We were walking out of the pet supply store with cat litter earlier this week when the ID tag machine caught my eye. I remembered the last time we used that machine and my heart dropped and my eyes clouded.
We had created a replacement ID tag for Sam to go with his new collar, as he had shredded the previous one while scratching at his neck. The vet thought it was likely allergies. But one patch would heal and another would start, no matter what we did. We never put the collar back on him because we found out too late he had cancer. At just 7 years old. That collar and tag now sits on our altar.
A Purring of Consequence
They say cats purr when they’re happy, but they can also purr when they’re in pain. They may also purr to soothe others.
Nearly every day in the last year, Facebook has served me up some photo or video of Sam in the memories. That means I tend to spend a few moments each day looking at him, which mostly feels good. We accidentally call Max (the wonderful kitten we got in July of last year) by Sam’s name, though now it’s just once a day or every other day – instead of constantly. It took a while, but Nathan can sing Sam’s song again on his weekly online concerts. I still fall apart about once a month thinking about Sam. As the anniversary creeps up, I feel it more.
It seems a bit ridiculous to still be so deeply mourning a cat. Especially after the last year. So many people dead – from the pandemic, from other tragedies, from natural causes. So much loss and stress. But he was a truly spectacular spirit, my little man, my Sammy Long Legs. My first cat in my new life, in a new place, in a new relationship. He was far more than just a cat to me. He was a piece of my heart.
And the situation surrounding his passing was deeply complicated by the pandemic. I still can’t help but wonder if things could have gone differently, at a different time. Would we still have him? We should have had him until he was a cranky old bastard. The lack of control was maddening. Regret, revision, hindsight is 2020.
Scratching at the Box
They say that if a cat is lost, you should put their litter box outside, some food, and a familiar blanket or article of clothing. It will draw them back home.
Last week I drove down to see my family since we’ve all had our vaccinations. It’s a 5-6 hour drive, so good time to listen to podcasts. On the way home, I listened to a new episode of “This American Life” called “Good Grief.” I don’t really recommend listening to it while driving on major highways, but it was a very powerful listen. Here’s the link, as I think it’s definitely worth a listen: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/738/good-grief
As I see quite a few friends struggling with similar losses of beloved pets, I think of the usual words that attempt to sooth: it gets easier, it gets better, you’ll move on. I can’t say I really believe any of that is true.
I think it means more to say, “I know exactly how you feel, and you’re not crazy for having those feelings or thinking those thoughts.” We don’t normalize grief enough. We sweep it under the door, avert our eyes, and pat reassuringly. We don’t talk about what it feels like to hold death in your arms. We don’t mention the weight of it all. As a society, we would be so much more healthy if we create space to drag grief out into the light and share our experiences.
Moments & Shadows
They say after a year or so, the spirit of a familiar or companion animal may return to visit.
Witchy folk tend to try and give comfort in saying that the spirit is still around. I’ve experienced ghost cats for years, but those spirits were not ones I also spent time with when they were alive. Most places I’ve lived have had ghostly activity of one form or another, but not this house.
The other week though, someone brushed up against my skirt. When I looked down to see which of our 4 living cats it was, but no one was there. I was alone in my studio. My partner was also out of town and the other cats didn’t spend as much time in the bed with me at night like they usually do. They kept their distance, staying near the end of the bed, almost cautiously. A few mornings in a row Max pounced on my chest as if someone was there while he was in a chase-and-play mood. Sam usually slept on my chest. This week I’m seeing shadows just out of the corner of my eye, when all of the other cats are accounted for. Witchful thinking?
The little hydrangea we planted by Sam’s grave came back this year, but in the last week it has taken a turn for the worse. The bed it’s situated in is a tough area. I don’t think it’s coming back, and it’s hard to look at in its sad state, but yet I hold out hope it might recover.
But… I did order a beautiful hosta (without having a plan for where it would go) and now I’m thinking that’s the spot for it. There’s a lesson here: There are times for hope, and there are times to turn to action and active change. Times when we need to let go a little and plan for the future. But we will always remember.