August 18, 2005

cat prints

Yesterday a woman rang the bell. She had a gift for me, of sorts. Not the sort to warm the heart, but I'm glad of it nevertheless. She handed me a small trunk-shaped box, covered in gold brocade, and a round piece of hardened clay. Dante's ashes and his death-print (pawprint taken after death).

I don't think about him as much, don't dwell as heavily on the pain of sudden loss, don't relive the last hours I had with him in the emergency vet hospital's waiting room, don't regret the cursory goodbye I gave when I thought I'd be picking him up the next day, don't look obsessively at the hundreds of photos I took over the past few years. Not so much anymore. He died a month ago today. He was a cat. A sweet, idiosyncratic beast who leaves a greater hole than I think Dan or I expected, but a cat nonetheless. A cat who grumbled and purred his way into our hearts, yes, but with everything going on right now, well, the ragged sadness does heal faster than it might. But holding that box, rubbing my thumb over the indentations Dante's paw left in the clay, grief hit me like an aftershock. Hard to stand there in the midst of a mundane day and feel that sudden spasm of heart hurt. Unsettling.

Damian felt it too. He did what he does now, he curled up in a ball and got very quiet. But soon enough he was prying open the box to look at Dante's ashes (safely enclosed in a clear plastic bag). He found them fascinating, I think. Then he set the box down onto the floor.

Right now there are two sheepskin-lined cat sleeping baskets on the floor in the dining room. Dante used to love them. When he was a kitten, nothing made him happier than a sheepskin lined anything. He'd knead and purr, purr and knead, and settle down happily to sleep. So we got two of them this past winter, one for each cat. Dante loved them, of course. Cocoa? Pretty much ignored them. Until Dante died. Since then, he settles in one to nap at least once a day. A way to remember his buddy? I can only think on some level that has to be true. The difference is striking.

After Dante died, Cocoa didn't grieve in any obvious way. He didn't get morose, didn't go off his food, didn't avoid us Ė not for more than a day, anyway. He seemed more restless than usual, didn't purr as much, but it was fairly subtle. But he gravitated toward Dante's sleeping baskets, and he took on a few other characteristics too.

Dante liked to stick his paw in his water bowl while he was drinking. I think it started because he liked to drink from moving water, so he'd swish the water around with his paw before drinking, but after a while it became habit; I'd often walk by and see him lapping away with his foot completely submerged in the bowl. Dante's the only cat I've ever seen who did this. Except Cocoa. The week Dante died. He started putting his paw in the bowl. He'd take it out quickly, it wasn't really his thing. But he was trying. Dan says he's read that this is a way of grieving, that sometimes you take on habits or quirks of the person who died. So yes, I think Cocoa has been grieving in his own cat way.

Yesterday, when Damian put the box of ashes down on the dining room floor, Cocoa was curled up in one of the cat baskets. The other lay empty beside him. So Damian put the open box into the empty basket. The two cats side by side again.

But an interesting thing happened. Cocoa got up out of his basket and went to the other one. Lay down in it. Snuggled up next to the box. Then he put his paw over the box. Possessively, companionably. Just as he often did when he and Dante curled up in the cat tree together. He stayed like that for a while. It was really striking, the way he did it. Very deliberate. I doubt the box smells like his friend, either. Fire purifies and purges. Do bones smell like a person? I can't imagine they do. But he knew anyway.

Posted by Tamar at August 18, 2005 08:27 PM | TrackBack

I had 2 cats for 15 years then lost one. They were litter mates. The surviving one, who is now 19, didn't seem to miss his sister that much. He seems very content having the place to himself. But I'm sure since they were so close (they would often snuggle together in a sea of black fur...sometimes I couldn't tell where one began & the other ended..they look(ed) a lot like Cocoa) I'm sure he had some sense of loss. Now that he's lost his eyesight I'm sure on some level he must miss her even more.

But that's actually not what I was going to write about...I understand completely losing a cat, I do, I've gone through it myself...BUT... I recently lost my mother and although I loved & miss my cat, it in no way compares to the loss of a parent. The grief comes & goes and talk about a sense of emptiness. I understand how you feel but there's perspective in everything. Deeper, sadder, memory filled, a person. It in no way discounts what you and your family are feeling but I just wanted to say...big picture.

Posted by: Janet at August 18, 2005 11:26 PM

Yes, I do know there's a difference. I know from personal experience the depth of loss when someone dies, though I haven't yet lost a parent. You're right, it's a larger pain. But this is still painful.

I think part of the problem with Dante's death is that it was so sudden. It has no sense of rightness, if that makes sense. He was just swept away. He disappeared on us. It's hard to reconcile.

Posted by: Tamar at August 18, 2005 11:39 PM

Thatís a very beautiful story, Tamar. When my dog Sebastian died (at age three), my other dog, Katie (then four years), went out on the cliffs by the ocean (where we were then living) and howled in the night. It was hard to bring her in. After that she didnít play with other dogs much. I think animals understand death and grieving, at times better than we do. Grieving for a pet (and by a pet) may be different but can be as sincere as for a person; after all, it is a warm, responsive being that lived with you in your home.

Posted by: Leya at August 20, 2005 09:56 AM
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