I found our cat Sis at a farmhouse in Galena, IL, where she was a happy, healthy kitten, playing with her brothers and sisters. Her mother was part Siamese, and she and her brother were white. Sis came to live with us as an indoor-outdoor cat.
Sis took to our family of three rambunctious boys just fine. She preferred the outdoors, catching mice for dinner and hanging out in the garage, but she never went too far. She liked napping on top of the car parked inside, and in winter she slept in a cardboard box with a heating pad. I installed a cat flap for her in the wall of the garage, and she loved checking out both sides. When we knocked on the back door she came running home for dinner. She especially enjoyed napping on my chair on the front porch. All the neighbors knew Sis and treated her respectfully.
I made sure Sis received all vaccinations, even the extra ones recommended by the vet. Unfortunately, each one made her ill, and I was not aware enough in those days to suspect why. During one bad reaction, she became partially blind. After that she stayed close to home and came inside the house whenever she wanted. She trusted me, and she spent a lot of time following me around the house, though she never took to being a lap cat.
Sis was our social greeter. If a stranger showed up, she would run inside the garage through her little door, meowing her alert. When I had to leave for work or errands, I’d pet her and say, "Goodbye, Sis," and she’d watch me leave, then saunter over to her porch chair. Upon my return, as I pulled the car into the driveway, she’d jump down off her chair and trot by the front of the house to meet us inside the garage. That was her "ritual," our understood communication and greetings. Many times when I thought of Sis, she would come and find me. This went on for many years.
As Sis reached age 15, the boys were grown and gone, and Sis was receiving weekly steroid shots for chronic inflammation. She could no longer jump up on a chair, but slowly, painfully dragged her body up onto it. She could not walk more than a few feet before lying down and panting. She had seizures, and there was nothing I could do. I apologized to her for not being aware of what I believe the vaccines did to her, and now it was too late. It was a terrible decision to bring her to the vet for the last time.
A few days after she was gone — I was almost over the worst parts of the sorrow and guilt — my husband and I entered our driveway after an outing. As we pulled in, I saw Sis running along the front of the house like she did before she became ill. I didn’t say anything, but it was definitely her. I was shocked when my husband suddenly asked, “Did you just see Sis?” I replied, “YES!” She really was there! My husband and I talked about it that day, how neat it was to see her again, that she came back to be with us, healthy and alert.
But that wasn’t the last time we encountered her. That same night, I felt Sis’ weight on my feet where, in her earlier days, she had slept on the bed, but I couldn’t see her this time. She hung around that way for about a week. When her visits stopped, I missed her but figured she was on her way to wherever she was going.
But the following spring, something unusual happened. A sparrow built a nest in a birdhouse I had placed in a tree, and the bird raised a family there. The unusual part? This had been Sis’ favorite tree, because it was close to her favorite porch chair. That spring when I would sit on the chair, the sparrow fluttered around me and the tree as it built its nest. The rest of the summer she followed me around outside as I walked through the house, hitting each window with her feet and staring inside. She walked along the sill when I moved around each room. When I went into another room, she flew over and did the same thing at that window. When I went outside, the sparrow landed nearby and watched everything I did. This happened all summer long. Friends who visited noticed the sparrow, too, and they’d comment on her.
I believe Sis was visiting me through the bird, but I didn’t tell anyone what I thought. Regardless, a few people said it was her anyway. One friend said to the bird, “Ah, Sis, you ate too many birds, didn’t you! Now look, you are one.”
In the fall, the sparrow left, but the next spring she returned to repeat her actions — she even built a nest in the same birdhouse and raised another family. Again, she spent the whole summer following me around the house from the outside. The third summer she returned and did the same, but this time she was less determined. This spring and summer, the fourth, I did not see her.
Looking back at Sis’ life with us, there was such a strong affinity. She genuinely liked us and her lifestyle, and we genuinely liked her for who she was — we did not personify her like some pseudo-human, but rather treated her as a cat with her cat ways. I believe that after she died, her essence hung around her home, not ready to leave us just yet. I have no doubt she is fine. And though we miss our Sis cat and are not ready to have another just yet, there is something inside me that wishes Sis would pay us another visit, just one more time, to say goodbye. Maybe she already has.
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