Friday, 10 July 2009

Eulogy

A few nights ago, my foolish cat turned her nose up at a perfectly good dinner and went out into the night to catch her very last mouse. A plump, freshly killed rodent in her mouth, she then attempted to cross the busy road in front of our friends' house, where she had spent the past nine months. She didn't make it. This happened exactly one day before we were due to bring her back to the place where we will spend the summer.

I can't get over this: one cat -- one not very smart cat -- makes a stupid decision and breaks all our hearts. One foolish cat plus one speeding car in Scotland, and our entire household is reduced to tears; our eldest daughter in Tokyo cries herself to sleep.

We got her over four years ago. We wanted a kitten to begin with, but one day, our friend Dina told us she had found a peach of a stray cat. She described her beauty in detail: green eyes, dense, snowy-white fur, and pink accessories. "Is she a kitten?" I asked. No, but she was pregnant. We agreed to look after the cat until she had the kittens, then take our pick of the litter. Dina promised to take back the cat and the remaining kittens. We bought a cat carrier and went to collect her.

I didn't much like the look of her at first: she was indisputably beautiful, but a little coddled looking and snooty to the other cats she was sharing a house with. But we took her home, fed her, and set up a litter box inside the kitchen. She really liked that litter box. Even if she didn't manage to do anything in it, she seemed to enjoy trying. We spent the first month sweeping cat litter off the kitchen floor.

One month later the cat hadn't had a single kitten. Two months later, it was obvious she wasn't going to be a mother. We got rid of the litter box and let her go outside instead.

Dina was apologetic. "I'm so sorry! I could have sworn she was pregnant. Do you want me to take her back?"

"No!"

We'd all fallen head over heels in love with her.

In no time, she was the queen of our large garden. She slept in the bird-feeder and stalked mice in the borders. She charmed the little old lady downstairs into giving her extra cat food. When she napped on the garden wall, she invariably attracted the attention of passersby with her considerable charms. "What a beautiful cat!" I could heard people croon, "She's so friendly!" And inevitably, "I wonder if she's hungry." She was. No matter how much we fed her, she always had room for more.

She was a quiet cat. Some cats meow and yowl all day long; ours only did this to announce a successful hunting venture, which she generally had two or three times a day, 365 days a year. When she was hungry, though, she didn't make a peep. She would merely seek out the person closest to the kitchen and weave in and out of their legs until they were forced to give up and feed her just to get some peace. Watching her do this, all pleading eyes and swishes of her tail, was like observing a mime working a crowd expertly.

She was the most efficient feline killer I have ever met. She once brought home a stoat that was easily half her size -- a dead stoat. She was especially proud of that kill: on that occasion, her meow was deeper, richer, and more drawn out. When I came into the hall and found it, she did everything but scrape, curtsy and bow. The fact that she was so ruthless and single-minded in her killing always amazed me because she was such a dainty, graceful, well-groomed cat. It was like watching a ballerina wielding a pick-axe or a society matron gobbling down a sloppy hot dog.

Like all cats, she had established rituals. At night, she slept at the foot of our bed, but she would only jump up after kneading the carpet for a good long time. My husband and I would lie stiffly, wondering just when she would make her leap. I counted: she had to knead the carpet for 25 seconds, minimum. If I lost patience and picked her up before she'd finished her kneading process, she'd jump back down and finish it. When she brought back a mouse, she would always announce it, then wait breathlessly in the hall for me to come and exclaim over it. My angry curses never fazed her in the slightest. She would follow me excitedly to the kitchen door and watch as I flung the mouse -- if it was still alive -- into the hedge. When I had my writing group and could not use my hands to pet her, she was especially generous with her rodent offerings. I took to locking her cat flap.

She was my cat. If she was on someone else's lap and I came into a room, she would jump off and make a beeline for me. When I went out to work in the garden, she followed me everywhere I went, darting along the garden path, rubbing up against my legs. If I wasn't attentive enough, she'd cut to the chase, flipping over coquettishly and inviting me to rub her stomach. Whenever I wrote, she invariably sat on my lap, the keyboard, or the desk. She sat with me through rejection after rejection, always purring and worshipful. She didn't care if I ever got published as long as I kept scratching her under the chin or behind her ears.

When we left the U.K., it was hard to say goodbye to her, but we knew she would be in good hands with Dina. And she was. But having finally decimated the rodent population around the house, she decided to go further afield to find prey. Her own lust for hunting finally did her in.

Today, instead of going to Dina's to collect her and bring her back, we buried her in the back garden under an elder tree, near the place she loved to sun and play. We decorated her grave with bouquets of ladies' mantle and catnip, and watered it with many tears.

As we drove home, my tears would not stop falling. I could see myself objectively: a foolish middle-aged woman torn up over the loss of a mere cat. This world is full of sadness and horrors: famine, floods, massacres, endless wars, and cruel despots fighting for power, yet here I am mourning a cat. But anyone who has loved an animal knows the depth of the love they are given back, the incredible attachment they can feel. And if you can't mourn the loss of unconditional love, I don't know what you can mourn.

I hear and see her everywhere. At the foot of my bed, kneading the mat, waiting until just the right time to jump up. I feel her fur against my shins, the warmth of her hard little head under my hand. I see her sunning herself under every bush, on every windowsill. I picture her smiling up at me, her green eyes filled with sleepy adoration. She had a breathy, eager, fine-grained purr like a well-oiled machine. I keep thinking I can hear it; I want so much to believe I really do.

StumbleUpon.com

31 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm very sorry. One of the things that gives me hope about the human race is our capacity to love creatures not of our species. Even through this sadness, there is hope for the rest of us. My condolences.

MG Higgins said...

My most heartfelt condolences to you, Mary. I'm always amazed how these small creatures can wriggle into our hearts and take up residence. It is such a loss when they leave.

Kim Ayres said...

((hugs))

Patois said...

I'm so very sorry for your loss. Yes, it's "just" an animal, but it's your animal, your love. I am so sorry.

Charlie said...

May she rest in peace, Mary, and be waiting for your lap at the Rainbow Bridge.

My condolences. It was a beautiful eulogy.

Katie Alender said...

Oh, Mary, I'm so incredibly sorry. Our pets are part of who we are; I hope you find comfort knowing that she had a wonderful life full of love and happiness (and rodents).

Robert the Skeptic said...

My wife, Nancy, is not really an "animal person"; she is afraid of most dogs and terrified of horses. Still, we rescued little Angelina from the side of the road and she immediately bonded to Nancy. She never picked Angelina up... Never. Yet Angelina was Nancy's constant companion; sitting next to her every place Nancy sat. At night, Angelina would announce her arrival with a loud meow and sleep on Nancy's feet every night (if she could pull it off, she would sneak up to the pillow and nest in Nancy's hair.) When detected, she was banished again to the foot of the bed.

Angelina died and we were very sad; we miss her. However, we were able to uncover the protective blankets over the furniture, vacuum less often and my asthma oddly soon cleared up.

Angelina was "irreplaceable"... and we intend to keep it that way.

Des said...

I'm so sorry.

Angela said...

So sorry to hear about this on Verla's--thanks for sharing a little bit about her here on your blog. Hugs!

Ello said...

Oh so sorry Mary! You poor thing. And your poor kids. Of course you would grieve for your cat, she was a family member. My sympathies for your loss and cyber hugs to you.

Vijaya said...

What a loving tribute, Mary. She will always be in your heart ... and now she lives in mine as well. I grieve with you, Mary. Hugs and prayers for you and your beloved cat.

Kit said...

So sorry about your loss - what terribly unlucky timing she had. Cats and dogs really are part of the family though and you have to mourn them properly when they go.

We had to bring our cats over here when we moved from London even though it was going to cost a fortune - lots of people said just give them away and get new ones there...
and my cat also sits on my keyboard, he seems to regard it as a competitor for my attention.

planetnomad said...

I totally understand. Yes, just an animal, but we grieve none the less. Is that her picture on your blog?

Sorry for your loss.

Carolie said...

Dear Mary, I am so very sorry for your loss. There is nothing foolish about grieving for a beloved family member, which she certainly was. I'm simply glad you were there to say your goodbyes.

adrienne said...

I'm so sorry, Mary. It's not foolish at all to be torn up over such a loss. That was a lovely tribute.

angryparsnip said...

I understand you sorrow. Such a loss
Big Hug. . .

Nandini said...

Mary ... (((hugs))) I understand. It took us a long time to get over this. I pulled out my dog eared copy of James Herriot

Nandini said...

Argh! Messed up the earlier post.

Just wanted to say I'm so sorry for your loss ...

kara said...

every time i lose a cat, i wonder why i get another. but then i get another and it's so fuzzy and cuddly and spazzy that i forget all about the sadness.

i think it's like when women say they forget how much being in labor hurts. a phenomenon of sorts.

laura said...

Losing a pet is just plain hard. We're thankful that it's not a person but we still cry. Just like people, animals have their own personalities and they just weave themselves into our lives. And also, they represent a specific time in our lives. I remember when one of our cats died at the age of 19; my mother lemented the fact that the cat had grown up with us kids and his passing was just a reminder that our childhood and a huge chunk of time was gone. My Beast died last month and I don't think I'll ever have such an unusual cat again. I miss her huge owl eyes and horribly selfish ways. I'm so sorry about your kitty though, you go ahead and cry.

Eryl Shields said...

You will have been looking forward to spending the summer with her and now that's been taken from you, of course you cry. I feel slightly tearful myself, but at least she died doing what she loved to do: in instinctive cat action, and not crippled with old age unable to do anything but limp and cry.

Kappa no He said...

OMG, this is so, so sad. I am so sorry.

Kanani said...

Losing a pet is always a horrible, horrible thing. Condolences to you, Mary. I know how hard these things are.

(And sorry I'm late getting over here).
-Kanani

Susan Sandmore said...

I'm so sorry you lost your beloved kitty. I still pain over pets long gone. It sounds like she had a lovely life with you, though! And her last minutes were spent happy with her latest catch!

Robin said...

I'm so sorry about your cat. She sounds wonderful. That was a beautiful story.

I'm going to bury myself alive with my dogs when they die. I've already warned my family. They encourage the idea.

Anne Spollen said...

Oh boy. You know how we feel about cats around here - it's not quite Egypt, but close.

Your tribute was very touching, and of course, I'm crying. I know exactly what you mean. She sounds like a grand animal.

Mary Witzl said...

Thank you, everybody, for your kind comments. I've lost literally dozens of cats in my life over the years, but the loss of this cat has been the worst of all. I still miss her so much. I'm trying to see the fact that we have birds on our bird table for the first time in years as some sort of silver lining, but it's not easy.

Brave Astronaut said...

A little late and hesitant to post now, but I'm very sorry. I have known firsthand the loss of a pet, and on more than one occasion, in this manner.

There is no love like the unconditional love of a pet and in some ways I miss the pets of my past as much as I mourn lost relatives.

Thoughts and hugs, Mary.

Barbara Martin said...

A well done eulogy for your cat, and I am sorry to learn of her passing. Writing about her previous antics showed me how much you loved her, especially the providing of rodent kills at auspicious moments. (My Siamese used to do the same thing, gross as it was). Pets are a part of the family and when they leave us the grief stays for a time. Animals are uncanny when it comes to their owners coming home from a faroff land. She was probably bringing home a fine specimen just for you as a present.

My Standard Poodles would get up and go to the door of my friend's apartment whenever I was on a flight from England to Toronto at about the time the plane would land. They knew. How? And Bobby would drag my suitcase back to the bedroom when it was time for me to leave and lay on it to prevent me from taking it. These two dogs are gone now, but the memories remain, just like those of your cat.

My condolences.

Chocolatesa said...

Awww! I laughed and cried at this one. Both my cats are strays, and the older one, the giant black fluffy one is my favourite cat ever, and I've had lots. The other day me and my husband were in tears laughing over something, I was sitting on the edge of the bed with her lying behind me. Suddenly I felt a furry hug from behind and a soft bite to my neck. She thought I was in distress or something, she's done this before when I've sobbed my heart out, grab me and bite me gently as if to say "hey! what's the matter! don't cry!". I'll cry when she dies too.

Mary Witzl said...

Thank you. I still miss my foolish cat and hope that wherever she is, she's happy -- and leaving the mice and birds there alone.