My closest friend, Rupa, just lost her closest companion, Eric. He had participated in many of our long distance visits via Skype and FaceTime, as reflected in this screen shot I took of one of our video calls, when Rupa was speaking from her Vermont garden with Eric roaming about.
It takes a pet lover, I believe, to truly empathise with the devastating loss such a passing can bring. It reminds us of our own similar losses. Because of their much shorter life spans, all those with cats and dogs will experience this loss, perhaps several times.
Eric reminded me of my own black and white cat, Quincy, and how hard his death hit me when the vet called with the news. He had some kind of rare blood disease and was even given two separate transfusions from other cats in an effort to save him. I needed to be alone with my thoughts and memories, and I remember my girlfriend at the time was very upset that I didn't immediately turn to her for comfort.
Something was true for me then that I've never admitted or talked about in the twenty-some years since I lost Quincy. This is simply the fact that his death affected me more deeply than that of my mother. I felt sort of guilty feeling this, but my mother had been mentally gone for several years when she died, so that I had already mourned her by the time her body followed. Quincy, on the other hand, was with me every day, a bundle of unconditional love, great fun, and the mystery that any cat brings into any human's life.
Cary Dennis, writing about the loss of a cat, said this in Salon:
It is awful but after its weight lifts there comes a new kind of life. The new kind of life that comes is perforated, aerated, wrung out and less rigid, more patient, more devout. Strangely so but true.
As was true for Eric, what sometimes makes the loss of a cat more difficult is that we have to make the final decision as to when to let it go, and direct the vet to take that final action. That the decision is always tempered with love and compassion, and to end or avoid extreme suffering, doesn't take away the pain of that responsibility.
Though those who haven't been personally impacted by the loss of a wonderful furry companion cannot fully understand this, it is sometimes more difficult and a greater source of grief than even the loss of a human loved one. In the case of beloved cats, no matter how independent and sometimes ornery they can be, we have created much of their world for them and they have repaid us with unconditional love and the taste of adventure having a direct link with the jungle and our own primordial past provides.
More than most people in our lives, cats are endlessly interesting and entertaining, and so the gap they leave behind is often larger. I have lost four of the fantastic creatures--Quincy, Hobbes, Brandy and Lucifer. This means I can really "get" Rupa's loss, but also relive some of my own magical memories. And I am often reminded of what Morrie Schwartz was quoted as saying in Tuesdays With Morrie, as he himself was dying:
"we live on in the hearts of everyone we have touched and nurtured while we were on earth."