Editor Cat died today.
People write on line about losing animals. It always makes me cry. But not like this, not like the reality of it. Empathy is one thing, but as part of your own life—wherever you look, this loss, this absence—no matter how much you cry for strangers, it’s not the same.
This was not a surprise. She was ill. She had cancer, and congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. They did not think we would have as much time as she had. To the surprise of both us and the vet, she remained active and affectionate and very much herself for an entire year after her cancer diagnosis. But a few months ago she became less active, and we increased one of her medications. She did fairly well until about two days ago. And yesterday she stopped eating.
Her name was Seven. She was a lilac-point Siamese, with possibly a bit of mongrel tossed in there. She was the most remarkably good-natured cat I have ever known. She understood apologies if you accidentally stepped on her tail. For the price of a few pets, she provided warmth and purrs for hours. She would wake me in the morning by knocking her nose into my jaw. When we came home she would greet us with meows and rubs and demands to be picked up. She was kind to our daughter, and taught her gentleness and patience. She was a Good Cat.
Grief is a strange thing. It was a few days ago when I first cried, recognizing that no matter what happened she was never going to knock her nose into my jaw again. I cried yesterday, when I realized we needed to take her to the vet, and what the vet would probably tell us. I cried watching my family cry for her. I cried when I petted her on the head and scratched her under the chin for the last time, while I watched her wheeze and force her breath in and out, the exertion of being awake exhausting her. I cried when they brought her to us in a box, the technician, a thick-necked boy who’d be at home on any football team, soft-spoken and empathic and kind.
Grief, initially, is a wave of massive length and amplitude. It hits hard, and harsh, and tumbles you around. When it eases, in the beginning, it doesn’t ease for long before it crashes into you again. But over time, grief becomes quieter. The worst of the crash is not quite so bad. Sometimes the down times last long enough for you to smile, and laugh, and function. And eventually the wave subsides enough so you only notice it when you’re still, when a memory becomes particularly raw.
That eventually can take years. And for some sorrows? It never comes.
I have not, in the grand scheme of things, lost so many animals. I was very young when we lost our first cat. I don’t remember the animal, but I do remember my mother’s grief. The first cat I remember losing was a kitten, perhaps six months old, son of our other cat. He ran into the road in the rain. The man who hit him stopped and brought him to us and was sobbing. That kitten’s mother, years later, disappeared one day and never came back. An ambiguous and uncertain type of grief.
The first time I elected euthanasia for a pet it was not for a cat, but a ferret. I lost three of them in a short period of time, all to adrenal tumors, which tend to plague ferrets bred in captivity. The first cat I had to let go was another beloved ancient Siamese. My father came with me, and I stayed with her throughout it all. And there was the moment, between life and death, when she was first herself, and then she was not.
I found it comforting. Is that strange? I found it comforting that the body that had failed her, that was in horrific agony, no longer contained her. Wherever she was, she was not hurting anymore. I had given her that, if nothing else.
It’s not enough.
They don’t live long enough. We can’t do enough for them. Time is a relentless bastard. Life is grief and loss and pain strung together, never ending. There’s always more ahead.
We are not catless today. We have our other cat, younger and fluffy and irritable and a little confused this evening. She is not sweet natured, but she is tough and animated and occasionally warm and purry. She is loved, and will hopefully be loved for many years to come. And there will be, I suspect, another cat added to the household, when we are not so raw and broken. They do not replace each other, not ever. But we need to love them, so we find them to love.
Adieu, sweetie. You were yourself, entirely, and we will love you always.