I have begun to write this column dozens of times. Usually once I have a topic it writes itself, tumbling out faster than my fingers can accommodate. This time, I have been stymied by my difficulty finding a way in. Or by the preponderance of ways in. Or by the fact that my grief overtakes me and I am afraid that I will just sob onto my keyboard.
Last month, in a stunning demonstration of the laws of impermanence, we lost both of our cats in the same week. Neither of them was young, but neither terribly old by cat standards–12 and 14 respectively. We had been on borrowed time with the younger one, Daphne, who had been bearing up nobly with a neurological issue for over two years. It made her wobbly, bolder, more interactive and affectionate.
A miscalculated jump resulted in a broken paw, and within days she was in congestive heart failure, forcing our decision to part with her rather than subject her to extensive treatment.
We had already planned a long weekend in New Orleans to lick our wounds from the protracted illness and death of my father in law on Superbowl Sunday. Since that time our older cat, Bob, had a long day at the emergency vet with a sudden worsening of his cardiac issues. Our one night away in the beginning of March proved to be traumatic for him, demonstrated by the multiple messes he delivered. If one day was like a week for him, how would he survive five days? It would be an eternity and certain cardiac failure by the time of our return, so two days after losing Daphne, we dragged our heavy hearts to spare Bob this trauma, and bade our farewells to him.
New Orleans welcomed us with its warm weather, rich food, beautiful architecture and music brimming from corners and cafes. The balm of the time away was healing, but did not make walking in the door to our empty home any less easy. We realized that for the first time in 27 years there was no one else sharing our living space. It has been an adjustment in many ways, of course. The gentle presence of the cats was always welcome. Their outstretched paws in greeting or gratitude for scratching, and unreserved delight for treats, or the right toy to mangle unfailingly disarmed our most challenging day.
It is not possible to completely appreciate the nature of the rhythm of living with animals until that rhythm is interrupted. My mornings had been marked recently with dispensing the variety of medications they had accrued, as well as ensure the cat fountain was filled. We no longer need to be so aware of our comings and goings. But just as our care taking responsibilities are alleviated so too, our onsite happiness radiators were removed. Bob, particularly, emanated his profound unwavering confidence that the world would produce exactly what he needed at any given time. The depth of his trust was contagious, as was his unadulterated delight in having someone sleep near him. He literally would purr for fifteen minutes when someone would cuddle up with him, or he would request it either by climbing onto a lap (at 22 pounds, he overflowed most laps), or by curling up in the crook of a TV watcher’s knees.
I’m realizing that as I allow in these memories, they will gradually replace the ache that currently dwells in my heart. The tears make room for the joys of having lived with the love that only animals can convey to the pack with whom they reside. We benefit from the privilege of sharing their space, appreciating their antics, singing with them, rolling around on the floor, and holding them close.
Goodbye sweet cats. We know we will welcome both new canine and feline creatures into our home at some point. We need the time to be ready for their presence after working through the absence of the family animals we raised with our two daughters. All in its time. All in the current that brings new life as unpredictably as it claims those who have completed their particular cycle. How fortunate we are to have overlapped with such magnificent beings in our personal sphere.