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?