April, 2005

When we first moved Pop into the assisted-living group home, he never wanted to do anything but sleep, or just lie in his bed. He refused to go upstairs for meals, or to interact at all with the other residents, whom he described as "...pretty fucked up...". Despite the confusion and debilitation of Alzheimer's, he was aware enough to realize that his world had changed-- and he wasn't any too happy about it.

We figured, what the hell? As long as he was safe, warm, being fed and bathed and getting his medications, he could lie around all he liked. At least we didn't have to worry about him wandering away or forgetting to eat-- which had been very real concerns the last couple of months when he was living alone.

The owner/operator of the home had brought in a sweet little Siamese cat so the residents would have a creature to interact with during their waking hours; something on which to focus their attention while they weren't otherwise engaged. Most of the people there were too low-functioning to pay the cat any mind, though. It was starved for affection and attention.

One afternoon when we came to visit, Marsha carried the cat (his name was JoJo) into the room and asked: "Wayne? Do you like cats?" Pop replied: "No. I'm a dog person." She put JoJo down and he wandered out of the room. I continued to chat with Pop about inconsequential stuff. Marsha returned, and set JoJo down on the little folding table next to his bed-- the one you can see in these photos. By this time, Pop had completely forgotten the conversation that took place three minutes ago.

"Well, who's this?" asked Pop. "That's JoJo. He lives here", answered Marsha. "Say hello to him."

The cat stared at Pop. Pop stared at the cat. The cat pricked his ears forward and cocked his head sideways. Pop squinted back at him. The cat extended a paw, tentatively reaching toward the mattress. "Well, don't just stand there; come on," Pop said, patting the bed.

JoJo hopped across and sniffed Pop's leg, settled right down next to him and began to rub his face against Pop's knee, purring like crazy. Pop-- who'd never owned a cat in his life, and hadn't had a pet of any kind in at least 45 years-- experimentally reached out a hand and awkwardly began to pat JoJo on the head-- hand held stiff and straight, just sort of tapping the top of his head with the flat of his palm. (Bonk-bonk-bonk...)

"He's... making noises," he said.

"He's purring; that means he likes you," I told him.

"Well, of course. I'm a very likable guy", said Pop-- and that seemed to settle everything. We encouraged him to scratch the cat behind the ears, and to stroke his long torso. He very quickly got the hang of this cat-petting business, and it was hard to tell which of them was enjoying it more...

From then on, every time we came to see him, JoJo was either right by his side, or-- if he was elsewhere in the house-- would show up the instant he heard our voices coming from the room. He was constantly petting him and talking to him.

I credit this sweet little animal with extending my father's life by a few months beyond what it might have been, had he not had the constant, unconditional love and companionship JoJo provided. The simple company of a creature on which he could fasten his wandering attention, and the ability to have his spirits lifted by the simple act of touch and the sensation of warmth surely kept him going when he could barely hold a conversation or tell what day it was.

On the day that Pop died, JoJo remained in his bed with him, sitting close by his side until the men from the funeral home came to remove his body. He was a world-class little companion. Thank you, JoJo.

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