He was a cat, we called him Tiger, a German word which has the same meaning in English, though pronounced more as "tee-gar", which eventually the kids just pronounced "tigger".
He was a sweet little guy.
He loved to chase his ball, which he would bring to you, setting it in front of you with an expectant look, while meowing most melodically.
He also liked to "sing". Not the cacophonous yowling that some male cats are wont to do, no, no. Tiger had a lovely voice. He could almost warble, the sound was most pleasing to the ear.
He normally would sing when he wanted to get into his human brother's room, our very own Naviguesser. My son and that cat were inseparable.
Well, when that cat and I weren't hanging out together.
Tiger loved to sleep between my feet at night.
When he deemed it "time for bed", he would perch on the stairs leading up to the bedrooms and stare at me.
I've written of his brother Pat in these spaces before. They would fight as most brothers do, but if the outside world intruded they fought on the same side. (They stayed in a boarding kennel for a week while we went to Bavaria. When I went to pick them up, they were at the highest point in the room, back to back, keeping a weather eye on the other kitties. The Dutch lady who ran the place told me that they were inseparable, the other cats were all terrified of the two of them together!)
Little did we know it at the time, but Tiger was born with very weak kidneys. A condition which caused him to pee just about anywhere and everywhere. Most folks would have gotten rid of him for that. We're not "most folks".
He was truly a member of the family.
The other thing we didn't know is that Tiger's condition would lead to him having a very short life.
One day he became lethargic, wouldn't eat, wouldn't really do anything. To the vet we went.
Our regular vet was Dutch. A superb fellow he was. He told us that Tiger's kidneys were very bad and perhaps might even be failing. But there was a chance.
The chance was slim, very slim he said. We decided to continue having him treated and hope for the best.
One morning, I remember it well, Tiger seemed better. He was more active, wobbly as he hadn't eaten much in a few days, but better.
I remember walking to the pharmacy that morning, before work, to refill his medicine. We had hope. After a week of literally "just laying there" Tiger was making an effort to get up and join the family.
But it was not to be.
When I came home from work, Tiger was barely conscious. The Missus Herself was nearly in tears and the girls were uneasy, if not downright scared as to what was going on. The Naviguesser was back in the States, in his second year of college. In some ways I'm glad he wasn't there to see his buddy like this. In other ways, I wish he had been there. Shared pain is more bearable pain.
It was the one day of the week where our Dutch vet didn't have emergency hours. So we went to our alternate, our German vet in the town of Gangelt. Another good man and excellent veterinarian.
We jumped in the car and headed to Gangelt, not realizing that it was Martinstag, St Martin's Day**. A holiday we had always enjoyed in our little village. Only problem was, there was always a parade, through the main street of every village. Of which there were three between us and our German veterinarian.
With no little frustration we found our way around each parade and eventually arrived at the vet's. He met us and immediately began to treat our little kitty.
He seemed to rouse himself somewhat when he was put on IV fluids. But only for a moment. With a loud wail, which seemed to protest his fate, Tiger went limp. Thinking he was gone, I went to him and held him in my arms. He opened his eyes once more, wailed one more time, then...
He was gone.
Not knowing what to do, we asked the vet, who suggested burying him in the garden. The Missus Herself said "No".
It seems that for some reason, the Missus Herself had picked up a bunch of brochures at our Dutch vet's office some months before. One of which was for a pet crematorium in Rotterdam. They would come and collect Tiger. But not until the next day. So that night we took Tiger home.
The girls were crushed, the Nuke picked him up, hugged him and begged him to wake up. The WSO was in tears. That, for me, seeing my daughters in such pain, was the last straw. I broke down. I felt that I had failed as a man, as a father. Somehow I should have protected my children from such pain. Somehow, someway, I should have saved Tiger.
I sat with Tiger's body all night. Waiting for the dawn, for that is when the folks from Rotterdam would come to get him. I am nearly in tears now, remembering all of this, lo these fifteen years later.
They came for him in the morning. The Missus Herself had arranged Tiger's lifeless body as if he were only asleep, with one of the Naviguesser's Boy Scout towels over him. When they picked him up, I'm not sure what I was expecting, but they treated Tiger with respect and dignity. These people knew their jobs very well.
I watched the van drive off. I watched it until it was out of sight. I was broken, truly broken.
I managed to gather myself enough to report for duty. My boss, a German lieutenant colonel, could see that I was exhausted and clearly not myself. When I told him what the situation was, I wasn't sure what to expect, to be mocked perhaps?
That didn't happen. Oberstleutnant Bauer looked me in the eye, squeezed my shoulder and said "Es tut mir leid"***. Then, "go home, get some sleep." (Gerd Bauer was another officer whom I would most certainly follow to Hell and back.)
My emotional reaction to Tiger's death scared me. I was a wreck for fully a week. My wife and oldest daughter literally feared for my sanity.
I think it was a combination of things. Tiger's death was most definitely a tragedy, he was only five years old. His passing was a shock. But my impending retirement from the Air Force was also a factor.
Wearing the uniform was all I had ever wanted to do, now that was coming to an end. Things, which had seemed so perfect, now seemed to be falling apart. I truly think that my fast approaching separation from my career, my way of life, put me very near the edge. When Tiger died, I went over that edge.
It frightened me then, though now, with the passage of time, I understand it a little better. I control myself much better now. Though there have been certain occasions in the past four years where, while I didn't go over the edge, I could see it clearly and thought about just letting go. But I had learned enough to avoid that.
The folks in Rotterdam brought Tiger's cremains to us in a very nice urn. On Thanksgiving Day. I almost slid over the edge that day, but didn't. Something in me had broken, but had healed and perhaps made me stronger.
But still and all, he was such a beautiful cat. Such a devoted and beloved companion. I miss him still. As do all at Chez Sarge and all those members of our far-flung tribe.
Rest easy Tiger, I'll see you someday, then we'll cross the bridge together.
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....
Some of you will no doubt understand. Thank you.
*Or so the Naviguesser liked to call him.
**November 11 is the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, who started out as a Roman soldier. He was baptized as an adult and became a monk. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying of the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me." Wikipedia
*** I am so sorry.