Christmas 2012 turned out to be quite sad, but not because of Leah – her first blood test was a week later on her 15th birthday.
On Christmas Eve, Miriam (then aged nine) was playing with her much loved hamster Pepper, when one of our house cats leapt across the kitchen and sank his teeth into this tiny bundle of fur. I can still hear Miriam’s anguished cry.
The cat ran off and poor Pepper was gathered up, shivering in fear. We hoped and prayed that this adored pet would survive.
By Christmas morning Pepper was a sorry sight. Here’s Leah and my husband trying to revive it – sadly it died before breakfast.
To further compound this tragedy, while we were all in the same room that morning, the aforementioned house cat managed to get the now deceased Pepper out of it’s cage and eat it, without any of us noticing. This meant that the hamster was denied a decent burial, as befits a much loved children’s pet.
There was no consoling Miriam. Christmas Day 2012 became a rather sad event.
Miriam was desperate for another pet to replace Pepper. I pointed out that there was no point in getting another hamster, as said cat had obviously now acquired a taste for hamsters and would not be deterred. My husband said “no more cats” as we already had two house cats – one belonging to each of our two older daughters.
However once Leah began to have investigations for a blood disorder I started to think very seriously about Miriam’s need for another pet of her very own.
By mid February 2013, I had become convinced that Leah had some form of bone marrow failure and was seriously ill, although at that stage the paediatric haematologist in the Royal stated that Leah’s weekly blood results were “not consistent with any nasty bone marrow diseases“! I didn’t believe this doctor, but I hid my fears and wore a smile in front of Leah and recorded my thoughts in my diary.
I felt that a having a pet of her own would provide Miriam with a source of comfort as well as a distraction, during the inevitable disruption to family life that we were facing.
On Saturday 16th February, the start of midterm, Leah and I accompanied Miriam to our local animal shelter to choose a new cat. Miriam chose a young tabby and called it Mittens.
Mittens came with quite a crazy but very endearing personality. Having three house cats in our tiny bungalow, along with a daughter who was severely immunocompromised, proved to be a bit stressful for Horace and I.
Mittens had no road sense. If anyone left the outside door open Mittens darted straight across the road like greased lightning. Then Miriam ran across the road after her cat and my husband ran after Miriam. The many stresses of family life!
When Leah was on intravenous antibiotics for a week, the Rapid Response nurses came to our house three times a day to administer these via a drip and the cats were into everything – I was quite embarrassed at times and secretly hoped that these nurses were animal lovers!
Leah’s cat Charlie appeared to miss her terribly once she left for Bristol and sadly he was killed on the road while we were away.
The decision was made that once we moved into our new house after Leah’s transplant, there would be NO cats allowed indoors. I think the cats coped with this better than the children, but at least it drew Miriam outside for some fresh air!
Miriam absolutely adores Mittens and often wears her like a scarf. Mittens and Flash (Rachel’s cat) often sit on the window sills on either side of our front door, like guards on sentry duty.
Recently I was away in Belfast at a Women’s Conference with a group of women from our church. I phoned my husband in the afternoon and heard the words that I did not want to hear “Mittens has been hit by a car and is injured.” Mittens was still alive and in no distress, but lying in her bed and reluctant to eat or drink. My heart sank.
Thankfully Mittens recovered from this trauma but the experience reminded me of when Leah’s first cat Bibs died. He was a very affectionate cat who had come into our lives when my mum was ill.
My mother died early in 2008.
I picked up Bibs dead on the road later that year at 7am on a cold November morning and sobbed my heart out. Leah was just about to sit her 11+ Transfer Test so we had to hide the news from her for a period of time. Leah absolutely broke her heart when she found out. I remember her sitting at the kitchen table crying like she was never going to stop. As a mum I felt so helpless in the face of my daughter’s utter devastation.
Sometime after this Leah wrote an account of the life and death of her beloved cat Bibs – I cried when I first read it and reading it even now reduces me to tears.
MY MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE by Leah Whyte
Well, my story begins with a little stray kitten, who I just happened to fall in love with. So, I guess I should tell you just how this little kitten happened to walk into my life.
Me, my dad, my brother and sister, were going to Derry to pick my mum up from the bus depot as she had been away in Cork.
On the way my dad stopped at a man’s house. This man happened to feed cats and he stumbled upon that poor little kitten that became a most loved pet. The man offered the kitten to me. My dad doesn’t like cats much but he has a kind heart and he wanted to help the kitten so now I had my very first cat, all of my own.
I don’t think he liked the car much because he meowed and scraped at the window. But I was smart enough to know not to open the window. Finally he settled down on my knee. Thankfully he didn’t need the toilet.
As soon as we got home I rushed inside to show my older sister my, yes I’m proud to say, my cat. She was also excited. We decided to call him Bibs as he had a black bit at the bottom of his chin.
I so definitely didn’t want to go to bed but, it was getting late and I had school in the morning. With help from my dad I made a bed for Bibs by the fire so he would be warm. I made sure Bibs was comfortable. I climbed into bed amazed at what an exciting day I’d had.
After school the next day and for weeks to come I slowly introduced Bibs to Flash, my sister’s cat and was surprised as they got on extremely well.
Bibs was a very good cat, although i disapproved whenever he had feathers stuck to his mouth, as he had a really bad habit and if you haven’t guessed yet, yes, he liked to eat birds. He also couldn’t sit still for five minutes, Bibs was a very playful cat and very hyper.
Ok so now we are in December 2007 and we’ve been together four months. I’ve been to the Pound Shop ( yes everything is a pound) and I’ve bought Bibs a cat stocking with cat treats and cat toys inside. On Christmas Day I opened my presents. I then brought Bibs in to open his. Ok, I admit it, I opened his, but cats can’t exactly open presents can they? Bibs didn’t show much enthusiasm but he seemed happy enough.
I wasn’t sure when his birthday was. So I made up that it was the 16th August. He didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I made a birthday cake with cat food and he scoffed it all up.
This is the tragic part of my story: So now it’s the 8th November 2008. I couldn’t find Bibs, but I didn’t really care as sometimes he did wander off. Then my dad breaks it to me; he found Bibs dead, my poor Bibs was ran over by a car. My mum and dad decided not to tell me until Saturday even though he got ran over on Thursday, as on Friday I had my 11+ transfer test and a wedding straight after. I cried and cried. I couldn’t believe Bibs was gone forever and ever.
Now comes the even worst bit; I had to bury him. Dad picked a nice place down by the stream to bury him. I picked Bibs up and held him as close as I dared, I didn’t want to get blood on my top. No purr, no heartbeat, no warm body, instead a cold stiff cat. Those once energetic legs, never to be bent again. I set Bibs in the hole, realising this was goodbye. I tried to cover him with soil using the spade. But I couldn’t see, I could have cried a river. We planted daffodil bulbs to grow in the spring. I will never forget my darling Bibs. I still miss him a lot; he will always be in my heart; my beautiful little black and white cat.