Budsie, my fiancee's family's cat is not an affectionate family cat. He goes missing for days, will not put up with being petted or cuddled, and only comes in the house for the occasional snack, and to remind their other cat, Stoney, of just who is Top Cat. Mostly he goes around forcing his attentions on the local female cat populations and terrorising dogs. You could call him "Greebo" if you were familiar with Terry Pratchett. This cat is certainly not a fuzzball of affection, and would gladly take your eyes out as lick himself there frenetically in front of your impressionable guests. Not the sort of cat you'd chose to have, but can't really get rid of either.
In late '96, My fiancee's mother (Kerry, a single Mum) was diagnosed with incurable cancer. She chose not to endure the chemo and radiotherapy to extend her life a little more - she wanted to die with dignity. Nothing much changed in life until around the beginning of last year, when she suddenly took a turn for the worse and was practically bed ridden for the last 2 months of her life. Budsie's character changed completely, but only for her. He became a bed-cat. He purred, and showed affection, but only for her. When she had to get out of bed (which was very difficult), he stood at the doorway and meowed words of encouragement, running from her to the door and back to show her the way. He used to carry some his cat biscuits up to her so she didn't starve. He sat vigil for her till morning as the drugs she was on gave her nightmares. This was one seriously nurse-like cat. Not that he changed his character for the rest of us - he was as obnoxious as ever - unless we were with Kerry.
When the cancer had gotten far enough that neither Kerry or her family could look after her any more (she wasn't fully conscious any more) , the ambulance was called, and as she was put into the ambulance, Budsie jumped in as well. The ambulance officers had one heck of a difficult time ousting this thoroughly vicious and protective cat from their pristine ambulance. With all the fuss around her, Kerry woke up enough to be lucid for a few minutes. I don't know what she said to Budsie, but she said something, patted him a few times, and then slipped back under. Budsie then left the ambulance of his own accord. Those of you who have cats will know just how haughty cats can get. Budsie strode out with the haughtiest expression on his face, the ambulance officers - two big burly men - couldn't get rid of him, but Kerry had told him it was OK to go and so he did.
Kerry never regained full consciousness and died two weeks later. In the meantime, Budsie stayed almost glued to her bed, only leaving for a quick nature or food call. He would hiss and spit and claw and bite if you tried to move him so we simply let him be.
I don't know what Budsie did when Kerry died - we were all around her at the hospital when she did. When we got home, Budsie knew about it though, because he had unglued himself from Kerry's bed and was downstairs waiting for us. He rubbed at our legs and gave us all those reassuring "brbrbr" chirps that mother cats give her kittens. He allowed us to pet him, he sat in all our laps in turn, purring, licking and reassuring all of us. He was still hanging around the house 4 days later when the place was just about overrun by people paying their respects to the family at the wake, which was entirely out of character for him. Budsie wasn't and still isn't a "party" cat.
After most of the guests had gone and just the closest of family and friends were left, we got out the good stuff and had a drink for "Kezza", as Kerry was known. The old family stories were told, and slowly we started to laugh about Kerry's ups & downs, and felt better. I think Budsie, knowing we'd made the first steps to healing (this was the first time the house had heard laughter for over a month) scratched at the door and let himself out through the hole he had made in the screen. Later that night while we were celebrating Kerry's life, we heard the distinctive cries Budsie makes when he is "seducing" a lover and so I guess since we were now on the way of getting back on track, so was he.
Budsie has not slept on Kerry's bed since (its now the spare bed in the spare room). And he only becomes personable again twice a year. The anniversary of Kerry's death, and Kerry's birthday. He's otherwise as charming and cute as always (NOT!) but he obviously knows his family, and his place in it. He provided comfort when needed, and when it was time to "get on with life" he was the one who lead the way. Kerry would have wanted it like that.