Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cabin Life: In Memory of Ed

EdI’m sitting at my table writing because right now, this is the only thing that will keep me from curling up in the fetal position on my bed and sobbing uncontrollably.  Ed, my little gray cat, the first pet I ever had, just died in my arms.  And I am not handling it well.

This is actually the second article I’ve written today, and even though it’s late and I have to be up early, I know that lying in bed will be worse for me psychologically than staying up and doing something productive.  I’m upset for the obvious reason that my cat and one of my best friends of eleven years just passed away, but that’s not the end of it.

He went quickly, deteriorating in just a week or so.  His strength was gone, he could barely breathe, and he had stopped eating.  He couldn’t make it to the litter box, and had to lie down to drink water.  That’s how weak he was, he couldn’t even stand up long enough to take a drink.

But my sorrow is so much more than just the thought that tomorrow I have to bury him and that he won’t be around anymore.  That cat saved my life countless times, and in the end, all I could do was sit with him in my lap as he took his last breath.

Ed, a little olderMost of the time that I lived in Jacksonville I was so depressed that I was frequently suicidal.  I hated everything about my life, and quite frankly, if it wasn’t for my pets, I probably would have killed myself.  I had even gone so far a few times as to wonder who would take my animals.  And the thought of Pico being back in a shelter and Ed and Herbie being separated was enough to stop me.  The number of times that it got this far is scary.

But all along, Ed was there, all ten pounds of him, telling me in his own way that he loved me.  He was born in a barn outside of Malone, with no pedigree or anything.  There were three kittens in the litter, and Ed was the only short-hair.  I called dibs, and Amy took Ed’s brother while someone else took the only girl.  The farm was being rented by my friends, and we knew that the kittens were coming.  So Amy and I headed up there a day or two after they were born, and I got to hold Ed.  He was smaller than my palm, but opened his eyes for the first time while I was holding him.

A few weeks later I brought Ed home.  He was pretty wild, as kittens tend to be, but even then, he had some idiosyncrasies.  The house I lived in at the time was one main floor, with my bedroom upstairs.  Every day I would go to school or work and leave Ed in my room.  I didn’t want him chewing on wires or digging up house plants, so I gave him food, water, and litter to get by for the day.  However, each day when I got home, Ed would greet me at the door.

There were a few times when I figured that my roommate had let him out, but more often than not, Brendan hadn’t been home since before I left.  I could not figure out how Ed was getting out of the room.

Then one day after a few weeks, Brendan called in sick to work.  I got home from school, and he told me that he knew how Ed was getting out.  My room was the only thing upstairs, and so the stairs went straight from my room to a door at the bottom which led to the living room.  So Brendan was sitting on the couch (most likely watching The Simpsons) when he heard a racket coming down the stairs, then a loud thud, and then the door swung open.  Brendan stared in amazement as Ed came trotting out from my room.  The little kitten, maybe weighing a pound or two, was flying down the stairs and just doing a full-body slam against the door to pop it open.  After that I figured that if I found a way to keep the door shut tight, he would probably just hurt himself trying to get the door open.  He had earned the right to have full run of the house.

When the weather warmed up that spring, I would take Ed swimming in the lake or for short canoe rides.  I took him to work with me and let him wander around outside, pretending to be a hunter, though never catching anything other than dead leaves.  His hunting skills got better over the years, and he caught many mice.  He never killed them, just trotted around with them in his mouth, occasionally dropping one so he could catch it again.

This was a cat that learned how to turn on water faucets so he could play with the water.  He somehow managed to get on top of the pipes in my parent’s basement to crawl around and hang out.  He could hang upside down from the ceiling and jump to the top of a refrigerator from the floor.  He would go for hikes with me and Pico in the summer, following closely but sometimes sprinting ahead.  He had refined and discriminating taste in beer.  In short, Ed was the man.

Ed, the last pictureI love that cat with all my heart, and to know that he’s in a box on the porch is devastating.  I’m glad he went quickly though, and thinking back on all the times I just shook my head and laughed at my little man is making things a little better.  I feel bad for Herbie though.  Herbie was the fat lazy one, and now he’s got no one to play with.  Herbie just brushed up against my leg.  He gave my calf a little nip, which he does a lot.  But hearing him purr makes me realize one thing.  Ed died purring, warm and comfortable, held by someone who loved him and will never forget him.  He had a good life, and even though he’s gone, the little man will always be with me.

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Having grown up in the southern Adirondacks, Justin has always been at home in the mountains of New York. After graduating from Paul Smiths College, he began his career in the environmental field working for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. After a brief five year detour to Florida, Justin returned to the Adirondacks to live off the grid in a small cabin with no running water or electricity.

Justin continues to work and play in the outdoors, and maintains a blog about living off grid, hiking, and being outside in the Adirondacks called Middle of the Trail.

26 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    Justin, so sorry to hear about you losing your friend Ed. I know exactly what animals can come to mean to us. My wife and I have two dogs and two cats. Hang in there…you will get through this and someday you may want to find another little buddy to share your life with. -Susan

  2. Debby says:

    I am sorry for your loss. They forever touch our lives. You were both lucky to have each other. Run free at the bridge, Ed.

  3. Mare says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. It is hard to find a friend more true than the kind that has four legs. What a wonderful thing to have a relationship like that,, and how hard it is to say goodbye…I send my love, mare

  4. Laura says:

    Dear Justin,
    My heart aches for you. The deaths of our loved pets is a horrible, and I wish you well.

  5. Wren Hawk says:

    He looks like he was a beautiful cat man and sounds like he was a great friend. Condolences. The loss of a loved companion animal is incomparably awful.

  6. Julie says:

    My family also had an “Ed”, although his name was Smokey and he was a rescue……my daughter’s 11th birthday gift. Love at first sight for those two. Smokey had a similar personality, beautiful grey short hair who thought he was a dog that purred. He loved our golden retrievers and playing tiger in our garden. It was very sad when at @ 11 years he too passed peacefully after a week of downhill health. Ed and Smokey are indeed special gifts…..

  7. Cindi Waldmiller says:

    I am sadden to hear you lost Ed. As a cat lover, I know what you are going through. Take comfort than you gave him a wonderful, adventurous life that he loved and that he passed into heaven peacefully with you. God Bless.

  8. Scott says:

    I feel your pain justin, I have been there with my pets and each one is devastating in its own way. People say that we are the ones that save the animals when we care for them and love them or especially if we save them from a shelter. What they don’t realize is it is the pets that save us and teach us. At the end of a hard day they are there with nothing but love , no judgements. They could always sense if we were sick or sad or hurting and would come over with a special ball to play with or a little nudge with extra purrs, or just a nice lick to the face and lay down next to us and just look as to say I got your back dad !!
    Ed had a great and awesome life with you! And you may never find another one quite the same but you know that he was one if a kind as I know each of my dogs were unique. You gave ed a great tribute in this article and eventually you will maybe get another not to “replace” ed but to have the honor to share your life with !!
    I am sure all the other animals are also missing him, they know what happened. I wish you peace brother

  9. Teresa says:

    sorry to hear about your cat. It sounds like he was one of a kind. I think he died in the best way possible, cuddled and warm in the arms of the person he loved. You had a great life with him! It’s always so hard that their lives are so short.

  10. Kathy says:

    He sounds like he was a really cool cat. He is waiting for you, you’ll see him again. Until then, he’d want you to be happy. There are lots of kitties out there that need homes, when you are ready, maybe you could rescue another little friend. We lost our Sheba this past September after almost 18 years. She was a great dog. It does break your heart. I understand your pain. It does get better, but we always miss them. It’s great that you were there with him when he passed. Our Sheba went while we were away on vacation. I’m still feeling guilty about that. Just remember, now your little guy is running, and playing, and is whole again, and you will see him again. Take care.

  11. Lily says:

    Justin – What a beautiful testament to your love of Ed. How wonderful that you took care of one another all these years. Those of us who share that deep connection with our pets empathize with you as you grieve. Thank you for being so open about your depression and how your concern about your animals saved your life. I’ve been there also – used to take my dog with me for a ride in the car because that would assure I would not crash it in a suicide attempt. I’d never harm my beloved dog. Please keep in mind that NOW is not the same as the time before you got Ed – its 10 years later and you are all the better for it. Hang in there. Thanks to much for this beautiful post.
    R.I.P. Ed.

  12. Walter F. Wouk says:

    Sorry for your loss. You can’t replace an old friend, but you can make a new one. There are a lot of cats who could use a good home and a new friend.

  13. Andy says:

    Justin, What a precious eulogy. Thank you for sharing Ed’s journey. It is a beautiful story that had me smiling with his antics. Your memories will remind you of the wonderful gift you gave each other – life. You rescued him and he helped to rescue you. That is just awesome.

  14. Bill says:

    All the posts of yours I’ve read and I’ve never commented on one – until now. Very sorry to hear of your loss. Pets become family. We get them knowing we will outlive them, but it doesn’t make losing them any easier. It hurts now, but your days will get better.

  15. I’m sorry to hear of your loss. Pets are special friends because they accept us just as we are. Holding him at the end was probably the greatest honor you could pay him. You were there to comfort him when he needed it just as he was for you. That’s a gift without price for both of you.

  16. Pete Nelson says:


    I think this is maybe your best column, brave and personal.

    It is my experience in the Adirondacks that people’s relationship to the woods and creatures in nature is a reflection of their relationships to the animals in their life. If that is so, then the Adirondack woods that you value and for which you care are in good hands.

    My condolences.


  17. Walter Burbank says:

    I too, lost a wonderful friend, Lacy, the day after this past Halloween. She was only 5. She had stopped eating, I brought her to the vet, and she died of a blood clot in an instant. She did, for me, many of the things your Ed did for you. I loved her, and that thought of her knowing and returning that love, is what keeps me going. She was too young. I’ve lost others, aged 17,13, & 12. Loved them all. I’m glad I still have Callie, soon to be 12. Thank you for sharing your feelings. It helped me, and I hope the others that share their feelings help you too.

  18. Loie says:

    Thank you for sharing so much of yourself in this beautiful loving tribute to dear Ed. He was there for you but don’t forget that you were there for him too. It’s so hard now, but I hope that when the time is right, you can let another feline into your home and your heart. Ed can’t be replaced but another will win your heart in its own way and will be lucky to be a part of your family, like Ed was.

  19. Ann L. Gearhart says:

    Dear Justin – thank you for adopting Ed and keeping that promise “you may live with me for the rest of your life”. Thank you for giving Ed a home, protection, for sharing the human animal bond and for being a model of the companion we wish all animals could enjoy. Your columns are excellent but none more so then when your humanity creeps out from the words and we realize across the page what true emotions we share with one another. May your photos of Ed sustain you as the place you have for him in your heart continues to grow, and your memories enrich all of your days. Thank you for sharing Ed’s story – all living things have a story to tell, but the animals need great storytellers such as you to translate the wonder of their days to us. Perhaps one day Herbie will have a new feline friend, and you will be able to stretch your love beyond Ed to another deserving soul.
    Ann Gearhart

  20. joan streetman says:

    so sorry for your loss and I know what it is like to lose a pet. My son just put his 14 yr old dog to sleep today and he is really upset. Thank goodness you have other animals to love and I am sure they are missing Ed too. I have a dog that is getting older and he is my mascot and I am an older woman with a deceased husband and he keeps me company. The day will come when I will have to put Sr.Albert down too. I will not get another animal as it is too heartbreaking for me. Prayer eases the sad feelings tho.

  21. Doug Harple says:


    I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your stories, his and yours. I particularly loved the bit where he would lunge at the bedroom door to force it open. Cats are amazing creatures, and Ed sounds like he was exceptional in all regards.

    My condolences,
    Doug Harple

  22. Ellen says:

    My condolences on your loss, Justin. What a beautifully written piece about your friend – brought tears to my eyes.

  23. Charlie S says:

    Just read this piece Justin. Every thing is put in our lives for us to learn something.When I initially saw the photo of Ed and read the caption I wanted to well up in tears.I didn’t but I brought that up to share with you that you are not alone with your feelings.
    I love cats,they are so special in their own ways, different than all other animals for sure. I have my Henry who is up there in years,and I know the day will come when I will have to say goodbye to him.In the meanwhile he lights up my life,like Ed had done for you.
    I relate to some of the things you said about wanting to check out and your sorrow and I’m here to say thank you for sharing.You’re a good person Justin and I’m glad you shared these moments in your life.

  24. Terrie says:

    I’ve been through the whole same thing. Your paragraph that starts “Most of the time I lived…” — that was my story, too. Cats have kept me here. As soon as you can, find your next cat. Your next cat is already out there, nearby, waiting for you. And there’s a good chance it’s Ed, in a fresh new little furry body. It was time for him to give up that other beloved body, but you’ll fall in love with the new one all over again, and – hard to imagine, but – it might be even better. (Because that’s how it has been for me.)

  25. Caitlin Stewart says:

    Dear Justin,

    I am so sorry for your loss. Loosing a family member is never easy. Know that you are in all our thoughts. May the comfort of family and friends help you through this difficult time. Your online family is here for you.

    Be well,

  26. Sherri says:

    I am bawling my eyes out at your story. My life has been very similar to yours. My Jack Russell, Ginger, saved my life in so many ways. Ginger saw me thru an abusive relationship. She saw me thru going on disablility. I was estranged from my adoptive mom and family, & as a result was very depressed very often. Like Ed, Ginger saved my life. I am on disability for 5 things and very often am bedridden. If it were not for Ginger I would not have gotten out of bed. But she got me to get out of bed to take her for her daily walk & in doing so saved my life as I was suffering from insulin resistance & adrenal exhausition. She was deathly ill and having to put her to sleep was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. But I knew she was suffering & I couldn’t watch her suffer anymore. I got a puppy before she died or I would never have made it. Ginger saw me thru so many hardships in my life I could not imagine loving another dog as much as I loved her, but to my surprise I love my Sheltie, Tara, as much if not more, as she does EVERYTHING with me. Ginger was not very social in her later years & so I could not take her hiking or camping with me. Tara goes camping, hiking & kayaking with me. So believe me when I say I feel your loss.

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