Beau’s Image Honors a Sister’s Love

Lori Swanson: sister, artist, pet lover
Lori Swanson: sister, artist, pet lover

We didn’t even know my sister Lori was sick, much less that she would die suddenly. She was only 45, and although her lifestyle increased her chances of illness (smoker, drinker, sedentary job) it was by no means any indicator of the transition to come. She died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism, sitting in her living room chair, twenty-four days after 9/11.

My family is extremely close and we were planning a fall color train excursion in Wisconsin to celebrate my birthday, which had taken place four days earlier. In lieu of gifts, I had requested the train trip, with cake, ice cream and the happy birthday song afterward at my house. It was during the final planning stages the night before that she didn’t answer her phone. A neighbor reported that her house was dark. We sent the police over, and I got a call twenty minutes later that she had passed away. Just like that. No train trip, no birthday cake, no happy birthday song, no sister. Just like that.

She had no human children, but two Siamese cats more than filled those shoes. Beau and Cara were not litter mates, but they were born at the same time, from the same breeder. Their beautiful blue and seal point markings made them an extremely handsome couple and they had been cuddlemates since kittenhood. The coroner estimated that my sister had been dead approximately five hours before the police found her. Five hours. I often wondered what had gone on with her cats during that time.

Even though I am a professional animal communicator by trade, I had never talked to them specifically about what happened that evening and what they did during those five hours.

Since a stunning photo of Beau taken by my sister adorns the cover of this issue and it’s been almost eight years since her death, I thought it might be time to find out. Here’s what they said.

Photograph of Beau, by Lori Swanson
Photograph of Beau, by Lori Swanson

“Mom was just sitting down in the living room to watch TV and she was calling us to come sit in her lap. I (Beau) was doing the aloof cat thing but Cara went right to her. She always did. Just then there was some coughing and clearing of the throat and it was over. I remember there was one last gasp where it sounded like no air could go through, and that was it.

“Cara had had a premonition of what was to come and had been sticking real close to mom. I didn’t know if Cara was right and didn’t want to believe it, so I just went about my business with no special attention. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary before that night.

“It was a strange time. We sat on her lap a long time together, but then it was too weird because she was still there, but just not in her body. She didn’t know she had passed on and was looking for the TV remote. We were on her lap, and at the same time watching her rummage around the living room. She looked like a beautiful ray of sunshine, but more like a see-through thing than a person. We waited and then left, because it started to be too much for us. I went under mom’s bed and Cara went under the couch. She didn’t want to leave mom.

“After a while Cara came to me and we waited under the bed. Soon there was no more rummaging and we realized mom had left. The emptiness in the house was sudden and profound. We knew the exact moment she left. We hid deeper under and waited. By then we knew the family was coming.

“The police and another man came first, had a big talk, and took mom away. He put some food out for us and left. We stayed hidden and cuddled tighter than ever. We knew mom would be close by but couldn’t take care of us. It was a time of great worry.”

My family got there after the coroner had removed her body. The police officer wouldn’t let us go in to check on the cats, because it was an unwitnessed death. He told us he had put more food and fresh water out for them. He seemed like a very nice man and I remember thinking, “What an awful part of the job this was for him.”

I hadn’t really gotten to know Beau and Cara very well, because every time I visited my sister I brought my Golden Retrievers and the cats hid. They ended up in foster care, due to my utter shock and overwhelm, not to mention the fact that I already had five cats of my own. I finally came to my senses a few weeks later and ended up adopting them myself.

Beau was born with a sickly body and ended up succumbing to massive seizures a few years ago. When I took him to be euthanized, it was as if I were handing him directly to my sister.

Cara is still with me as vibrant and elegant as ever. We marked an interesting anniversary this last year as I have now had her longer than my sister did. But there is only ever one original mom.

The photo of Beau taken by my sister had been in my bedroom for years and I knew it belonged on the cover of this annual pet issue. I knew it was time to publicly honor my sister and her incredible artistic talent. I knew it was time to acknowledge the brilliant light that always surrounded Beau.

I knew it was finally time to ask what had happened that night. And I knew another chapter in the story of my sister’s death could be written.

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