we moved into our own home in 2004 she spent the first 4 days underneath the futon in our den. I knew she was ok because when I would come down in the morning her food would be eaten and the litter used, but she decided that drama was necessary to christen the new digs.
On the 5th morning we came downstairs to find her lounging on the carpet of the den on her side with casual paw extended. That was the last time she ever hid or did anything remotely antisocial with us.
She was sweet to everyone, well except for babies. She was not a fan. Gian thinks it’s because her ears were particularly sensitive. I think it was the energy that she wasn’t used to. Little boys were worse than little girls and still she never, bit, scratched or even growled at anyone or anything. She would retreat to the first step leading down to the basement, staying close enough to hear what was going on, but safe from the occasional baby that was in our home.
She comforted us during some of the toughest moments in our lives. She always knew when we needed her. Her nightly ritual included coming downstairs to the kitchen, seeing us each on a couch in the den. Standing at the precipice between kitchen and den to size up the situation. Then she would jump down the single step into our den and proceed to claim one of us by jumping on us and nestling in.
Where Charlotte would spend hours in the recording studio, Catrina chose to make her entrance to randomly meow during the best takes, ensuring that she would make it onto the record. If I was having a particularly sad day, she would shadow me wherever I went, even if it meant leaving the comfort of our bed and sitting by my feet on the floor. We tried many different kitty-beds for her to use on the floor but she had no use for them. She preferred the ground, so that’s where she stayed. .
When we slept at night, Gian and I would already be in bed when she went down for a snack before sleeps. Though small in stature, her gate was always loud. We would hear her plod up the stairs, into our room and then a brief hesitation while she calculated, and then plop, she would land on our bed so very proud of herself. She usually slept on my side to the left of my feet. On occasion she would decide to be the bar that separated Gian and I, so that the three of us emulated a perfect “H.”
She had this way of making us always feel special. When we would enter a room, there would be this happy little “Reerr,” accompanied by her lifting her entire body off of whatever surface she was on. We used to laugh so hard because I could literally leave the room and re-enter repeatedly, and she would do it every single time as if it was the first time she was ever laying eyes on me.
In her later years she became a bit more demanding. Food needed to now be served as “soup.” To counter balance her bossiness, Gian always made her do the soup dance by weaving the bowl round and round so she would follow with anticipation. She also took to practicing opera at 3am, which was less than entertaining.
We catered to her every need and did so with joy and honor because the unconditional love she gave was immeasurable. She would always choose a “pick-up and a kiss” over food. Purred the instant she saw either of us. She was ridiculously clever and coerced me into purchasing my very first iPad app “Mouse Games.” Her all-time high-goal of 22,000 was reached when she realized that if she left her paw in one place, the digital mouse would eventually run under it producing the obligatory “SQUEAK” followed by one of us exclaiming “Good Girl Kitty-Kitty-POP-POP!”
Catrina started to decline this past May, and as with her sister Charlotte, we did everything we could to keep her happy and healthy. About a week ago, the decline became drastic and with heavy hearts, we knew the end was near. She stopped sleeping with us because she needed to be close to food, water or a wee-wee pad.
She gifted us one last time this past Thursday, which would be her last night. She came into our room from the office where she had been spending the majority of her time. She meowed until Gian picked her up. She slept in his arms that night until around 3am. Then she meowed and I took her for some water. I tried to feed her, but she turned her little head away.
I got back into bed and she slept in my arms the rest of the night until morning. She woke me 3 times to get water and then fell back asleep in my arms. It was a truly spiritual experience.
The next morning I held her for the first few hours. We tried desperately to get her to eat but she only wanted water. Around 11am, she wobbled back into the office. I tried to hold her, but she let me know that she was ready, so we let her stay on the floor. Gian, in one last-ditch attempt, tried to feed her. He opened her favorite—a can of tuna, and she licked two licks of the juice. I know she did this for us.
In the end, she died peacefully in my arms at around 4:15pm on Friday, July 26, 2019. It was by far one of the most painful things we have ever experienced. Everyone had prepared us for this sense of relief we would feel once she had gone. Gian and I felt the opposite. The pain was unbearable. I can’t remember the last time we sobbed like that.
The weird thing was, I started hearing this little song in my head. I pushed it away because it felt so inappropriate. When I woke Saturday morning in a fog after a brutally, restless night, the song started to persist again. I went into the office to see her little body wrapped in her favorite blanket and the sobbing came on so hard. Still, no relief.
Gian spent the better part of the morning digging her a grave in our little garden. We were both so broken and in so much pain. He realized our shovel wasn’t going to cut through the roots and he needed a spade, so he drove off to Loews to buy one.
The song played even louder in my head so I decided to listen. Maybe it was Catrina asking me to sing to her one last time. When Gian came back, I told him about the song. He finished digging and we gathered our baby in her clear plastic, securely-sealed, waterproof box. She was wrapped in her favorite blanket, next to her favorite toys, with a lock of each of our hair, pictures of us together during happier times and with the letter we wrote her.
After lowering her into the grave, the tears came again, with such power. We read her poems and prayers. We each took a shovel and started to fill in the sides until we could just see her little head through the plastic box. She looked like she was sleeping. She looked at peace. Gian asked me to sing her song to her. I sang “Catrina’s Waltz” to my baby-cat.
Then he looked at me with tear-brimmed eyes and asked; “Are you ready?” I nodded. We covered her with the Earth and then we made her garden so pretty and perfect. She has an angel reading by her head, and sandstones surrounding her grave so no one trespasses. We laid the lilies my in-laws brought her and we stepped back to breathe.
I looked at Gian. “I feel so much better. I think she’s free now.” He said he felt exactly the same way. It was like we needed to release her in order to feel any relief from the pain.
We both know it will ebb and flow. She was truly a one-of-a-kind being and I feel incredibly blessed that she chose us to be her parents. I know she will watch over us and maybe someday, we’ll all be reunited.
With all the pain and tears, I wouldn’t change a single second. I will love you always my sparkly little girl-girl Catrina. Thank you so very much for being my daughter.
Catrina DiMauro-Geller November 2000-July 26, 2019
I just published the video of the song she sent me. I videotaped while I performed it live. Here’s a link if you’re interested:
Catrina helping me with the Fearless Songwriter Challenge