Our cat, CATACA, died suddenly yesterday. She was acting normally and seemingly fine and then in the span of an hour she was gone. I found her lying on the ground her stomach heaving. Within a half hour we had her packed up to get to an emergency vet. My wife took her there and sometime between leaving the house and being taken into the back CATACA died.
When it came down to it I found that I wanted to dig the grave. The rain had been going all day; earlier it was freezing rain, by the time the shovel struck the earth it was just soggy and gross.
I got the first plot down about two feet, just beyond the clay, and then the water began to fill the bottom of the hole. Ah, the practicalities of nature. I filled it back in and moved to a new spot in our backyard.
The new spot was covered with ivy, yet just beneath was good dirt. I lifted and turned the earth and wished dearly I was in shape for times like this.
The box they sent her home in was too big for her small body and definitely too big to bury. We transferred her to a smaller shoebox, my wife wrapped her in a favorite scarf. We felt the kink in her tail one last time before putting her in the ground.
And for reasons that don’t make sense to me, I knelt down and used my hands to help cover her back up while my wife used the shovel. It felt important to do it that way. To feel the grit and weight of the earth as it covered her up. Filling a hole while leaving one.
Last week we had the vet come because CATACA was passing blood in her urine and doing so in strange places. It looked like a UTI, something she’d had before and easily fixed with antibiotics and some rest. Annoying, yet treatable. So we did the antibiotics and the rest and she was on the mend. She was returning to her normal self (alternating between playful, curious, but mostly sleepy). We were relaxing in the afternoon and then…
It’s hard not think that maybe we should have reacted quicker. That had we been a few minutes quicker that instead of waking up bleary eyed this morning I would have woken up before my alarm because CATACA was meowing and trying to get up into the windowsill.
She was always a small cat. The runt of the litter which made her seem about the size of a large kitten even into adulthood. She had a little kink at the end of her tail that we used to tell her apart from her sister when they were younger. Later I got to know her gait, her eyes, and her slink. She would slink her way around the house the very definition of lithe.
She was a good cat and as curious as they come. She and her sister, Susuwatari, came to us from the humane society where they’d suffered under the indignity of being named Tilly and Twinkle (we’re still unsure which one CATACA was. Regardless, she never answered to either of them, but would answer to the name we gave her if the circumstances were convenient to her). She would play fetch like a dog and curl up with us whenever anyone was settling into sleep. They told us when we got them that “the little one relied on the big one”. This was not true. CATACA was clearly the alpha, tiny as she was.
She’d be the first there with concern on her face when our toddler would be throwing a tantrum. Of course, she didn’t know what to do with that concern, but she knew that the toddler was important and that it was important the toddler be soothed.
The thought bangs around in our heads that maybe she was sicker than she was letting on. It’s hard not to look back at all the small things from the months and wonder if those odd circumstances were a hint of a decline actively happening. Maybe there was more to why she needed to do something we didn’t think she should be doing? It’s hard. You question yourself. Yet, honestly, it’s been less than 24 hours so maybe just give yourself time to grieve. CATACA was easing into what should have been a long adulthood.
We also wonder about Susu. Towards the end they were fighting more, but still friends and sisters. This morning I saw that Susu, as normal, had left half of the wet food we set out for them. They were always good about sharing their food. Susu has been quiet since it happened, sometimes seeming to look around for something, but mostly quiet. I wonder if she knew and is happy that CATACA is gone, or doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, or is expecting her to come back at any moment. I wonder if Susu will spend the rest of her life in a state of perpetual waiting. I also wonder if, maybe, animals move on and I’m being ridiculous to anthropomorphize them in this way.
I will miss CATACA tremendously even if it turns out Susu does not. I will miss her small little meow and how sometimes it would come out silent, sometimes larger than her frame should allow. I’ll miss how she would try to lean against you, or hunker in the crook of your legs for a long nap. I’ll miss how she would remind me on days they got the fancy wet food about everything about how it worked: first you get the dish from the cupboard, then we trot over to the pantry, pull the food out, open the can, get it on the dish, and then you put it down and we can eat. Yes, I will do the thing you ask me to do where we stand up because it is cute, we will suffer this indignity, but be quick about it.
As I’m writing this the vet contacts my wife to tell her that she thinks it was Silent Heart Disease. Likely what happened in the end was a heart attack. A blood clot detached and made its way to her heart. I google for more on this and see that there are articles calling it the “silent killer”. It’s comforting to know that there wasn’t some obvious sign we missed. “Well, of course, if you’d just known that black cats with yellow eyes are more susceptible…why didn’t you know that? Didn’t you feel the kink in her tail? Didn’t you listen to her small meow? Didn’t you know that those high flying leaps when she played were masking something deeper?”
This morning I saw the puzzle we’ve been working on on the table. It features two black cats in the flowers and their eyes match CATACA’s and Susu’s. It’s like the artist made a puzzle of our cats. Of course, putting it together had been a protracted fight with the cats over whether the pieces were toys to be knocked off the table or not. Today I look at it and would gladly have the floor covered in little colored puzzle pieces if it meant CATACA was the one knocking them off the table.
I’m in one of the stages of grief, but I don’t have the energy to figure out which one. It’s the wistful and sad one.
I’m not sure how I should be feeling either. This is the first pet I’ve lost that really meant something to me. I remember remarking a few months ago that we were in a life stage where our friends were losing their pets. If you puzzle out the timeline it make sense. Many had gotten cats or dogs when they set out on their own for the first time 10 or 15 years ago, and, well… I remember when making that remark thinking that we had a good decade before that would happen to our sweet black cats.
They were young! Just barely not kittens. Cats can sometimes live 15 or 20 years, right?
Today we reminisce. We’ll do it a lot over the coming weeks and months, I’m sure. We’ll scroll through our photos and it’ll be a kick in the gut or a happy memory to see a series of photos of her, trying to get the angle or lighting right. I always wanted to know what they thought of these exercises. “The humans are pointing their rectangles at us again. Why do they do that?” Well, we did that because we loved you, CATACA, and needed others to know that how lucky we were to have such an adorable and fierce little cat. We needed everyone to know that you made our lives better and more full.