Contest #198 shortlist ⭐️

Butter & Cream

Submitted into Contest #198 in response to: Write a story about an unconventional teacher.... view prompt

109 comments

Creative Nonfiction Sad

I have fed the cat butter and cream before he dies. 

Dairy is terrible for a cat’s gastrointestinal tract, but then again, so is abnormal dilation of the colon. 

I’ll take the blame for the dairy. God can take the blame for the rest.



For the hundredth time in a week, the cat valiantly tries to poop in his box and cannot. This puzzles him as he hasn’t been sick one day in his whole 15 years of life. 

What happens when things that have always worked suddenly don’t?



The cat tries to defecate again, carefully scratching through the Fresh Step kitty litter as if it were a sand mandala. 

He teaches me tenacity. Surely if he tries again, all will be well? 

But the blockage in his system prevents him from excreting. 

The cat now teaches me that being tenacious at a fruitless task can quickly become a fool’s errand. Frustrated, he leaves the litter box and jumps up onto his favorite chair. 

He looks at me and meows, but this meow does not sound like his typical sort of vocalization. His meows now come in a much lower register. They sound less like a complaint and more like a stoic acceptance of a hard truth. The cat knows he’s gotten a raw deal. 

“I agree, my love,” I say, scratching him under his chin, tears running down my cheeks. “It’s not fair and I’m so, so sorry.”

He replies with an even deeper meow. 

It’s an embarrassing way to go out, he says.



We have three hours together before his last veterinarian appointment. 

“How about some butter?”

The cat likes butter. He has always liked butter. He has stolen pancakes off my breakfast plate, just to get in a lick or two.

I smile at the memory and cut three paper-thin slices from a cold stick of butter. 

He watches me. 

When I put the plate in front of him, he gives me a sly smile, then licks the yellow squares into oblivion. 

“How about some cream?” I suggest.

The cat’s eyes light up like they did when he was a kitten, when the world was green and new and full of promise.

He laps at the bowl of cream a time or two before returning to his chair. 

I feel vindicated. 

If God can give cats megacolon, then I can give them butter and cream. 


Over the past week, the cat teaches me how to sleep like him, an hour or two at a time, with one eye open. 

I have lain wide awake, becoming good friends with the ceiling, the cat nestled close by my side. I watch the cat breathe in and out, the little cat snores telling me he still lives.

I cry. I rage at God. I bargain with God. I pray to God, more fervently than I have in half a century.

“C’mon,” I say. “Would it really throw the cosmos out of whack if you sent some archangels to manually extract feces?” 

The cat puts his gray paw across my chest. Leave God out of this. This is how things go. 

I am too old to cry over a pet, I think. But then again, I’ve never had a pet before the cat. I briefly wonder if losing a pet is like having chicken pox. Is it worse when you’re older?

I stare out the window, seeing the first glimmers of the day. I stroke the cat’s back, hoping that the cat’s spinal column will send nerve impulses to contract the walls of his colon while I’m at work.

Since the cat’s diagnosis, I’ve spent most of my time researching enough cat-related medical information to qualify as a first-year veterinary resident. 

How nice it would be to come home from work to a litter box full of cat shit.



My adult children flood the family group chat with memories and photos. The cat dressed up for Halloween. The cat sitting in his chair at the dining room table. The cat laying across each of their beds, on their chests, on their feet, on their heads.

The cat has witnessed their growing up like a third parent.

There are videos, too. The cat willfully knocking things off tables. The cat “hunting” water off of dewy car windshields. The cat dragging home the things he’s killed. Mice, snakes, birds—some even larger than himself. 

My adult children talk about how the neighbor put him out since he was a bad kitty, tearing up their drapes and peeing on their furniture.

It is soon after that the cat relentlessly adopts us.

My husband is adamant. “No cats.”

My youngest child and I are even more so. “We’re keeping this cat. Forever.”

Like the cat, we learn how to be stubborn.



I scroll through my own camera roll, reliving all the moments with family and friends, the cat often prominently in the photos.

"How can I let you go?" I whisper.

But he's trying to sleep.



The cat teaches me when enough is enough.

Procedures have been performed. Medicines have been ordered. Special medications have been compounded. Savings accounts have been decimated.

The cat meows again. Your grief is becoming self-indulgent, he warns.

“I am going to miss you.” I sob into his neck.



It’s 5:15. 

It’s time to leave to take the cat in for his last procedure—so I’ve fed the cat butter and cream before he dies. 

With one last futile prayer, I ask God if another day would make a difference. Maybe we could increase the dosage of another medication? Maybe another enema might help? Maybe he isn’t too old for surgery after all? 

But the cat teaches another lesson. Sometimes it’s time to say goodbye. 



I gather him up in a fuzzy pink blanket with flamingos on it. It’s his favorite. He likes it almost as much as butter and cream.

I pray to God thanking him for the privilege of knowing one of his finest creations.

That’s the last lesson the cat teaches me: gratitude. 

I will miss Van, but apparently, someone misses the cat even more than I do—because today, God wants him to come home. 



In Memoriam Van Halen the Cat

May 18, 2023



(Here's a picture of the handsome beast: https://deidrawhittlovegren.com/2022-01-11-comedy/)




May 18, 2023 19:39

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109 comments

Catherine Hudson
19:31 May 20, 2023

Great story. I lost a cat too recently to something like this.

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19:48 May 20, 2023

I mourn with you. It seems incredibly unfair. Sending you love.

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Catherine Hudson
22:30 May 20, 2023

Thanks!

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Kate Winchester
16:01 May 20, 2023

I’m so sorry for your loss. This was a beautiful tribute to Van. ❤️

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16:10 May 20, 2023

Thank you for helping me honor him. He was amazing.

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Kate Winchester
16:15 May 20, 2023

🥰

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Viga Boland
23:23 May 19, 2023

What an unexpected take on the prompt… and so beautifully written. Thank you for not making this story overly long. I feel my heart breaking for the cat and for you its owner. I love this kind of writing. KISS… saying so much and so few words and letting our feelings say the rest. Beautiful.

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00:13 May 20, 2023

Thanks for reading, Viga. Van was quite spectacular. It was a pleasure to be his CatMom for 15+ years. I'm not even close to being all right with his passing...but there was no other option for my little soulmate. I fully expect him to greet me when I cross over. It will be quite a reunion :)

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Viga Boland
02:21 May 20, 2023

❤️❤️

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Shea West
18:39 May 20, 2023

I think it's worth mentioning that I have a black lab named Freddie Mercury. All animals should be named by rock n' roll greats.

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19:45 May 20, 2023

How much cooler could that dog be? - Black - Labrador - Rock start sobriquet - Owned by Shea West's kids If kharma is a thing, that's gotta be the penultimate step next to Nirvana (the place, not the band. Or wait a second...maybe I mean BOTH?)

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Tommy Goround
01:42 May 20, 2023

I like the title. Still reading... "....like chicken pox..." Good. Oh. It is a real story. Well, I am very sorry you went through this. Hmmm Internet hugs won't fix much but I am glad you were able to have such a companion. Head bowed.

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14:32 May 20, 2023

Hug given.

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Suma Jayachandar
06:48 May 19, 2023

I haven’t cried so much when reading a story in a long time. But this made me cry from the first line. I have never been a full time cat parent but have known and loved a few of them to understand where this story is coming from. Thank you for teaching me the power of words to break hearts and bring tears. And take care. Lots of love to Van and You.

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13:39 May 19, 2023

O Suma, I hate this particular life experience. I want my cat back. I WANT MY CAT BACK. (Today I am feeling more like a six-year-old than a fifty-six-year-old.)

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13:06 May 29, 2023

I’m sorry for your loss. This is a lovely remembrance.

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14:36 May 29, 2023

Thank you, Anne. I'm sure all pet lovers have a similar tail (tale - haha - I couldn't resist). To honor Van, my older son and I are volunteering at the local ASPCA. He's keen to work with the dogs. Me? I've pretty much cemented my crazy cat lady status.

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12:15 May 24, 2023

awww.....so lovely. brilliantly written story but more than that the love for Van comes across so well. I've got a tear in my eye having read that.

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12:54 May 24, 2023

Thanks, Derrick. Van was a stray cat who adopted us a long time ago. He knew exactly what we needed. :)

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08:50 May 24, 2023

Hope Van Halen is having a good time in kitty heaven. Giving him his favorite foods was def the right thing to do. Agree with what zack said in the comments about the brilliantly unique and evocative first line. Having lost a cat to a traffic accident, I know the emptiness one feels for a long time after their passing.

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12:52 May 24, 2023

I am so sorry for your loss. People disappoint, pets seldom do. Pure, unconditional love is fairly hard to come by in this life. What helps is sharing memories and volunteering at the ASPCA. Maybe one day humans will be worthy of their pets. :)

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Katy B
16:23 May 22, 2023

Beautiful prose for a cat that seems like he was easy to love ♥ if it's any comfort to you, one of my most unshakeable beliefs is that all animals go to heaven. "El Rancho in the Sky" as my dad (who also loves animals) would call it ♥

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16:35 May 22, 2023

A paradise, indeed. I hope to spend my eternity on the El Rancho, where I'll grow acres of catnip, knit cat booties, and assemble cat toys.

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Helen A Smith
19:44 May 20, 2023

Hi Deidra I’m so sorry you lost your cat. Animals are the greatest teachers as your story so eloquently shows. What a wonderful pet.

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15:02 May 22, 2023

Thanks, Helen. A friend told me that people (no matter how much we love them) end up being disappointing on some level. But our pets? Not even a little bit. They are pure love, all the time. I was a lucky cat mom.

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Helen A Smith
16:49 May 22, 2023

Very true. They are pure.

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Russell Mickler
16:04 May 20, 2023

Hi Deidra! A beautiful reflection. Deaths of loved ones can be beautiful teachers - such an amazing response to the prompt; very poignant and personal. And Van Halen?! Rock on … my fav band from my teens :) great name for a cat … All the best - R

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16:16 May 20, 2023

Van would have fit right in with Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth. In your name, I'll put together a Vat the Cat playlist, including: 1. "Running with the Devil" - whenever he was off the leash (and liked to hide under cars) 2. "You Really Got Me" - since my entire family catered to his every need 3. "Jump" - because, you know, cats gotta cat. 4. "So This is Love?" - because is there any love purer than for a household pet?

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Russell Mickler
16:38 May 20, 2023

Grin - I have to go with Van Halen and not “Van Hagar” - David Lee was my guy! Hehehe But I’m with you sister! Jump, Panama, Hot for Teacher, everybody wants some! All of these are loaded in my Spotify Playlist of Glory! (Featuring hits from high school) …! Hats off to Van - May he be rockin’ out in peace with Eddie, and keeping him company :) R

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17:05 May 20, 2023

Van the Cat and Eddie Van Halen playing a gig in heaven. Now that made me smile for the first time in days. :)

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Russell Mickler
17:09 May 20, 2023

:) !!

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Michelle Oliver
06:33 May 20, 2023

Deidra, this is so open a vulnerable. Thank you for opening up and sharing this with us, I felt your pain in every word. I was praying right along side of you for that miracle. Poor Van, rest in peace little kitty. There is that liminal time, in death and dying, where life lessons become so simple and yet so deep. You have captured that space so articulately. The lessons taught and the lessons learned by loving and letting go, are some of the most beautiful and painful ones we have to learn in life. And that pic is so beautiful, what an inq...

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14:31 May 20, 2023

Liminal time. The time that seems timeless. I had never considered that closely before, but you're right, Michelle. That's where the deepest life lessons are taught. I suppose they are painful because those particular lessons are engraved on our hearts. Thanks for seeing what a handsome (dare I say majestic?) creature Van was. He was as smart as he was funny. Animals are such a superior lifeform to us shabby humans. Maybe we'll deserve them one day.

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Delbert Griffith
12:51 May 19, 2023

Well, I fell in love with Van the cat. You made me do that. You. After stepping outside to blow my nose and dry my eyes, I reflected on the lessons that the late, great Van taught you - and should teach all of us. As heartbreaking as this event had to be for you, it also imparts a beauty that's difficult to define. Blue-lights-in-the-basement kind of beauty. An amazing piece, Deidra. This one will stay with me for quite a while. RIP, Van. Thanks for the lessons, my friend.

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13:45 May 19, 2023

Van was an extraordinary teacher, companion, and friend. It's going to be extremely hard to wake up without his nudging or to fall asleep without his cuddling. The world seems so joyless today.

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Cade Barnett
22:35 May 03, 2024

This made me tear up. Beautifully written.

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Virgil Birgil
17:06 Feb 19, 2024

This prompt really, really hit home for me. It was a different experience, he was a dog and only weeks away from being three with cancer, but I understand the pain all too well. The cursing and pleading with God really tore up my heart, given I went through much the same reaction, hoping hoping and hoping it'd save him. (I'm not Christian, but I was raised as such and I was desperate.) This is such a stunning story. I truly hope your cat is living his best life wherever he may be now.

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17:58 Feb 19, 2024

I asked a friend of mine why it was so hard to lose a pet. He said it's because people are disappointing, but animals aren't. :) Lots of truth in that statement. I am so sorry you lost your friend. I coped with the grief by volunteering at the local pet shelter. I highly recommend this. (And I found two more little furballs that needed to come home with me.) All the best. Thanks for the lovely comment.

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Virgil Birgil
20:43 Feb 19, 2024

Thank you. I agree with your friend, my boy was the sweetest, most happy boy ever. I asked a friend of my own "Why him?" and she said she was once told perfect creatures leave early. I can't find any fault in her words.

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Roger Scypion
03:52 Dec 03, 2023

Thank you for sharing such a moving story. It's an honor.

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10:36 Jul 20, 2023

That's so sad. 😢 Great story, almost too good, but it just doesn't feel right to say more than that, considering the 'Creative non-fiction' tag...

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12:33 Jul 20, 2023

Van was a great cat. It was a honor to hang out with him :)

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Naomi P
17:50 Jul 14, 2023

This story was written very beautifully. I lost my cat Fluffy recently, so this hits hard. Great work!

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Ken Cartisano
21:39 Jun 17, 2023

I lost my cat Binky, on April 13, 2023. He was twenty years old, and still pretty spry. He died defending his territory, from what, I still don't know.

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