Saturday, November 2, 2013

Life without Cat

On Tuesday, October 29th, my Maine Coon cat of 16 years died. She had been fading away for weeks before that, so it wasn’t a shock. In fact, she was doing so poorly that the night before, Mr. Typist and I made the decision to have her euthanized. But Zoe, always a willful one, had her own ideas. She waited until Mr. Typist woke up that morning and had taken a clipping of her fur. Just before I was about to put her in the crate to drive her to the animal hospital, she took her final breath, at home in our presence, the way she wanted it to happen.

Over the last few weeks, I had been in constant angst over her physical state. I knew she was dying, and on some level I accepted that, but I was worried that she was in pain. I didn’t know what to do. I fretted, I fussed over her, I tried to drag her onto my lap to make her more “comfortable”, I hovered, I futilely bribed her to eat with ever-more exotic fare. I even took her to the vet, who presented me with a $600.00 estimate for a “senior screen”, which I declined. My inner dialogue was a constant refrain of I don’t what know to do for her. I just wish she could talk. I just wish she could tell me what she needed.

That fact is, she had been telling me what she needed all along. She stopped eating. She withdrew from us completely. She sought out soft, dark, quiet places. She wouldn’t allow me to put her on my lap. She refused food, and few days before her death, refused water. She slept constantly. I could sense her body shutting down, her spirit fading away. She was telling me, “I want a dark, private place to do this. I want water nearby. I want quiet. I want nothing demanded of me.” It was only a week or so before the end that I started to understand that she knew exactly how to die. I needed to let go of my desire to rescue her long enough to pay attention to what her actions were telling me. She didn’t need to be rescued. She needed me to leave her to it, and make sure she had a soft, dark place to sleep. I didn’t have to interfere, heal, comfort, or lead her through the dying process. She had it figured out a long time before I did.

Zoe was by turns a thug, a princess, a fearless rebel, a femme fatal, a mystic, a protector, a gang leader, a healer, a wise guide, and an imperious diva. She was by my side through some of the most tumultuous times of my life. During our years together, I got married, (and almost divorced), I moved three times, I completed a two-year training program and a one-year training program, I left the career I had expected to have for a lifetime, I lost friends, I gained friends, I traveled, I started and ended numerous jobs, I published three books, I accepted and survived the hardest job I have ever had, and I became a grown-ass woman. Through all of it, she was spookily attuned to my emotional state, and fiercely loyal. She was by my side through the chaos, the tears, the long nights when I needed her calming presence next to me, the scary times when I needed her courage, and the gentle times, too, when we just sat together in peace, her deep purring lulling me to into an afternoon nap.

We buried her body above a box canyon in a forested area, across from and in clear view of sacred Mt. Si. It’s a pretty spot, and I hope she likes it. We planted a fern over her body, which will take root in the soil we covered her grave with. Her body will return to the earth, and be taken up by the root systems of the foliage and trees. She will return to nourish the earth that so loved her in her life.

Am I at peace with her passing? I guess I have no choice but to accept it. But there is a cold savagery even to the best death. And God, in the words of Louis CK, is an asshole. What sort of bastard would design a world in which we inevitably outlive the beings who love us most purely?

I love you, Zoe. Thank you for loving me. 

--Kristen McHenry


Jo said...

Thank you for this beautiful elegy and sharing a lifetime spent with Zoe.

Anonymous said...

What a fierce, raw, and vulnerable tribute to your friend, Zoe. It's an incredible gift to be allowed to die your way, in your time, and be free of worn out body. Wherever she is now, Zoe knows you got it -- and loved her deeply. ~Sheila