Grief. It’s a place I visit. I’ve been there so many times it feels like a familiar cabin in the woods, a place where my heart hurts and I cry without warning. A film runs over and over, playing out a story. Occasionally my mind refuses the story and tries to make it not have happened. I’m in the cabin now.
Freud, my funny, happy, golden cat; my little waif who lived 11 years longer than expected, died last night. Freud was a seven weeks old stray who came to live with me 12 years ago. At three months he almost died from a blocked urethra and I learned that I could spend $3000 on a cat.
He gave me 12 years of joy. He was one of the smartest and most loving cats I’ve owned. He never lost his purr and he never acquired an adult voice. He miaowed like a kitten except when he wanted something to eat. Then he said “Mrkgnao” like Leopold Bloom’s cat in Ulysses.
Friday afternoon he was favoring his left hind leg, then that seemed to go away. Saturday he stopped eating and by Sunday was feeling punk enough that I took him to the vet at noon. She couldn’t find anything obviously wrong but gave him an anti-biotic shot and prescribed an appetite stimulant.
By Sunday night he could barely walk and was drooling something foul smelling. Periodically he squirmed and cried with a heartbreaking sound. I held him all evening, and then settled him next to me when I went to bed. During the night he wailed and his body seized up. For half an hour he gasped every few minutes. I drifted off to sleep and when I awoke he had died in my arms.
I was in shock. Who should I call? Should I call anyone? Should I have some tea? Should I leave the body on the bed? Should I put him on the floor where Artemis and Winston could say goodbye? What should I wear? Should I get dressed now? Should, should, should. It wasn’t possible to think of what I wanted because what I wanted was not possible.
I laid him on the floor with a blanket around him so that just his little orange colored ears and his nose were visible. I lit candles around him to make a little goodbye altar. Artemis and Winston came, looked and backed away.
Years ago I had another very smart and funny cat named Eugene. I was living in Bothell on the edge of a greenbelt. Eugene pestered me one midnight to let him go outside. He was so insistent that later in the grief cabin I comforted myself with the notion that he was keeping an appointment with death because a coyote got him five minutes after he left the house. Eugene must have walked right up to him, right on time. I heard the thrashing around in the bushes and spent the night disbelieving what I knew had happened.
My wonderful Aunt Frances died later that same year. I imagined her death to consist of walking across a bridge and there on the other side, waiting for her, was Eugene. She picked him up and cuddled him just like she had done for a photo I took of the two of them.
Today when I couldn’t will Freudy to not have died, I saw Eugene and Frances coming across the bridge to meet him. A big black tomcat, my aunt with the long skinny legs, and my orange tabby, Freud who never stops purring.