Yes, I DO realize this is a morbid way to start a blog site.
It is also a lie. OK, TECHNICALLY more of an inaccurate statement than a lie; truth be told, my cat died on Monday, two days ago. But I’m sticking to the title as this blog came pretty much fully formed in my head as I was driving the six hours to bury my cat in my parents’ back yard…Sorry…I’m getting a bit ahead of the story there. A little background first.
My cat was officially named Holstein (after the cow, because he was white with irregular black spots like the Gateway computer boxes or Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream containers) but he was, to all who had ever met him, known as “Bob.” Why “Bob” you ask? Honestly, it was a very long and convoluted process that only other crazy cat people would understand, but suffice to say, it fit. Bob was also 19 1/2 years old when he died, and if that seems like it is old for a cat, it is. I mean it REALLY is. In human years, that put him at roughly 137 years old, no shit…I did the math twice. Bob was also in really good shape. He went in for annual check-ups (things can change very quickly at his age) and his blood work consistently had results that were typical of a cat almost half his age. He was, in other words, that 95-year-old man who you see every week outside cutting the lawn with a push mower. You don’t understand it, but you look at it and go, “Damn! That is one lucky SOB!” THAT was Bob.
And now here’s the sad bit…OK, this entire post is mostly all the sad bit, but I promise if you stick with me, it turns out pretty good…I mean, my cat is still dead, so not THAT good, but like happy sad tears…this bit, though, is the really sad bit.
I go to work and the last thing I do before I leave is scritch Bob under the chin while he purrs up a storm…pretty much an everyday thing with the Bobster. About 6 hours later, I get a call from my roommate, David, who got home from his job to find Bob…more accurately, Bob’s body. He had a heart attack on the porch and rigor had already set in, so he likely died just an hour or two after I left. David wanted to know if I wanted him to call the vet to dispose of the body. I told him “No, I’ll take care of it.” You see, I live in a condo and I don’t have a back yard to bury family pets in. BUT…I DO have parents who have a back yard, AND I know that they will let me bury my pets there (as I have already done this before). So…I leave work early and go pick up a friend of mine, Sandy, who was there the last time I did this, and head home to get Bob’s body and start the drive to my parents’ (I did mention this would be over six hours of driving just to go there and back, not to mention the time for the actual burial and any visiting I do with my folks, didn’t I?). We placed Bob in the back seat and I had to keep stopping myself from turning my body to look at him as I drove. The trip over is chock full of painful memories from when his sister, Scrambler, died seven years earlier and I had to make the same drive…right down to the same friend in the car. Scrambler had died from a clogged bile duct on her liver. She didn’t show symptoms until it was too late and her loss was very painful, sudden, and unexpected, very much like what had just happened with Bob. This was shaping up to be a real doozy of a bad evening, and to add to the fun, it was raining…hard, making the long drive even longer and more unpleasant.
By the time I arrived at the home of my parents (who, by the way, are beyond fabulous), the weather had cleared and so had much of my melancholy, as I was now going to be able to DO something, to be able to take some action. My Dad, bless him, had already gotten out the shovel and made sure the area we were going to use was ready to dig. He and I walked to the corner of the back yard where I had buried Scrambler and tried to remember which side of a palm tree she was on. We didn’t put up any markers because, technically, we were breaking the law by burying our pets in the first place (that’s right, rebels, all of us…stickin’ it to the Man). We couldn’t remember for sure, so I just picked a place and started digging. I wanted brother and sister to be buried close to each other and hoped I was in roughly the right area.
Here is where, for me, the night started to take that turn for the happy tears I promised you. I dug down and at about three feet found a dark brown root ball…which on closer inspection I found to be the very cat I had buried seven years earlier. My father, who is ever ready with the graveside humor (in this case, literally), says, “In that case, I think you probably are deep enough, son.” I had wanted my two cats to be buried close to each other and without a marker of any kind, ended up being able to bury them literally side by side. I gently placed Bob’s wrapped body in the grave, we said a few words, and I began to fill the grave with dirt.
I don’t know why, I really don’t…but the “Whump!” of that first shovelful was REALLY satisfying. A sense of finality and accomplishment, of a good thing properly done came over me and with each shovel of dirt that went into the hole, it felt like a weight being lifted from me as well. Afterwards, as we sat at the dining room table and had our meal, I was thankful for what I had, and what I had had. (I hate how that sounds but it is grammatically correct, so screw it)
I have wonderful supportive parents that let me drive hours to bury my cat in their yard, I have great friends that will drop everything so that I don’t have to make a drive like that alone, and I have all the memories of the times I had with Bob. And let me tell you, almost 20 years with anyone, much less a pet, will give you more memories than you can count…and the ones you have with a pet are almost all good. The love you share is unconditional and the memories show that.
I am also very thankful for the way he passed. He was a truly AWESOME cat and I will miss him terribly, but I could not have asked for a better way for him to go. He passed peacefully in his sleep, under his favorite chair, in the sun. He still looked like he was sleeping when I saw him, with his head turned halfway upside down and his legs crossed. My sister is a veterinarian and she told me that less than ½ of 1% of the clients in her practice have a pet pass away in their sleep like Bob did. He was healthy (except for some arthritis), had no debilitating illnesses that are common in geriatric cats like kidney disease, diabetes, or thyroid malfunction, and likely just had a heart attack in his sleep and never work up. He had a great life and a great QUALITY of life, didn’t suffer at the end, and I didn’t have to make the decision to have him put down to end his suffering after a long illness. I am grateful for all of these things, and they are a great comfort.
The reason I wrote this blog? Well, it sure wasn’t to tell everyone my cat died. That would be…odd. It was because I realized that I was viewing his death from the opposite perspective of most people. That his passing inspired me not to dwell upon what I will no longer have with him, but to relish the times I had shared with him. To be grateful for what time I have been given, and not feel sorrow for that which I will never have. I am hoping that this might be able to help someone else through a time of loss. I am fortunate in that all of my immediate family is still with me. I don’t know if I will be able to keep this perspective when I lose a parent or sibling, but I hope I can. I would much rather be grateful for what I was fortunate to have than be sad for what I lost.
Don’t get me wrong. I AM hurting, a lot. I got Bob when I first REALLY moved out on my own and started a career, and he was a member of my family ever since. I am SO feeling this loss, but I am more thankful for the time I had with him than sad at his passing.
I know I already said this, but it bears repeating: The last time I saw him, he was purring while I scritched his chin.
Can’t ask for more than that.