And they meant a lot to me, but for different reasons.

First, there’s Patches.

He was an undersized, gray and white cat who was born during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, back in 1990. His mother was a feral cat who adopted us (isn’t that always the case?), and he and his sister, Sam, were the lucky two of their litter: their three siblings all died of umbilical strangulation.

Patches was a proud tomcat, but never the alpha. He always deferred to other cats, the willing omega. And that won him friends among the other cats in mom’s house, as well as the local alley cats, raccoons, skunks and other animals. While our other cats would have run-ins with local strays like Boris and Blackie, Patches would get along with them, sans conflict.

He and Sam were undersized, as their older siblings muscled them out for available milk from mom. But both were healthy – if plagued with terrible teeth that fell out at a relatively young age.

And Patches had a set of lungs. He’d announce his presence, caterwauling at almost any time of day. This became even more pronounced as his hearing failed over the past couple of years.

A fortnight ago, mom took Patches to Dr. Foster to address his ever-declining weight. He was diagnosed with thyroid problems, and given meds to get things in order. But the drugs only succeeded in shutting down Patches’ appetite.

It was time to go.

And mom had him put down this past Monday. He had an amazing 17 year run. He’s survived by his sister, Sam, as well as his older sister, Callie.

And then there’s Phil.

Most of his friends knew him as “Bearmagnet.”

We knew him through his wife, Dani, who works Sunday’s at the booth for Country Pleasures Farm, run by Eric and Lori.

Dani loved Phil, and though we didn’t know him but for a couple of short meetings this past year, sprite and I knew that Dani loved him to the ends of the Earth.

And when we learned that Phil was battling cancer, Dani’s infectious smile and optimism were an inspiration: what about life could possibly be as daunting? Yet Dani and Phil carried on.

And Phil was a tough-as-nails fighter. Just one look at his blog tells the story of a guy who wasn’t going to let cancer take him quietly. Phil loved the outdoors, and loved being in the thick of things. Even when he was in tremendous pain, weak from chemo, he’d join Dani at the Dupont Farm Market, in Eric’s booth, sharing in the fun of people watching and seeing his love sell people Eric’s tasty jams, fruit, garlic, sausage and scones.

When we were at the Dupont Farm Market two weekends ago, Dani wasn’t there, and Eric was in a somber mood. When we asked how things were, he was honest: things weren’t good, as Phil was in hospital, Dani was there at his side, and things didn’t look good. Eric was headed there after the market, and he said he’d send our message of support to Phil and Dani.

Phil fought to the end, but eventually the fucking cancer won. So on the 13th, Phil embarked on the longest hike of his life.

Perhaps it was fitting that Eric wasn’t at the Dupont Farm Market this past weekend. Even though winter was the likely culprit, I think it was more in honor of Phil. Perhaps Eric was out hiking in the Blue Ridge or Catoctins for the day.

Dani really says it best in her last post on Phil’s blog:

Phil can’t be with us to post this last entry. As you know he has been courageously fighting for his life, but the battle ended early Thursday morning. He was a bad ass until the very end and we know that he was thinking to himself “fuck you cancer.” He also was likely thinking, “what the hell? why does this shit always happen to me?”…

When Phil’s cancer came back, we didn’t have any clever nicknames – we were mostly just pissed off. Cancer, in case you didn’t know, is a bitch. Hopefully someday it’s a bitch that we can beat so people never have to go through the same shit Phil did….

Phil always handled [cancer treatment] appointments with laughter – he liked to play with medical instruments in the exam room, often belting out some lounge singer tunes. And the nurses always knew when he was around because they could hear us laughing (mine was always the more nervous laugh, but Phil’s was genuine amusement). We always said that we just came to the hospital for the cable TV and the fine cuisine.

Phil will be missed by those who hiked, drank, joked, fought, smoked, caroused, helped, laughed, cried, and loved. He is the love of my life and I will be forever grateful that I had the chance to know him and love him.

We’ll miss you, Phil – and we’re thinking of you, Dani.