Ripley, 2000-2015

Our Ripley died with us around 1:30 this morning.

It’s still the middle of the night. We had an 8am appointment with the vet for an ultrasound exam to find out what was going on. Instead, I’ll be taking his body in for cremation.

I need to try to get at least a few more hours sleep. I needed to write something first.

We adopted him when he was almost 8 years old.

He had a good seven years with us – almost half his life. He had lots of love.
John & Ripley

He loved to get brushed. He had a porch to watch the birds, and more love.
Ripley and John, in mutual bliss

So much love.
John & Ripley mutually kissing each other

We adopted his baby sister, Annie, to help keep him company, because two grown men weren’t enough for him.
Greco-Roman Cat Wrestling

He’s been in decline for a few months. This is the last photograph I took of him. Three weeks ago, when the weather had warmed up, I took him outside into the front yard. He wanted to wander around and I had to keep herding him back. It was the most active he’d been in weeks. Eventually, he let me brush him – which used to be his favorite activity – and he settled down into the grass.
Ripley in the Grass.

I don’t want to dwell on the details of his passing. I might have more I want to say later. I’m just grateful we were both with him. With us there to give him what comfort we could, he passed quietly at the end.

Related Content

Meet Mr. Ripley, 2008-04-14

Meet Mr. Ripley


This is Ripley, the cat Blog Widow and I adopted this past Saturday. Cat-blogging has never been a regular feature of this blog. I promise this won’t become a cat blog.

He’s led an interesting life so far. He was born in August 2000, so he’s not quite 8 years old. He lived in a shelter on Long Island the first year of his life. He spent about another year as a companion animal at a nursing home with a few other cats. He’s lived the past few years with his most recent human here in Brooklyn. They had to give him up because they’re moving to a co-op which doesn’t allow pets.


We’re biased, but we think he’s very handsome. It’s hard to tell from these photos, but he’s huge. He weighs 19 pounds, and it’s nearly all muscle. With his size and markings – black spots on white – he reminds us of a Holstein. Or a panther.

We’re all still getting to know each other. He’s already comfortable enough in his new environment to jump up onto the couch next to us. He’s extremely affectionate, loves petting and especially brushing. He’s starting to come when we call.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Coda, Spot: Our Lady of Abundance

Label, “Our Lady of Abundance,” inside the lid of a reliquary box by Grace Gunning.
Detail, label, "Our Lady of Abundance," inside lid

1) An endnote, or final word, in which the author elucidates what has come before.
2) A few measures or a section added to the end of a piece of music to make a more effective ending.

This afternoon we picked up Spot’s ashes and brought them home.

She died three weeks ago. By the time we got her to the veterinary emergency room, she was already gone. In that emotional haze, we had to make a decision about what to do. We chose individual cremation. Three days ago, we got the call that her ashes were ready to be picked up.

John and I had discussed what container we might use for her ashes. We thought of a small, bronze triangular nested box inscribed with Celtic designs which we bought a couple of years ago. But we didn’t know how much … material the box would need to hold. I didn’t think it could be very much. Then I remembered we had the reliquary box. I bought it for John. He’d kept it first in his apartment, then we had it in our first apartment. We hadn’t found a place for it since we moved into our house three years ago, but I remembered seeing it recently inside one of the opened, still unpacked, moving boxes.

Reliquary box, "Our Lady of Abundance," Grace Gunning, 2000

Over the past three weeks, John and I have gone through the familiar phases and states of grieving. I told John last night that, over the past three days, the main feeling for me has been, “I want to bring her home.” I know that “she” is gone. There are layers to the emotional acceptance of that loss.

When I re-read my first diary entries about her, what’s remarkable is that her personality was so present in them. She was always affectionate. When I came home, she demanded my attention. But however hungry she was, she insisted that I first pick her up and “schmoosh” her. She would purr, deeply and resonantly. Then I could set her down and she could eat. That I was able to give a flea bath to a strange cat without her fighting me was all about her gentle, compliant, trusting nature. Even the vet would always remark how calm and cooperative she was.

The most difficult moments have not been the physical reminders of her: her toys, her brushes, her scratching post, her bowls, her litter box. Gradually, we’ve packed these up and put them away. The absences have been the hardest. When I leave the house, she doesn’t follow me downstairs, trying to sneak outside. When I come home, she doesn’t greet me at the top of the stairs. When I go to bed, she’s not there to “tuck me in.” She’s not there to paw my face in the morning and wake me up.

I peeled back some of the final layers of acceptance today. I called ahead before we drove over: “We’ve never done this before. I don’t know what to expect. Is there a bag? A box?” The woman I spoke with said there’s a bag inside a metal box. It was more thoughtfully elaborate than that.

There was a paper bag tied with a ribbon. Inside the bag was a condolence card and some promotional literature (not so thoughtful) from the pet cemetery where the cremation was done. Also inside, green tissue paper wrapped a small metal tin, something like what you might keep loose tea in. We had brought the reliquary box with us, but the tin’s size and shape wouldn’t fit inside. That’s as far as we explored it at the E.R.

Gardener’s corner in the backyard
Gardener's Corner

When we got home, I went and sat in the backyard. It was a sunny day, and it was still early enough in the afternoon that the house wasn’t yet shading the gardener’s corner. After parking the car, John came and sat beside me. Here I carefully opened the metal canister. Inside this, more green tissue paper wrapped the bag containing her ashes. John opened the lid of the box, and we placed the small, green package in its center. I remarked, “She always liked the sun.” We cried and held hands for a few minutes.

The reliquary lid didn’t quite fit over the little green package. When we got back inside, I took it out of the reliquary and started unwrapping the tissue paper. I wanted to reshape the bag to better fit inside the reliquary. I was also curious, and knew I needed, to see the ashes themselves. When I got to the last wrap, I got a glimpse, covered it back up, and held the package in both hands, tears running from my eyes. John asked, “What is it?” I said, “I don’t know what I was expecting.” Consciously, I was expecting my mental image of “ash”: gray and dusty, powdery. Instead, it was white, chalky, gritty with tiny fragments of bone. I wasn’t ready for that. Another time, I’ll be ready to unwrap that final layer. I wrapped it with some ivory cloth as a shroud and returned it to the box.

I appreciate all the comments, cards, and phone messages we’ve received. What I write now is not to diminish anyone else’s beliefs, nor the sentiments they’ve expressed. I don’t believe in anything. If there were a heaven, animals would be there. If there were angels, they would be animals. But I don’t believe in heaven, or angels, or gods, or any life other than the one I’m living.

Death is final. I knew that as Spot was dying in my arms. I knew that her limp tail – which had been so expressive of her presence and personality – meant she was already gone from us. I don’t know how much she was aware of at the very end, when we were driving her to the E.R., and I cradled her in my arms, and she cried out for the last time, and I lifted her up and turned her face to mine because she couldn’t do it herself. I hope my face was the last thing she saw, but I’ll never know. I know she was gone from us as the last breath left her body and her heart stopped beating beneath my fingers.

Despite my skepticism and disbelief, I have come to accept that spirituality and ritual are important to me. The box itself holds layers of memory and meaning which make it an appropriate resting place for Spot’s remains. I bought it six-and-a-half years ago, when John and I had not yet moved into our first apartment together. I was still living in my garden apartment on 5th Street in Park Slope, where Spot had found me. John and I were well underway in our adventure of exploring relationship with each other. Spot was there to nurture us on that journey.

John and Spot on the couch in the 5th Street apartment
John and Spot

On September 10, 2001, John and I went on vacation upstate. The next morning, from a distance, we watched our world change. For that week, we were ambassadors, representatives of New York City and all that had happened there. When we met people upstate and they learned where we were from, their faces and postures changed. Some were brought to tears. Like it or not, we carried a responsibility everywhere we went.

I think it was in Kingston where I found the box in a gift store. They had a couple of these reliquary boxes, and I wanted to buy John one. I bought some chimes there with him, then he went outside. When I saw that this one was titled “Our Lady of Abundance,” I knew this was the one. “Abundance” was a word we used deliberately and frequently at that time to try to describe the richness we felt in our lives, as well as the challenges we faced in accepting it.

The title of the box is stamped into the inside of the lid. It’s signed with a power tool on the underside.

Inside of upper lid

Today this box became a true reliquary, holding the relic of Spot, that time when we were learning to accept abundance into our life together, and the memories of that terrible week.

Related Posts

Spot, February 23
My Flickr photo sets of the box and Spot


Grace Gunning, Copper Reliquary Boxes


Update 2008.03.15: Added follow-up post: Coda, Spot.
Update 2008.02.25: Added a rare photo of me and Spot together.

My partner, John, with our cat, Spot, taken two nights ago in an examination room at the vet’s. She died in my arms earlier this evening around 6:30pm.
John & Spot (Black and White)

Spot found me in the garden, in the backyard of my apartment on 5th Street in Park Slope:

A beautiful young black cat found me at the end of my day in the garden. He started going for the container I’d just planted. He was friendly, but when I realized he was licking up some organic fertilizer I’d spilled I realized he/she was starving. (It does smell good, like the original MilkBones [dog biscuits]). So I gave him a bowl of milk. He/She was purring so hard his tail was shaking. Only a white spot on his chest, otherwise black. I named him “Spot”. I’ll look for him tomorrow. If he’s around again, maybe I have a cat.
– Diary entry, November 11, 1993, Veteran’s Day, F Train en route to dinner

I didn’t realize it at the time, but she represented, or embodied, a peak of synchronicity in my life. I was three and a half years into my recovery, and less than eight months sober. In therapy the previous night, I had mentioned that I was thinking about getting a cat, or two. After this first encounter with Spot, I was off to see a dance performance that evening which explored the connections between veterans of war and survivors of sexual violence. The following Monday, I was starting my first session of a gay men’s therapy group.

Spot moved in with me on Saturday. I spoke to Jonathan [my landlord] Friday at work to ask him if it would be okay if I got a cat. Saw Julia [landlady] working in the garden Saturday morning. While we were inspecting and talking, I saw a black form moving behind the fence.

I called out: psss-psss-psss … Spot leapt to the top of the fence (or climbed) and walked along the top directly to me. I took her into my arms and she (female, confirmed) started purring. I left her with Julia while I went inside and prepared the can of food Renah [a work colleague at the time] gave me Friday at work.

Bought everything for her on Saturday. Saturday night discovered she had fleas, so wouldn’t let her sleep with me. Gave her a flea bath, changed bed-sheets and clothes, dusted the rug. She was not happy about the bath, but remarkably cooperative. I came away with no scratches or bites.

Remaining health concern: diarrhea, foul-smelling, and may be caused by her fondness for milk.

Long day today: first session of the group (first for me) is tonight. I won’t get home until after 9pm probably. Spot will freak?!

Need to make up “FOUND” posters for the area, just in case someone’s looking for her.
– Diary entry, November 15, 1993, Monday, Subway, en route to work

Later that evening, around 8:30pm, riding home on the F train:

Home to Spot. Incredible what an emotional anchor she is for me right now. Anchor is not the right word. Alternatives: focus, tether, center … ballast …

I’m not going to put up “Found Cat” signs tonight. I don’t want anyone to answer. I don’t want to give Spot up. She’s just a cat I’ve known for only four or five days. I just want to go home to her …

When John and I began exploring relationship together, Spot adopted him as well. She was a great comfort to him as he dealt with his mother’s terminal illness, and especially after her death. John called her a medicine cat, an apt description.

She found me in the garden, and Spot always wanted to go outside. She often accompanied me when I was out in the garden. Here she is in the backyard of my apartment on 5th Street in Park Slope. This was in May 2002, the last set of photos I took of the garden I was leaving to move with John to our new apartment.
Spot in the garden on 5th Street in Park Slope

Here she is on the deck of our apartment on 6th Street in Park Slope, where John and I first lived together.
Spot the Cat

Here she is in the backyard of our new home two years ago, acting like she owned the place, which, of course, she did. She was skeptical at first, but eventually allowed that she was pleased that we bought her a big, old cat house.
The Backyard

Outside yet again, on the front steps here. I have several shots in this series, trying to get her to look at me. This is the closest I got. Note the tail curl. She wasn’t having it.
Spot on the front steps

This is the earliest photo I have of Spot. This is from 2001, in the 5th Street apartment.
John and Spot

This is a typical posture for her. She spent a lot of time lying on John’s chest, close to his heart, while he was himself prone on the couch or bed.
Spot and JohnSpot and John

Here’s a rare photo of me and Spot together. (Only at John’s insistence.) Rare not only because I’m usually the one behind the camera, but because she wouldn’t often settle down on me. In this photo, she’s wedged into the the nook between me and the sofa cushion. We’re also playing one of our games here. If one of us stopped petting her before she was done, she would reach out with her paw, cup it around the edge of our hand, and pull it back toward her face. I would often respond by “squooshing” her paw, as I’m doing here, and telling her how evil she was. You can see from her face how that upset her.
Spot & Xris

I’ll close with this photo of her. She’s sitting on the floor of my tree house, the second floor back porch on the back of our house. Her tail was the most expressive part of her, and I recognize the little curl at the end of it visible in this photo.
Spot the Cat

You can see more photos of her in my Flickr set of Spot.

She followed me across 15 years of recovery, healing, and growth. She was so much a part of my life, and John’s, and of our life together. We will have other familiars, but none like her. The house is empty without her. I miss her terribly.

I’m open to comments. I especially invite anyone reading this who met or knew her to leave a comment with a memory or reminiscence about her. John and I both will welcome that as a way of memorializing her.

“Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” (Lost Cat)

Romeo, a Cat
Romeo, a Cat

A neighbor is on the lookout for their cat, Romeo:

Romeo, our much loved small (only 8-9lbs.) male gray and white cat is
missing–now over 2 days. He has no collar and frequents the backyards
between Albemarle/Church and Westminster/Argyle…any sightings?
– message posted to Flatbush Family Network

We’ve been trying to socialize a litter of three kittens that appeared in our backyard over the summer. So we’ve been on the lookout for strange cats. We think we’ve seen this little guy on our property, a block away. We’ll keep a special lookout for him.