Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Ninth Life

My cat died tonight. He was 17. He had been mine for 16 1/2 years.

The way it happened was all of a sudden. He'd always been in good health. I guess that's usually the best way to go, they say.

I was playing with my son this evening in our front room and I heard my cat fall. I called out to him even though I know he has been deaf the last couple of years. At first I thought he was upstairs but when I discovered him, he was lying at the bottom of the stairs having what looked like an epileptic fit. All four limbs were flailing in different directions and his head was spasming like he was being electrocuted by some invisible cable. My first instinct, of course, was to pick him up and that's just what I did. He continued to flail and make biting movements with his mouth, jerk and spasm in my arms. I wrapped him in a blanket and held him until his body started to slow its movements. His head finally calmed, he started frothing at the mouth a bit and his tongue stuck out involuntarily. But the staccato of spasms gradually ceased until he lay still in my arms, something he has rarely voluntarily done in all the years I've had him.

I called the local animal hospital which, ironically (or not), was the same place I held my golden retriever when he died 16 years ago now. In fact, I ended up tonight in the same room with my cat when he was given his final injection. I felt as though my old dog was waiting there on the other side, my claddagh ring in his mouth, ready to guide this cat to my other kitty who passed away three years ago in June of 2007. They were both very close. Only about a year apart in age.

Life is so strange. We recently moved back to this area and ended up mere blocks away from where I first found this little abandoned, feral kitten. Actually, my twin sister found him. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, sis!) She had been visiting the duplex where I lived and we were painting my bedroom when she spied him outside the second story window. I called the Humane Society to see if anyone had reported missing a tabby kitten. I already had one cat and hadn't planned to have another, but they got along like a house on fire so I kept him.

My head is so full tonight of all the memories I have of him. My heart is full of them. Even in his dotage, he was so patient that I introduced a baby (of all things!) into the last year or so of his life. He was never declawed and had plenty of opportunity (and reason, likely) to protect himself from tail being pulled or ears being tweaked. But he would just strut patiently away from my son as though nothing had happened.

What comes to mind the most are the nights I would talk to him those months following the end of my marriage in January of 2007, especially once my first cat died the following May. He was my sole companion out there in our remote, rural farmhouse. I felt so thankful for his company and his love and affection. It was a lonesome time and a pretty damn emotional year or two that followed.

I think people who've never had a pet sometimes can't fully comprehend how much they become members of your family. How they are sometimes like your "children" (especially when you don't have any children). And my two cats and my dog were very much that for me for many years when I needed little ones to mother and love in that way.

I realized tonight, in conversation with my brother-in-law, that my cat who died today was only born a couple of blocks from here. Maybe he'd sensed that he had come full circle. That he was "home" again. Maybe he felt it was time.

I am very glad I was home when it happened. That I could hold him during the scariest moment of his life. He didn't know he was having a stroke. He didn't know what was happening. The vet explained that one pupil was dilated and the other wasn't. That he had lost function on one side of his body. She said we could wait a day to see how he does, but that he might have other seizures and, having witnessed him go through one today, there was no way in hell I wanted to risk him suffering that again. They left me alone with him for a few minutes and then returned and I held him while they gave him the shot to put him to sleep. They warned me if there is a struggle, as often happens, they would stop the injection and perhaps try another spot. I nodded. They asked me to hold onto the top of his body. I held him very gently. His little paws were crossed over my fingers and I cradled his tiny head in my right hand. He didn't move a muscle while they injected him and they both gasped quietly and said, "Wow, he is so sweet." Even in death, he was a gentleman. So patient and calm. That's how I knew he was telling me it was the right decision. He was ready to go.

Still, it rips your heart open. This is it for me. I know down the road I plan to get a puppy for my son, a companion of his own. Maybe when he's around 7 or 8 years old. But this guy is the last cat I will ever have. The two cats I had, I just can't imagine finding two better than them. I've always been a dog person and I guess I got lucky twice. My luck just isn't always THAT good. Murphy's Law tends to rule the day.

But I have to tell you. This morning. Uncanny. He must have known this would be his last day. When I came downstairs he was lying on the ottoman and turned to look at me. And he looked so beautiful curled up there, I grabbed my camera and took some shots of him.

Now, anyone who's ever photographed animals will tell you it's almost impossible to get a clear, focused shot. They turn their head in one or their tail twitches in another or they start to jump off the couch. They usually end up a complete blur. But he just sat there and let me take some lovely shots of him and then he looked me right in the eye, straight into the lens. Like he knew. Maybe he was saying goodbye and wanted me to have some proper keepsakes of him.

I didn't know they would be the last shots I would take of him. I want to share them with you. Here he is: Setanta.

For weeks now I've been complaining to anyone within earshot that there has not been enough snow to my liking and finally today the skies opened up and the white stuff came down. For good this time. To stay. On the drive home from the vet clinic they were falling as big and heavily as my tears. It's as if he made sure this would happen today. A goodbye gift to comfort me. A balm to my grief. To be blanketed in this way. Pristine, white snow covering everything. A clean slate. A new beginning. A final, perfect farewell.

Goodbye, my furry little guy. Thank you for being such a great cat! Thanks for being so g-d chatty. I loved that you were so talkative, especially when I was otherwise surrounded by silence a good part of the time (even during my marriage). I cherish the years we had on our very own out there on the farm. Just you and me. Thanks for making the good times over the years greater and the hard times easier.

And thanks for being so lovely and patient with my wee Sonshine. I know you were happy for me that I finally had a human baby to mother.

I know Brandy and Zosia are with you now and you're playing and all four limbs are working okay where you are and you can see good as new and you can hear just perfectly, again.

I hope, wherever you are now, you hear this:
I love you and I will miss you. Lots.



Ciara said...

Oh Nancy, my heart breaks reading this. As you know we lost a beloved cat last summer, my first since I was a child, and I am amazed how I have become a cat-person since. There is a particular poignancy to our grief for a pet, isn't there? Their uncomplicated, unconditional love and devotion to us.
Thinking of you today, as our snow melts and I wish it would stay. Big, big hug to you. Cx

Brian Miller said...

so sorry...out cat is in her waining days...we found her in a woodpile 12 years ago...it will not be long now...feel for you...

kkrige said...

tears are spilling down my face as I read this. The snow you speak of prevented me from taking my own cat to the vet. He died in the middle of the biggest snowstorm we have had for many years. He too seized and died right in front of me. I am heartbroken as he was always more my husband's cat, but after he died he made a point of taking care of me (if you will). He moved right in and started sleeping on my bed right after Brad died. He was the lone male in the house and took his position seriously. I so hear what you are saying about their companionship. I am truly sorry for your loss Nancy and wish you well.

Anonymous said...

May the snow continue to fall gently and blanket the world in softest white, bringing comfort and solace to you as you remember your companion. Truly, these feline creatures bring an instinctive 'rightness' to the world, just by walking in on their silent little paws and taking over our hearts. So glad you have these wonderful photos to cherish his memory and know that he is not so very far away, even now.

Kerry O'Gorman said...

Your love for your cat was your greatest gift to him. All those years and food and farm and fire and mice to chase in fields of gold. Then to bring him into the warmth of a blanket on his hardest day...true love. He looked so sweet. The hardest thing about owning pets is at this time. Their lives are so much shorter than ours but oh! What joy they bring us!Peaceful thoughts are with you. As I read this I was listening to the music of 'Message to Bears'...did you tell me about them? I love this music. Thanks.

Tricia Orchard said...

Hi Nancy,

I finally had the chance to read your post about your beloved cat. Once again, I am bawling.

When we had to get our cat Meiko put down, it was very similar to your situation. He didn't eat his food one night at dinner, which was almost unheard of, so I immediately went to find him. He was laying in a funny way in the basement and I noticed that his back legs were floppy and he was unable to move them. Turns out he had a blot clot which went down to his legs. About 2 hours later he was gone. It took me about 2 years before I could talk about him without crying.

I think you are so right in that if you don't have animals, it is truly hard to relate to how difficult it is once they are gone. We got our cats before we had our human babies, so they really were our first babies.

My cat Charlie, who is 14, has lots of health issues now and I know that his days are numbered. I am dreading that day when we have to decide what to do.

I am so glad that you could be with your cat when he had his stroke and with him at the end. The photos are beautiful!

Big hugs to you my friend!


Brett said...

That nearly had me in tears (a very blurred keyboard as i write) I'm so sorry for your loss.

Sparx said...

I'm so sorry to hear this; it's the most awful thing to lose what is effectively a member of the family.

We adopted our cat when he was 16; he'd been deserted by the death of his owner and as our cat had been killed six months earlier we felt we had something in common at least.

He's been with us for nearly 4 years now; we're not sure if he'll make it through the winter - he's old and frail and stone deaf. But he's a perfect gentleman too, I loved reading this same thing about your cat.

Here's to our old friends. It comes to all of them in the end (and us) but they do make a difference while they're with us.