Sitting Shiva refers to the seven-day period of mourning which takes place following a burial. During this time, family members suspend all worldly activities, and devote attention to mourning the deceased.
“I aughta wrap myself in cellophane like Kathy Bates did in Fried Green Tomatoes,” said Shelby, “and tie a red ribbon around my neck.
“Personally,” I said, “as a fashion accessory, I seriously doubt it will make it to Vogue. What’s up with you and cellophane?”
She batted her eyes and grinned. “I’m a sucker for sick kittens so why not look like a big fat lollipop.”
You can’t make that kind of logic up. It’s true that Shelby tends to transmit a signal directly from her house to all stray cats. I’m told that cats, like kids, have an instinct for sniffing out the best neighborhoods. Shelby’s home is the CAThedral while she’s the feline answer to Mother Teresa.
“What’s going on, Shelby?”
Her shoulders slumped. “It’s a long, creepy story. You sure you want to hear it?”
I wasn’t sure, but I nodded anyhow.
“A kitty with feline leukemia showed up and I took her in. The poor lil’ thing wasn’t long for this world and I wanted to send her to the next with good memories.”
(In order to have that kind of compassion, one needs to believe that a cat’s memory storage rolls over into the afterlife.)
“Did you name the poor lil’ thing?”
“I called her Miss Fancy because while she was here, she made a big splash. She had permanent “eyeliner” around her eyes and a beauty mark on her nose and was the neighborhood starlet.”
Shelby got teary-eyed and had to stop and blow her nose.
“Well, it finally happened.” She blew her nose again and wiped her eyes. “Miss Fancy died and we buried her in the back yard.”
Shelby said she left town the following week. When she called home, she was told that Okay, the cat from next door, and Shelby’s other cat, Bailey, perched on top of Miss Fancy’s grave.
She said the two cats sat Shiva with Miss Fancy for seven whole days. Shelby’s son took photos on his cell in case he needed to prove that he was not on hallucinogens again.
When I discussed the phenomenon with the local cat vet, Dr. Lisa, I told her about the two cats sitting Shiva with Miss Fancy and asked if that was normal cat behavior.
Dr. Lisa said she had heard other stories about cats visiting graves. She offered the medical explanation that cats continue to give off oxygen even after they die. She said there is supportive evidence regarding feline sensory perceptions. “It is being seriously considered,” she said soberly. (I didn’t ask by whom.)
“Research,” she continued, “has determined that cats, being super-sensitive, are lured toward other sick, dying or dead animals.”
Although Shelby still mourns Miss Fancy, she told me last week that yet another under-the-weather kitten showed up at her house right after Miss Fancy had left the building, so to speak. Sick with an upper respiratory infection and way too thin, she was appropriately named, Twiggy.
The kitten was barely breathing and her sense of smell was totally blocked. She had no appetite, so Shelby taught her how to eat again. That was before Dr. Lisa waved her magic antibiotic wand.
Twiggy sniffs and smells the whole new world that is open to her, thanks to Shelby and Dr. Lisa.
“She eats like a truck driver so I might have to rename her.” Shelby said wearing a big, fat grin. “I’m thinking Mama Cass.”
“What does Miss Twiggy look like,” I asked.
“She has black, mink-like hair, with white on her face. Like the U.K. Twiggy, she’s a fashion plate. Get this: she’s got teensy white gloves on her paws with scallops around each pad. She also wears a white slip with a pilgrim collar.”
“Sounds to me like,” I said, “Twiggy’s basic wardrobe has a better chance of making the cover of Vogue than you all wrapped up in cellophane.”
“Yep,” she replied. “I’ve heard that we have a lot to learn from animals, but I never thought it included fashion tips.”
I looked down at my ragged jeans and USC sweatshirt, circa 1960. “You think Twiggy could teach me a thing or two?
Shelby looked me up and down and shook her head. “Stick to Vogue, girlfriend. It’s got pictures and everything.”
So advises the Celephane Queen.