Saturday, December 5, 2015

Life, Death and the Love of a Gray Tabby Cat

Our Kramer kitty left this earthly plane today. His frail body-- suffering the ravages of chronic kidney disease-- had grown too tired and weak for him to enjoy any remaining quality of life with us. And so, we said a tearful goodbye and allowed him to move on to the Great Big Beyond. His departure, even if a little unexpected, was a reminder that life is-- ultimately-- a one-way ticket.

Death is a strange thing.

I remember when my dad died... I was 18, and we were still living in Spain. My parents were divorced, and I was living with my mom. We got a phone call... he had died quietly in his sleep. He was only 60, and it was completely unexpected.

I remember my mom and I (they were still good friends) driving the 15 minutes to his house and seeing his lifeless body on the bed before the coroner allowed him to be taken away... in a dark green SEAT ambulance with a white cross on the side. It was the first time I had seen a dead person.

I remember my main feeling in the moment being that it felt strange that I would never speak to him again. I tried to muster some other kind of deeper feelings; some form of "dramatic sorrow" like you see in movies... but it would be months and years before I truly parsed his passing.

We went to Denmark, and he was laid to rest in the family plot in one of Copenhagen's largest cemeteries. I observed... and felt a strange sort of guilt at not feeling more; not feeling something. I have returned since then and stood by his grave... but all I ever experienced was a strange sensation of... lack of.

Many years later, my mother died. She was far away, in Spain... I was living in the US, in Port Townsend. Again, a phone call. She had passed away in hospital, after having spent a few months in a home for elderly folks with advanced dementia. I was 6000 miles away...

Her ashes were scattered by "other people" on a hillside near the village of Casares... I was too far away and too broke to do anything about it. I later went to the place where her ashes once went, but I felt only a strange emptiness. My last memory of my mother was a photo from a prior year's visit to her...

I went to a local park at the time of her memorial service and sat there for several hours...

I thought about how people die; how pets die... and "life simply goes on."

My mother was dead and I would never see her or talk to her again... and all around me, the world continued and people were going about their business and going to work; plumbers were unclogging backed up sewers; bakers were making fresh bread, couples were arguing and making up, and the UPS guy was delivering a television.

In between, I remember so many deaths... my Aunt Ulla who had a huge impact on my formative years and helped make me the person I am today; my stepfather, aunts and uncles... but also a host of furry creatures I have loved and shared space with.

They all have a place in my heart and my memories... but aside from that, they are but a long forgotten footnote in the greater history of life...

Today, a small furry creature left this plane of existence.

Aside from  a small handful of people who knew him, his passing was an insignificant event... a Facebook post that will be read for a day and then will vanish into the passing timelines of our existence.

Yet... to me he was important. More important than any timeline post... so much more than "just a cat." And I know that even 5... 10... 20 years from now, I will see a picture of him and feel echoes of the same mindnumbing sadness that lays heavy across my shoulders, as I sit here, writing these words.

Death is... indeed... a natural part of life. Whereas that old cliché may hold true, it doesn't make it any easier, and nothing truly prepares us for those moments when our loved ones-- be they human or animal-- suddenly are no longer part of our lives. All we experience is the residual emptiness; loss; a "lack of."

Looking back at my past experiences with my dad, and with my mom... and my many furry friends, I do understand the underlying reason for why people often say "You just need to get over it and move on!" after someone/something you dearly love dies. Whereas it may feel hurtful to us-- to me-- they weren't inside the experience; they were merely the figurative UPS Guy, delivering a television. As such, their perception lacks the depth we experience with ours.

What sets us off and reminds us of our grief shows up in odd ways. Kramer always used to push open the bathroom door and come in for some "toilet love," because he knew he had a captive audience. And so, I was in the bathroom and listened for the familiar "Thump... clickety-clickety-clickety-click" of him jumping down from the desk followed by claws against the hardwood floor...

... and then remembered I would never hear that sound again.

I don't know if animals feel love in the sense we know it... but I have had many cats (and dogs) in my life. This one was "different," somehow... we were bonded and "together" in some way I can't quite explain. I loved him, in a strangely deep and profound way. I'd like to think he loved me, in his own cat way...

And so I wept. For him... and for all the others...