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

Amanda Lieser
01:43 Jun 06, 2023

Hi Deidra! Oh my goodness, the heart and soul that you poured into this piece was absolutely beautiful! I love that you included a picture of the beautiful cat, and I identified with so many different parts of it. I, too, along with my sister, bullied, one parent into allowing us to get cats when we were young. I love that you built the story up with the small action of giving an animal the treat of a lifetime before it has to exit the world. My parents always bought a steak for the dog. Nice work and congratulations on the shortlist!!

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15:03 Jun 08, 2023

I love your parents, and I hope they topped the steak with cheese and ice cream. :)

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Glenda Toews
02:59 Jun 05, 2023

I'm so very sorry you had this story to write. Your anguish squeezed out between the sentences, and I could see your teardrops dotting the i's. I'm sorry for your ache.

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15:02 Jun 08, 2023

Thanks, Glenda. In the weeks since Van's passing, I decided to volunteer at the local ASPCA in Van's memory. And voila! The universe sent me "General Sherman," a deaf scrawny white cat with enough personality to spare. (The General is currently sprawled out on my bed.)

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Glenda Toews
15:17 Jun 08, 2023

I nearly spat out my smoothy... I was just writing in my journal about my dream last night. Trying to find a home for 3 white cats... Yay! One found a home! :D I'm so glad you did this, while one won't replace the other, and your heart is still going to ache in memories, new little critters have a way of keeping our minds busy enjoying them. You may need to look for a Klinger and Hawkeye too ;P

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Shannon C.
21:14 May 31, 2023

It is so much harder as an adult.......what a lovely story.

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15:00 Jun 08, 2023

Agreed. It's harder as an adult because people can be so disappointed. (Animals never are.)

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Kilroy _
20:19 May 30, 2023

I'm so sorry for your loss. I also went through the same thing a few months ago, but instead I fed my pet chocolate cake before we said goodbye. I know how hard it is to loss an animal you hold so deer, and I hope that you are feeling better. I bet he was an amazing cat. ❤️❤️❤️

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14:59 Jun 08, 2023

Van was a wonderful creature. Smarter than most humans I know. And I hope someone feeds me chocolate cake in my last hours :)

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15:49 May 29, 2023

We had two wonderful dogs. Jackson clung to me as if I might leave and he would not let that happen. the collie Chessie died first. I knew and she knew. Jackson was as all personality. My friend and companion. When the time came the passage was easier for him. He loved me and trusted me. A few months later I felt this presence. It was evening. I went to the window. Jackson was sitting on the yard. I called him. He disappeared. I called to my we wife. "I just saw Jackson in the yard." She replied, Chessie was just in the bedroom." I believe. ...

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14:58 Jun 08, 2023

That's the hope of all pet lovers :)

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Philip Ebuluofor
08:51 May 28, 2023

Fine tribute. I think this kind of story is the reason I don't live with dogs. Aooner, they start behaving like humans. Congrats.

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20:33 May 28, 2023

Thanks Mr. E!

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Philip Ebuluofor
07:53 May 29, 2023

Welcome.

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Kevin Logue
06:42 May 28, 2023

Real, honest and full of heart. I'm sat here reading with my nineteen year old tabby wheezing next me. Got me in the feels. Sorry for you loss. Inspired by you creative approach to grief.

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20:35 May 28, 2023

Thanks, Kevin. Loving your tabby and scratching under his chin from here. (Van always liked headbutting -- his way of kissing). I'm so grateful to have known a wonderful creature like Van. As a result, I signed up to volunteer at the ASPCA and worked my first shift in the cat rows today. It was heavenly :)

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Kevin Logue
21:08 May 28, 2023

What a positive move. Rock on!

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Kelsey H
11:29 May 27, 2023

Oh no, I missed the 'non-fiction' tag then got to the end :( Such a beautiful story though, love the cat as teacher. I love your first line too, and how it builds from there, such a great straightforward way of writing which lets the emotions and the reality of what is happening really shine through and resonate.

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20:38 May 28, 2023

How I wish this were fiction. You have no idea :)

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Shirley Medhurst
08:19 May 27, 2023

So so very poignant! R.I.P. Van. Your writing really tugged at the heartstrings - an incredibly clever take on the prompt, well done.

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Viga Boland
19:23 May 26, 2023

I knew this was a winner when I read it earlier this week. Congrats on another shortlist.

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Chelly Jo Welch
03:15 May 26, 2023

I absolutely cried at this. I can't imagine losing either of my cats. I'm so sorry to hear you lost your baby. A wonderful story. Thank you for sharing.

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12:05 May 26, 2023

Thanks, Chelly. My baby was 15 and lived the life of Egyptian kings :) Van was hopelessly spoiled for his entire life -- and rightfully so. I am so grateful for the time we had together, and I'm so grateful for compassionate vets who know when it's time. Of all the animals who have suffered, Van wasn't one of them. Full of butter, feeling no pain, surrounded by loved ones singing songs, and being held in a fuzzy pink blanket with flamingos on it -- that's the way I want to leave this earth, too.

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Mac Paul
13:49 May 25, 2023

Lovely story and written well. All pet owners identify with your heartfelt loss. I must also add, this short story is transitioned throughout lovely. Well composed. Talented author. Thanks for sharing the story of Van Halen. Bettie MacIntyre

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15:57 May 25, 2023

Thanks for helping me honor one fine looking cat, Bettie. He was quite dear to me. I miss him sleeping between my feet.

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Wally Schmidt
21:05 May 24, 2023

Thanks for including a picture of Van and your beautiful tribute to him. There is so much to love about this as a story...the author marking the passage of time, the lessons the cat taught, and the depth of grief expressed. And yet I keep coming back to the dreadful, inevitable parting and how sad I am for your loss. Hopefully Van is living his best cat life in heaven and your heart is slowly healing.

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23:17 May 24, 2023

Appreciate the kind remarks, Wally. Now that I've lost a pet, I find myself a member of a close-knit club of mourners. We now recognize each other as losing a beloved friend is quite a bonding experience. I find myself audibly sighing. As for Van, I fully expect him to take over heaven. He was a wonderful rascal.

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Wally Schmidt
01:00 May 25, 2023

A rascal? Well then I think, at the next opportunity, you should write a story about him leading a pack and getting into all sorts of mischief either in heaven or here on earth. Fully expect Van to live on in your memory and your stories, both of which have a tremendous amount of heart.

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Michał Przywara
21:29 May 23, 2023

Oh, my condolences! :( "I am too old to cry over a pet, I think." Never. They really are part of the family, aren't they? I'd rather have chickenpox than suffer a loss like this. It's a lovely take on the prompt though. The story is loaded with happier memories to contrast the present sad, and the whole point of the cat being a teacher is right on. They can teach us so much, if we only listen. Thanks for sharing a bit of Van's life, Deidra. It's melancholy and thought provoking, and brings to mind happy memories from when my Rex was sti...

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23:20 May 24, 2023

I'd rather have shingles than suffer a loss like this. Oh Michal, I need your stories of Rex! Do you have another pet? I've signed up to volunteer for the ASPCA to work with the cats. Maybe the universe will send me another little furball to spoil. Love definitely makes us vulnerable -- but what else is there to do on this ball of molten rock? I am definitely turning into a crazy old cat lady. It was my destiny...bring on the knitting and purling (purring). (Hug)

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Michał Przywara
21:08 May 26, 2023

Congratulations on the shortlist, Deidra! It pulled on the heart. The ASPCA is a neat idea. You're right on both counts, about love and how we spend our time here. Seems like such a simple lesson but so many of us keep missing it. To answer your question, I've no other pets myself - but I'll see about Rex stories. Never gave it much thought before :) Congrats again. It's bittersweet, but I think Van's story speaks to a lot of people.

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Will Oyowe
16:16 May 23, 2023

A touching story. It must have been challenging to write(I am glad you did, though). I hope you're doing okay, and I'm sorry for your loss. It was nicely written too.

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16:34 May 23, 2023

Thanks, Will. I wrote it just before we took Van in. I had to. There was no other way to process the enormous grief. Someone told me once that grief is only love-with-no-place-to-go. So true :)

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Will Oyowe
16:51 May 23, 2023

I have a cat too. She is indeed part of the family, and I can't bare to see her go one day. " grief is only love-with-no-place-to-go," the sad reality of life.

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17:02 May 23, 2023

I am so grateful for veterinarians and their strength and compassion. More than grieving his loss, I would have been horrified to see my beloved pet in agony and pain. I am thankful they can peacefully rest when the time comes, being held by loved ones and sung to sleep.

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Will Oyowe
17:21 May 23, 2023

Indeed, don't get the respect they deserve sometimes. I remember how they are essential to cattle herders when going through transhumance. (Sorry off topic) But glad Van is now at peace.

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11:56 May 22, 2023

Beautifully written. I loved the way you paced both one week and three hours within the same storyline. In reverence for Van Halen I leave you with no critiques. Write on!

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15:03 May 22, 2023

Thanks, Leo. The liminal spaces are timeless.

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Shahzad Ahmad
11:50 May 22, 2023

What an unusually creative way to learn a lesson from a cat! And it teaches really valuable lessons like gratitude and improvisation. Also leaving the burden of tomorrow to God himself! Really engaging piece of writing and a top contender for the prize!

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15:04 May 22, 2023

Well said, Shahzad! "God can carry the burden of tomorrow." You put that so succinctly. Sage advice for all.

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Jody S
23:58 May 21, 2023

What a beautiful tribute to your sweet cat. May Van's memory always be for a blessing. We lived a very similar scenario almost a year to the date of this writing and the pain we feel today losing our beloved dog, Clarence, is as fresh as it was then. They take a piece of our heart when they pass on to the next life, but lucky they fill our hearts so full when they are with us that we can carry those memories for every. Thank you for sharing your lovely story.

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01:12 May 22, 2023

Clarence has to be the best dog’s name ever. I can see him in my mind’s eye! Tell me what breed and color he was. I don’t know why, but I just love Clarence 💕 I’m sure he was smart and loyal and funny.

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Jody S
16:55 May 22, 2023

Thank you! He was named after Clarence Clemmons from Springsteen's band, but he reminded us of Clarence the angel from It's A Wonderful Life. He had that sweet personality and was very nurturing! He was a black and tan wire hair dachshund. He had Abe Vigoda eye brows! He was the best boy!! We miss him so much.

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17:58 May 22, 2023

Abe Vigoda eyes... *big grin* "Can you get me off the hook, Tom? For old times' sake?" (Hope you are a Godfather II fan.)

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Jody S
20:23 May 22, 2023

Hubby is!! Too funny!!

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Susan Catucci
22:24 May 21, 2023

I couldn't finish reading this because I'm taking meds for an infection and am at a low ebb to begin with, Deidra, but read enough to understand what a personal, meaningful piece this is . What a blessing that you had/have each other. The depth of loss you feel is a fitting testament to how much you love. Van was obviously one fortunate feline, and you sound like an amazing mom. oxo

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01:09 May 22, 2023

Sending you ✨💖✨for a speedy recovery, Susan. Thanks for helping to honor a fabulous furry friend.

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Zack Powell
01:50 May 21, 2023

This is the type of first sentence I love to see. No looking out the window. No character waking up to start their day. No navel gazing. Just a strong, striking sentence that's both pithy and completely unique to this story. Love it. Beyond the first sentence, the rest of the piece is equally lovely. Not easy to run through all the stages of grief in just 1,000 words, but you did it. You've got the denial (maybe another dosage, maybe another enema, maybe another day, and all the computer research), the anger (blaming God), the bargaining (w...

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15:09 May 22, 2023

High praise, Zack. In the 21st c., we may as well be blunt with each other about the joys and perils of the human condition. I've learned grief doesn't have stages. It would be wonderful to check off the boxes, but, apparently grief is both angel and demon, both a creative and destructive force, once dormant then wildly virulent. It's like dry heaves of the heart. Above all, grief is exhausting. But necessary, I suppose. It is the Great Leveller. How arrogant mankind would be without it. :)

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