Christmas Eve – 2016
We buried one of my best buds today.
We returned his body to the earth… old school, but with a more biodegradable casket, just as he would’ve preferred. I know it’s much more common these days to cremate, but there was nothing common about Barry. He preferred fruit over fish, enjoyed large, noisy gatherings, and would simply meow at insects in wonderment, with no intention of harming them (unlike most of the other feline assassins he lived with). And when we meditated together, he would transform himself from an “adorable” ginger house cat, to a statuesque Shaolin Zen master. We often joked about how he must’ve been a monk in a previous life.
Barry was love – pure love – personified in a physical vessel many in our culture would find atypical of an enlightened being. Smiles broke out in his name, every day. Laughter followed him around the house. And to be in his presence was to be injected with the sweet crackle of life: the simple joy of being alive.
Barry loved the little things: Kibble and treats, drinking from his fountains and faucets, napping in the sunlight, hanging out wherever humans were conversing, stealing slices of banana or nectarine from his human mom’s breakfast plate, greeting guests at the door, and making biscuits on his favorite toy—a large turtle doll that was almost as big as he was. And when he spoke – which was often – it was with a distinctively warm baritone quack that poured over you like maple syrup. (His unique, low-pitched meow would earn him the name Barry in honor of soul singer, Barry White.) He was an unforgettable character: a colossal spirit, barely contained in a 10-pound shell. The fact that he is no longer with us in physical form is something I don’t believe I will ever fully get over.
Tails From the Hood
Barry and his three siblings were born in the gutter of a gang-ridden neighborhood, in an exceedingly dangerous part of LA. My BFF, Minoo – who would become Barry’s human mom – and her friend Gio, were looking after a colony of feral cats there, and had been desperately trying to trap Barry’s pregnant mother, Gabby, before she gave birth. But she would always elude them. Meanwhile, folks in this neighborhood did not take warmly to the ferals, and bad things were starting to happen to some of them. So the big clock was ticking loudly from the day Barry was born.
Mama Gabby took her kittens from the gutter to a storage area in an apartment complex carport. But after repeated warnings to Gio about removing the “nuisance cat” (Gabby) who had been leaving paw prints on tenants’ cars, the apartment manager began the process of nailing the unit shut, in an effort to basically entomb Gabby and her kittens to their death.
A recent shot of Barry with Mama Gabby
But their demise was not to be, at least if my BFF and Gio had anything to say about it. With a little help from a neighborhood teen, Gio grabbed the four kittens – who were just five days old now – and my BFF drove the “getaway car” and took them all back to her place. And so began that exhausting cycle of every-two-hours bottle-feeding, sleeping (for them), and plenty of poo, pee, and playtime. It would take a full year for them to finally catch Barry’s street-smart and trap-savvy momma.
I first met Barry and the gang right around this time and became one of the part-time bottle-feeders. Within a few short weeks, Barry would emerge as the “all-star” of the litter: first, with his unmistakably loud and bassy meow; second, with his prominent Buddha belly (despite having been dewormed); and then soon after that, with his astonishing level of awareness and empathy. (It would be the combination of his big belly and astute mindfulness that would earn him his middle name of “Buddha.”)
That infamous Buddha belly
Living in the Animal Nirvana
My BFF kept Barry and his sister Lily, and found a great home for his brothers Bobby (hey, not my idea) and Timmy. For the rest of Barry’s life, that Northridge, CA house would always be the forever home for at least 10 other rescued animals, and a temporary refuge for many, many dozens more: some there only for a few days, others for more than a year. And we were consistently awestruck with how welcoming and intuitively supportive Barry was with all of the various cats and dogs who came through that door. He was somehow destined to play the MC role at the house, and he certainly had the personality, predisposition, and skill-set for it.
I’ll never forget the first time we noticed Barry’s heightened level of empathy:
My BFF had taken in a sick old chow named Bernie, probably 15-plus. Barry and his siblings loved Bernie and would constantly climb all over him, snag food from his “jaws of death” while he tried to eat, and cuddle up in his thick, black coat of fur. Likewise, Bernie loved them, which we always felt was a reason he continued to stick around.
A familiar sight back in the day:
Barry hanging out ON his Uncle Bernie
One day, Bernie’s health took a bad turn, and by that night, he was beginning to struggle. We got him situated in the middle of the floor, then put the kittens back in their cat condo for the night. They all continued with their kitty antics, tumbling about and wrestling with each other… except for one. It was Barry, anxiously awatch at the cage door, eyes fixed on Bernie, and “yelling” his meows at us with as much force as his little kitten lungs could generate.
“Hey, look at Barry,” I said to my BFF. “Do you think he knows something’s wrong with Bernie?”
“Of course he does!” she said. Then my BFF stepped over to the cage and opened the door. Barry ambled right over to Bernie and started grooming his face, then burrowed into his right cheek and would not leave his side all night. We were blown away. We also noticed Barry kept licking him around his right eye… the very same eye that would produce some blood the next day right before we had to put Bernie down. Clearly, Barry knew something was going on in that exact spot. This was our Barry Buddha… at only eight weeks old!
As recently as this past July, just prior to Barry’s cancer diagnosis, he demonstrated his acute empathy and welcoming skills with Pasha, a dog who had just been rescued from Iran. Pasha had suffered some unspeakable cruelty and abuse over there and, understandably, had this manic, PTSD kind of energy he was carrying around. Sometimes he would just freeze with fear in the middle of the room, with no provocation. Of course, Barry picked up on this immediately.
On his first day there, Pasha – frazzled and exhausted – laid down on the family room floor to take a snooze. Barry laid down right next to him, even mirroring his exact body posture, as if to attempt to develop some level of rapport with Pasha. (Fortunately, my BFF snapped a pic of this.) Once again, Barry eased the acclimation process for another… just as he’s been doing since he was a kitten.
Barry working his magic
It’s important to point out that Barry played Chief Welcoming Officer to all of the animals who came into the house, even as some weren’t exactly so friendly to Barry. In fact, Barry would often exhibit what we called “death wish” behavior to all new dog fosters, even if a dog had shown signs of irritation toward a persistently friendly Barry. It was like he was incapable of retaining any unpleasant information about anyone.
However, to really know Barry is to know this: Barry’s gonna do, what Barry’s gonna do, the way Barry’s gonna do it. And this unusual naiveté – or perhaps unlimited capacity for forgiveness – would remain one of Barry’s most endearing qualities. We were always glad that he became a house cat early on, because this trait would not have served him well on the street!
Barry was always relentlessly affectionate
toward his “little” sister, Mooshka
Barry’s most recent animal family members,
minus his outdoor feral family
(From Barry’s FB page)
Barry was also very emotional. My BFF and I often recount the time that Toby and Olivia – two foster kittens who Barry absolutely adored – finally went to their forever home. Barry was visibly depressed for at least three days after that, moping around the house with this strange, mournful elasticity to his meows, and refusing to eat. He was inconsolable. But the first time I saw him distraught was just before his first birthday.
My BFF went to Guatemala to rescue some street dogs, so she had me housesit and look after the gang for a few days. Of course, she loved all of her babies, but even by this point, Barry was her “golden boy,” and I felt extra pressure to ensure his health and safety while she was gone. This was the first time Barry would be apart from his human mom.
Within 24 hours, he became so despondent over her being away that he basically lost his voice. His powerhouse meows became these faint, airy squeaks, like the soft turn of a hinge on an old wooden door. He also lost all interest in food (forever a tell-tale sign that there is trouble in Barry-World). I freaked out at the prospect that something might happen to Barry on my watch, so we took an immediate trip to the emergency room. Absolutely no chances would be taken! They, of course, couldn’t find anything at all wrong with him, so we just had to chalk it up to a simple case of depression; Barry missed his momma. A sensitive soul, indeed.
That old saying about how “the eyes are the window to the soul” is especially relevant where Barry is concerned. Just by looking at his face, directly into his eyes, you could sense that he had a heightened level of empathy, lucidity, and awareness going on that you would typically only find in our most evolved beings. Oddly, though, Barry possessed a very uncatlike clumsiness (he would sometimes struggle to make simple floor-to-dresser leaps, or even randomly topple off the arm of a couch), and we would often speculate that it must be this holy man’s first time in a cat body.
Barry loved his fruit:
yet another one of his many unique traits
For all we might find to complain about social media, I am very thankful for Facebook right now… and, of course, my BFF. A few years back, on a whim, she started a Facebook fan page for Barry (I Am Barry the Cat), and he quickly began to accumulate thousands of adoring fans and followers from all over the globe. The page would essentially cover various day-to-day trials and tribulations that Barry experienced at home, from his personal perspective, in his unique voice. I always marveled at how well my BFF was able to “channel” Barry for the numerous posts that have been logged there. Add to that the countless pictures and videos, and you have a very detailed encapsulation – a personal journal, really – of Barry’s life. What a gift it was while he was around, and what a blessing it is now that he’s no longer with us in physical form. I know I will be visiting his page often in the months ahead, just to try to ease the pain a bit.
Just one of many treasures from Barry’s FB fan page
Barry has also been “immortalized” on a
number of occasions with his human dad
A Beautiful Life
Barry has been a huge part of my life for the past 10 1/2 years. My BFF, her entire family, and the endless parade of cats and dogs who have fallen under her and her husband Jackson’s care through the years, have become my “LA family.” And through holidays, birthdays, or even just a little hang time, their place has been the true family hang (in contrast to the more solitary, cave-like ambience of my own place, where I’ve always lived alone).
I mention this to underscore the fact that Barry and I have shared a lot of heavy-duty ups and downs together over this past decade… exactly as you might with any close friend or family member. There is no difference in my mind.
A while back, when Barry was only three or four, it seemed that the ebb and flow of life for me had favored an infinite ebb. I wound up in what felt like an indefinite limbo state of frustration and regret. Things were arduous, directionless, and I slipped into an unusually heavy depression, which felt like a rhino sitting on my chest. Then late one night, it all seemed to catch up with me.
I was lying on the couch of my practice room with the lights off, feeling like the last shreds of hope had escaped me. I saw no way out in that moment. And while I would never be one to take the ending of life into my own hands – it’s just not in my nature – I must admit I was curious about it… perhaps a bit more so than ever before. I remember thinking, What would be the easiest way to just drift away?
So – purely out of grim curiosity – I removed my belt, tightened it around my neck, then slowly began to apply pressure. I knew for a fact as I was doing this that I wasn’t serious about it, and that it was probably just an act of pitiful self-loathing that I needed to exorcise in the moment. Still, I was genuinely interested to know if this was a viable way to do the deed. If I applied enough pressure, would I slowly just pass out, then fade away for good? Would I start gagging or choking first?
Moments later, I began to feel that restriction of blood to my face, as my lips, tongue, and cheeks began to tingle and go numb. And then there was a high-pitched tone inside my head… gradually increasing in volume… like a burglar alarm going off in the distance. Suddenly, I realized the absurdity of what I was doing and quickly loosened up on the belt, then forced myself out of the room and outside the building for some fresh air. It was 4:00 AM.
The first thing I saw was three or four of my feral cats gathered around something in the middle of the parking lot. I walked over to find them surrounding an injured possum, who they were no doubt conspiring to help into the hereafter. But I shooed them away to take a closer look, and found that this little guy needed immediate medical attention, as he appeared to have fallen out of a tree. The wildlife rescue nearby wouldn’t be open for a few hours, so I didn’t know what to do with him in the interim.
Enter, my BFF: an expert in all things animal rescue-related. I called her at home and woke her up, then explained the situation. She told me to put the possum in a box and drive him over to her place immediately. We would have to place him in a cat carrier with a heating pad and keep him comfortable in a dark, quiet room until the wildlife center opened. So I found a box, scooped up our boy, then headed out. It seemed that the Universe had provided me with a necessary distraction at a moment I really needed it.
But on the 22-minute drive to her house, I could not get the images of what I had just gone through in the practice room out of my head. Could I have been serious? Would I be more serious next time? Do I really have it in me, but just never thought I did? I was extremely disturbed and distressed over the whole thing.
I pulled up to her house, left the little guy in the car for a minute, and went to her door and rang the bell to wake her. When she opened the door and I stepped in, I saw Barry immediately to my left, sitting on the arm of the couch. I swear he was waiting for me. So I reached down, picked him up, and gave him a big squeeze… then promptly started sobbing like a little schoolboy.
My BFF, taken aback, asked me what was wrong. I told her what had just happened in the practice room an hour earlier. And then, in that very moment, something clicked in my head as I was holding Barry. It was as if he was reminding me of the preciousness, beauty, and joy of life, and the privilege it is for each of us to be here right now, at this time. Barry was usually quick to get fidgety if you tried to hold him for longer than ten or fifteen seconds. But on this night, he was willing to tolerate a much longer embrace. I think he knew I was experiencing, quite literally, a healing moment. And sure enough, I would never, ever go that dark again.
This was how deep the bond was between Barry and I, and this is why it’s so strange for those of us closest to him to hear him regarded as simply a “pet.” He is Barry, a being of extraordinary light. He is family. He is our one-and-only.
On July 14, 2016 – the day after my birthday – they found a tumor in Barry’s belly during a routine check-up. We all came unglued. It turned out to be a very aggressive form of cancer that was uncommon in cats: usually only dogs got this kind. (Again, Barry can never do anything normal.) They were initially concerned that this tumor could have been attached to some major organs, and that would’ve been immediately disastrous. But as it turned out, they were able to do a pretty clean removal… except for the varying amounts that had already metastasized.
Barry, held in the highest regard,
as he sports his post-surgery cone
Obviously, no expense was spared along the way to implement the best possible forms of treatment for Barry, pre and post-surgery. The top specialists in Los Angeles were consulted, and multiple vet visits – which, true to his social nature, he actually seemed to very much enjoy – became part of Barry’s new lifestyle, as documented with humor and wit on his fan page.
Making friends wherever he goes
Holistically speaking, I figured a 30-day healing meditation cycle with Barry couldn’t hurt, so that’s exactly what we did together. Besides rehearsals, tour prep, and a couple local events, I would be in LA from early September to early October. So I drove over to my BFF’s house every day for four weeks and spent 30 minutes each visit meditating with Barry. I will never forget those times with him.
And what an accomplished little meditator Barry was! Initially, I had no idea how this was going to work. I figured, at worst, I could meditate in the room with Barry and he could meander about, drink from his fountain, nap, be annoyed that the door was closed, and meow at me incessantly until I was done. But that was not at all how it played out.
From our first session together, once the Tibetan bell music kicked in on my portable speaker and I assumed a cross-legged position, it was like he “remembered” what meditation was all about. He usually sat in front of me, with his eyes closed and ears sharply attentive. His face was intense but relaxed, and whatever Siamese blood he had in him seemed to rush to his head and outline those subtle Asian feline features around his cheeks and eyes. I swear he would transform into monk mode; he actually looked a little different.
Going deep with Barry…
For the first couple weeks, he would typically maintain his initial position for roughly the first 15 minutes, then ease into a variation for the second 15. But then, he started staying put in his opening position for the entire 30 minutes. It was impressive. And at least once for most of our sessions, I would have to break concentration for a moment and snap a pic or record a short vid of him “riding the infinite wave.” It was something really special to share this time with Barry.
On days when he was extra tired from the chemo, he had no problem just laying down before me and taking a nap. Nor did I have a problem with it. I would continue on anyway. But this only happened a handful of times in what wound up being about 45 total sessions together, once you factor in our more sporadic meditation schedule in November and December. This was a special little soul.
Just prior to one of our medi sessions, Barry appears to say
“Love you” to me in English! Check it out…
In my experience, the idea of healing meditation is not so much about “forcing” a result through sheer intention. It’s more about cultivating an optimal healing environment through such an intention, so that a recovery of health can more easily and harmoniously manifest. However, the focus should always remain on the practice, and never the outcome.
With Barry, I must admit that I was a bit preoccupied with the desired outcome right out of the gate. I wanted those “pirate cells” to heal and the cancer out of his body. That was my intention. So I would talk quietly to Barry, intermittently throughout the session, and describe how we – or at least I – was “directing” this healing white-light energy into him, often with my open hands hovering over his back, belly, or head. I would also describe what I visualized going down on a cellular level throughout his torso. I could generally feel a warm, vibrational life-force flow surging softly between my hands and his body, and he would remain continuously engaged with that beautiful, gravelly purr of his.
Sacred times with Barry
Strangely, though, I wasn’t getting this corroborating energy back from Barry. Instead, his energy would remain stoically neutral throughout the session. He was just present, in the moment, seemingly unattached to any potential outcome… just as any master Buddhist would be. So it was me – the human – who had to adjust the game plan after our first few sessions. Yes, I would still “till the soil” so that a healing could most easily happen. But I would also intend both joy and comfort for Barry: two tenets that I knew he would find useful, no matter the outcome.
As it played out, I guess two out of three is what was meant to be. Barry remained comfortable until his last 72 hours with us, and exhibited few symptoms in the months that followed diagnosis, with the exception of some lethargy here and there. (This alone belied doctor’s expectations, given the aggressiveness of Barry’s cancer.) And he continued to partake in all of the joyous “Barry” stuff he always loved—and then some. Believe me, his human mom and dad made damn sure that whatever Barry desired, Barry received… times ten. As it should’ve been.
For as much as Barry was a blessing to all of us,
his human mom was quite a blessing to him…
…as was his human dad!
Into the Light
It all went down so quickly, so unexpectedly. About a week or so out, Barry began to show less interest in food. Five days out, he began skipping meals. Three days out, there was a notable change in demeanor and Barry was taken back to the vet as a precautionary measure. We were all starting to worry. Meanwhile, I was on the road doing a few shows, keeping up with things via texts and phone calls with the BFF. It was a stunningly rapid decline.
When my BFF first told me that she felt like Barry could go “at any time,” I thought she was overreacting to what was surely a temporary set-back. But she had a few of Barry’s close LA peeps stop by to say goodbye, and I even did a quick FaceTime meditation session with Barry from a hotel room in Kentucky, on what turned out to be the day before he passed. He seemed really out of it and appeared to have trouble getting comfortable.
I had always envisioned that, when he was ready to make his transition, I would be there with him. So as things started winding down so quickly, I began making some radical alterations in my holiday travel plans and booked a flight back home to LA. I had a show the night of the 17th, but could be back to Barry as early as late morning on the 18th. And that was after moving heaven and earth.
Accordingly, my BFF booked an at-home euthanasia appointment for Barry at 1:00 PM: plenty of time for me to be there. She also warned me repeatedly that he could very well go before I got there. But surely Barry would wait for me, wouldn’t he?
Uhhh… no. (Perhaps he felt like it would be too hard on me to be there when he died.) Nor would he wait for the vet to come by the house with her needle. At 4:41 AM, December 18, as I was sitting on a tarmac in Charlotte about to head home, I received the following text: “He’s gone.” Barry had passed in his sleep with his human mom lying on the floor right next to him.
Barry’s gonna do, what Barry’s gonna do, the way Barry’s gonna do it.
And the 350 minutes I had to endure on that long flight home would be among the most agonizing I can recall.
Once I hit LA, I Ubered over to my BFF and Jackson’s house, knowing that Barry’s body would still be around. I started to lose my composure as soon as we turned down their street.
As I was wheeling my big red suitcase up the driveway toward the front door, a flood of memories came over me involving the hundreds of times in the past that I approached this house, always looking forward to seeing Barry. I began to unravel a bit.
My BFF opened the door, then stepped forward to the front of the porch to greet me with a hug. I could not hold back the rush of tears.
We managed to drag my suitcase through the doorway, and there I saw Jackson and my BFF’s blood sister – my soul sister – Mitra, both visibly upset. I gave them each a hug, then turned to my left to see Barry’s body on the loveseat, mostly covered by a pillowcase, with flower petals and a few photos around him. I walked over, crouched down, then absolutely fell apart.
The harder you love, the harder you hurt.
Somewhere in the midst of the haze shortly after I got there, reality set in and logistics had to be dealt with. Before any of the standard options were considered, though, an idea hit my BFF in an inspired moment: Barry will have a traditional burial in a “pet” cemetery. Yes! It would be somewhere we eternally-grieving humans could engage the timeless ritual of going to a beautiful place, with trees, grass, and sunshine, and stand before a plot of California earth. And there, our beloved’s remains would be forever contained… even as his spirit could not be. It was decided in a moment, then we spent the remainder of the week finalizing all the particulars.
We buried one of my best buds today.
We all met at the pet cemetery on a sunny and cool So Cal day, and convened in and around a “viewing” room before the service: a room that a few of us had completely redecorated to better reflect the spirit and essence of Barry. There, for the final time, I glimpsed my friend’s little body in his pinewood casket, as candles burned all around us and the Tibetan bell music we meditated to played softly in the background. He was covered with flower petals and a small, fluffy white blanket, with just his feet and his face exposed. It looked like he was sleeping peacefully. I had no chance of containing myself and cried openly for my friend.
The “viewing room,”
at once peaceful and painful
And then me and Barry’s human dad, Jackson – my “bro-in-law” – carried the casket out to the gravesite, as Barry’s human mom, my BFF, walked with us. There was a small gathering of close friends and family awaiting us there. Mitra led us through a moving service, which turned out to be much more uplifting than sad.
Afterward, we watched that little wooden casket be lowered into the ground, then we each walked over, one by one, to toss orange and yellow rose petals – along with Barry’s favorite fruit – on top of it. And then three guys with shovels stepped forward and began filling up the grave with muddy dirt, as it had rained pretty hard the day before. That part, necessary as it may have been, was especially brutal to witness. But I’m sure Barry understood.
Here’s a slide-show video comprised of images from the service.
I wanted to share it here but, personally, I still find it difficult to watch
(Pics and slide-show by Lori Fusaro)
There have been a lot of tears this week, and no doubt many more to come. This is what the deepest grief looks like; this is how we humans do trauma, process sorrow. This is the price one pays for loving so recklessly. It’s just how things work around here, if you happen to outlive that which you loved so hard.
Most comforting for me, though, is the fact that I believe this is all in alignment with what Barry wanted. He is his own being, and for reasons we are not currently privy to, he was ready to bail from this realm. And for as much as he might have prolonged his transition for the benefit of us sure-to-be-heartbroken humans, once again, the fact remains: Barry’s gonna do, what Barry’s gonna do, the way Barry’s gonna do it. And now, as sure as I am about his spirit living on, I’m sure he will be occupying himself with other matters of concern to him… which, I’m pretty sure, will include keeping an eye on us heartbroken humans.
Infinite love, Barry. See you on the other side…
Barry Buddha Rahbar-Galaxy
May 10, 2006 – December 18, 2016
Barry’s human parents, Minoo and Jackson, have started a fund in Barry’s honor to help folks who can’t afford life-saving veterinary treatment for their beloved companion animals. It’s called the Barry Fund (what else?), and if you’re able, a donation in any amount would be greatly appreciated:
Barry thanks you in advance…