Tuesday, July 06, 2010

One Last Day Together (In Memoriam)

We had a long time together, Rodentia and I. Nineteen years.

But everyone everywhere eventually ends.

The night before, Rodentia was agitated, going from corner to corner throughout the house peering intently into the space between. Gareth said he saw a young tuxedo Jellicle cat outside looking in with big yellow eyes. Sounds like Jamara, I thought, the first cat who owned me.

Jamara was a cat of between spaces, always looking for just the right spot--in the middle of a doorway, in transitional spaces between the house and the out--the garage, the attic. Jamara would be happy as a psychopomp, escorting the living to the land of the dead. Leading her afterlife in the Between.

Jamara had come for Rodentia, and Rodentia was ready to follow.

Rodentia joined me for breakfast on that last day together. We were in the kitchen, and she got stuck on the other side of the water bowl. She wanted some moist cat food, could see and smell it, but could not piece together the way around the obstacle.

It seemed selfish to put her down. Whose suffering was I really ending this way? It seemed selfish to demand that she continue on a journey of drudgery--she was having trouble lying down. She would circle and circle, doddering and hunched.

I told her I wished she'd tell me what she wanted after I hung up with the vet's office. I asked her to tell me if she was ready to go, but tethered to a heart that just. Would. Not. Stop. Or, if on the other paw, she wanted every last scrap of good day that was left to her, even if she had to dig through a dungheap for them.

So, for the first time in weeks, she came out of hiding to sleep in line of sight, just as she used to do as a young adult.

When she turned her face to the wall, the way cats do when completely overwhelmed, I knew.

She slept the day away drowsing and nodding at my feet. She got up and drank copiously, but never left to use the litter box. It was clear what I was cutting short was not a matter of years, but of days, if that. And what I was cutting short was not long and lazy warm afternoons, but effortful existence--a burden on her narrow cat shoulders.

When I boxed her up to go to the vet, she complained about being lifted, but never said a word or tried to get out once inside. Usually I'm hearing threats to call an attorney before I've thrown the car in reverse. Not now.

The vet said that really, there was nothing to do for her--she was old, and what looked to be wrong was either kidneys, or thyroid, or both. While there are treatments, the question would be whether the few months we could buy her would be worth the discomfort. Whether we'd just be prolonging the inevitable, with the cost in pain.

We brought her home wrapped in a towel. I washed her feet and shaved the mats off her belly. Gareth walked in while I was handling her. His family does not handle physical death well1, and I come from a long line of country wimminfolk who would set the deceased's hair, clean and dress the body for the funeral at home. I've touched all my relatives goodbye at the viewing since I became old enough not to give a damn what anyone thought.

I said, "I bet this is creeping you out." I had a basin full of warm water, Rodentia laid out on two clean towels, and a washcloth I was using to soak the clumped litter from around her pads.

"No," he said, tears in his eyes, "I think that's really beautiful. You're so tender with her."

I buried her under the largest pine tree for a monument, her favorite three toys with her. A knitted catnip mouse between her forepaws, a catnip pillow my mother made her grandcat under her head, and a jingle ball by her ear. Very Egyptian.

One year ago today, I spent one last day with Rodentia. One last day to encompass nineteen years.

Sleep you sound, little cat.

1. At Gareth's grandfather's memorial service (just a photo and some memories) I was treated to three-four earfuls about the utter and unspeakable barbarity of a viewing with the corpse present in the closed casket. Never mind an open casket viewing.

But see, how do you know they're really dead until you can feel that they're cold, can touch their hard cheek, and really get that there's no one in there? Ho wcan you grieve an image, a suit of empty clothes until you can perceive on a gut level that the entity you knew is gone, and this shell is all that's left?


bookbird said...

oh god- this post just broke my heart - what gentle, open hearted writing. Your dear friend was right to love you, and what a blessing that you found each other in this lifetime. I feel very privilidged to read this post on this winter morning. My dearest friend, my dog, passed away recently. I havent even brought myself to write a blog post about it - but your post inspires me to do so.

Blessings to you.

p.s. I have just found your blog - I will keep reading for sure. :)

bookbird said...

Here is the blog I wrote in response to yours: http://bookbirdwrites.blogspot.com/2010/07/in-memoriam.html

The Nature Nut said...

Thank you so much for such a beautiful post. My dear cat is getting old and has been unwell for a while. I hope when his time comes that I will be able to be as brave, as gentle and as caring as you were with your precious cat.


Kim said...

I have no idea how I wound up in your blog, but this was the 3rd or 4th post I read once I landed here. I'm so sorry for your loss. Your writing was really beautiful and loving and respectful to your cat. As I sit with my old cat on my lap, I know that will be something I'll be facing in the not too far future... Thank you for sharing your experience.

Kim said...

I have no idea how I wound up in your blog, but this was the 3rd or 4th post I read once I landed here. I'm so sorry for your loss. Your writing was really beautiful and loving and respectful to your cat. As I sit with my old cat on my lap, I know that will be something I'll be facing in the not too far future... Thank you for sharing your experience.

Nia said...

I feel for you, this is very similar to what happened to my cat- Halloween has a different memory for me now. My cat was older than me so i'd never been alive without him, so it was a great loss although i still have his brother, fat cat extraodinaire, he's 18 now and still eating and yowling for more.
great blog though :)

Danise said...

I know this was a while back ,but I too LOVE my animals and have had many come and go in my life time and have always tried to keep their names on my mind.I had to put my two last cats down last year in june.But now I have three more who others left behind in the city where I live.They( the cats) told me their names...Snow bell came first and she was near death and starvation.Then came Midnight her friend a black cat male.And some how Buddy added him self and they are all wonderful.They are old cats that have lived on the streets.I can tell buy there teeth.But each one loves me and I love them.Blessed Be

not2complain said...

sorry you lost kitty...always great memories. My aunt adopted a stray black cat, it took a while to stop roaming outside, but when it was ready, she got very protective over my aunt, hardly leaving her side til she got ill herself. Animals are great companions.