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(Kim Rosen for The Globe and Mail)
(Kim Rosen for The Globe and Mail)

Facts & Arguments Essay

How a cat helped my aging mom Add to ...

Another e-mail from my mother popped into my inbox. Marley had stolen the comfy seat of her reading chair and claimed it as his own. She'd almost squished him.

Being a jet-black cat, he was hard to see against the dark grey upholstery of the chair. She'd attempted to sit down with the morning paper, Marley unnoticed. One loud yelp and they had bolted - 82-year-old woman in one direction, black cat of unknown age in the other.

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I knew Mom had been laughing while she typed her e-mail to me. I received Marley e-mails four to five times per day. So did many of her friends.

I measure my mother's mental health and well-being in terms of Before Marley and After Marley. Before Marley, my mother Beth lived alone in a small house, with daily visits and phone calls from my sister and me and calls from my brother in China. There is nothing wrong with my mother's mind. It's her body that has let her down. Limited mobility and the need for oxygen kept her close to home.

As a retired French teacher, she filled her days with multilingual television, crossword puzzles, e-mail correspondence and letter writing. A resident of Nanaimo for only four years, she did not have many friends in town, just her daughters.

Long divorced, she had no one, she felt, who needed her. There was no real reason to get out of bed at 7 a.m. each day, except out of habit. Until Marley, that is.

Marley's story is an interesting one. How these two found each other is one of those cosmic twists of fate just meant to be.

Bedraggled, starving and half-dead, a feral black adult cat showed up on my property about two years ago. I am a cat person. I put out food. He lived on the perimeter of my property, slinking to the feeding bowl, wolfing down kibble and running off.

It took four months before he'd stay in the vicinity when I was about. Another two months and I could pat his head. I finally caught him and took him to the vet for the necessary nip, clip and shots. When asked what I would call him, Rasta Marley seemed to fit. He came back to my place a new man, minus a few bits. Follow Facts & Arguments on Twitter

He was always going to be paranoid and skittish. He managed, but was terrified of anyone other than me. I already had three indoor cats, all of whom hated Marley's guts. He was not destined to be part of the brotherhood. Plus, my food and vet bill rivalled the Pentagon operating budget.

When recommended by a friend to a lady who had just lost her beloved 18-year-old black cat, an adoption seemed the perfect solution - to me, to her, but not to Marley. It did not go well. After 10 days she called me in tears. Marley was living under the bed, not eating and attacking her whenever she came close. Intervention and repatriation were necessary.

Driving home with Marley howling in the cat carrier, I called my mother on my mobile phone. I was distressed for the poor animal. "Bring him here," she said. "He can stay with me for a few days until you find him a suitable home."

Neither of us ever suspected that her home would be it.

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Marley settled into Mom's place within a week. My mother's patient attention and plates of tuna soothed the savage beast.

That was a year ago. Today they are a team. His antics are chronicled daily, to all, via e-mail. Phone conversations start with a Marley update. Her home is littered with cardboard "hide-and-seek" boxes, catnip mice and blankets placed in strategic cat perches for exterior bird viewing or afternoon naps. Mom loves Marley. Marley loves Mom.

My mother is happy, alert and laughs a lot more than I remember. Therapy and friendship wrapped up in a big black ball of fur.

Over lunch recently my mother leaned forward and said, "I am redoing my will and I have a big favour to ask."

I nodded my head. "Of course."

"You and I both know Marley could never live with anyone else."

I know that to be the absolute truth.

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"When I go, I want Marley to go with me. I want his ashes to be mixed with mine. Sprinkle us both in Departure Bay and we'll sail off together on our next big adventure."

I held my breath. I understood the logic. Her black prince would accompany her to the afterlife. I held back my tears. My mother is a rational person. She is of sound mind. She would have thought long and hard before asking this of me.

My veterinarian friend confirmed that many elderly clients of her clinic have this same request. She had performed humane euthanasia in circumstances such as this on a number of occasions, especially in cases where the pet would never adjust to a new home. She provided me with a letter of confirmation to be included in my mother's will.

And so it will be that when the time comes to say goodbye, it will be to Marley and Mom. One little old lady and one big black cat will accompany each other into the wild blue yonder, their gift to each other to be one of eternal companionship.

Su Grimmer lives in Nanaimo, B.C.

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