When I moved in with my girlfriend a little over a month ago, I also took on part of the responsibility for her hairy, toothless lodger.
He was an awesome cat, despite being old and broken and really quite impressively witless.
I’d already spent quite a bit of time with him over the last few months, and he’d been good company since I moved in here, particularly while Kirsty was at work and I was wandering about the house on my own.
He hadn’t been well for a long time. He was taken in as a rescue cat six years ago, at the age of about ten, with no teeth and a thyroid problem. I don’t know what had happened in his first few years, but he must have had a fairly rough time of it before Kirsty took him in.
He died two nights ago. He seemed to wait until she got back in the evening before he started looking ill and wobbly, and began trying to crawl under or behind something to find a quiet nook in which to let it all end. Kirsty held him, and there was hugging and stroking and tears, and he purred and seemed comfortable for a while, and his breathing got weaker. Then he coughed and twitched a bit, and then he was gone. We buried him in the garden yesterday morning.
I feel quite strange.
I’m 27, and somehow this is the closest thing to grief I’ve ever actually been in a position to feel. My childhood pets and grandparents all shuffled off before I ever really had the chance to develop both an emotional attachment to them and a mature understanding of death. Bruno was the first person (as good a word as any) who I feel I’ve lost.
It’s really sad. And it’s a kind of sadness that’s really unsettling for a first-timer. I feel very unusual.
I’m going through a lot of what I believe are traditional clichés: hearing a noise that I mistake for the jingle of his bell or the pad of his foot on the stairs, expecting to see him wander into the room at any moment, instinctively watching out for him so I don’t step on his tail when I walk around a corner. I’ve sympathised with friends who’ve lost pets and loved ones before, but everything about this still feels surprising and disconcerting.
There was no preamble. That seems wrong somehow. No announcement or build-up. He was being his normal self, and then suddenly he was dying, and then just as suddenly I’m not someone who has a cat any more.
It’s all been very different going through this as a direct experience. I’ve long maintained that funerals and all the surrounding rigmarole are for the living, and the only reason I wouldn’t ask that my organs be donated and the rest of me be thrown in a skip when I die would be for the sake of those who’d miss me, and might not want to see my remains go through such an indignity.
It’s not just true; it’s really important. Kirsty and I, both staunch rationalists, with equally little time for nonsense about afterlives, were both troubled by the thought of our dead cat being all alone and getting cold, when we left him in the back room for that night before we buried him.
I can totally see why our species tends to take funeral procedures quite seriously. In a sense, it shouldn’t matter at all, but in another sense, it was really, really important that the right things happened to him. It didn’t require either of us to believe a speck of supernatural bullshit. Funeral stuff benefits the living far more than the dead, and the feelings of the living are what matter.
I guess the point of this all is to just get some of my own feelings down in words. Process some things I’ve never really dealt with before. He wasn’t your cat, I’m not expecting you to be as moved by this as I am, so I’m sorry if this is too picture-heavy and mawkish.
Actually no, to hell with that last part. I’m not remotely sorry for anything. I do too much apologising for myself as it is. Anyone who doesn’t think I should be writing about being sad because this cat died can get the fuck off my blog.
We miss you, Bruno.