Over the years, my feisty cat Slasher slowed significantly, for which my five-year-old daughter was particularly grateful. They had spent her first four and a half years as sworn enemies, but now, too old to hunt or even make it to the top bunk, he stayed in and spent the whole night on Josie’s bed. Sometimes, the whole day as well. Those two were suddenly inseparable.
By late February, we knew we had an old, ailing cat, but we didn’t realize he was dying, so we headed to paradise for a family vacation. By the second night away, the catsitter was calling. Slasher wasn’t getting up much at all anymore. She brought his water dish onto Josie’s bed and called me to express concern. I spent the next few days anxiously touring volcanoes or pretending to relax on the beach…then hurrying back to the rental to phone the sitter and sob. Poor Hannah. This was not the first time a pet tried to kick the bucket on her watch. She stopped by twice a day and called with updates. Since he was 18 with few systems functioning properly, we all knew what was coming. We just wanted him to hold on until we got there.
When we arrived home, sandy and bleary-eyed, it was four in the morning. I saw immediately that he was skin and bones, lying in a pool of urine. I stripped the bed and cleaned him up as best I could. I tucked Josie in fresh sheets and made a pile of baby blankets beside her for Slasher. In the morning, I tried to move him to a cozy, waterproof spot downstairs where I could comfort him and make vet calls at the same time, but when he collapsed trying to drag himself back to Josie’s bed, I relented.
The next couple of days are a sad, sad blur. Crying while driving. Crying in the grocery store. Crying at NPR stories, at the funnies, and anytime someone asked, “how are you?” Acknowledging his distaste for the vet, we had him put to sleep at home, while we held him and stroked him. No one could get his eyes to close, though, so he continued to stare at me in his scrappy, crusty way. For days.
In my house, it takes quite a while to prepare for an appropriate burial. Photographs must be taken. A coffin must be made…and decorated…and further embellished with sparkly items. A grave marker is necessary, as is the name plaque. This all takes time, as you can imagine. Time when said dead pet remains lying around our house. I noticed that this seemed to cause other parents some anxiety, so I started to tell them about the dead cat before the playdate, and reassure them about proper handwashing, et cetera. That only made things worse.
“Where are you keeping him?” one mother asked, completely perplexed. As I was answering, I realized that letting your child sleep with a dead cat was a little unorthodox. Believe it or not, it didn’t feel anywhere near as creepy as that must sound. He was swaddled in his favorite little blanket, in a shallow wooden box, with a couple of cat toys and a fairly peaceful expression. Except for the staring, I mean. Josie couldn’t sleep without him there, and Slasher wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, so it just made sense at the time. I knew it wasn’t a long-term plan. I think Josie got a couple of nights with him after he was sealed in his coffin, as well, while we prepared for the burial, but then we had to transition her to a stuffed cat, and lots of extra bedtime stories. “Who will bury me when I die?” she asked the night after we finally laid him to rest. I couldn’t answer.
We still miss that guy like crazy, but there’s a new cat now. Elsie plays fetch and sleeps on my head. She squawks and perches on my shoulder and often does that Halloween cat pose with fur on end and back humped into the air. She’s worming her way into my heart, too, but there’s no telling if she’ll schmooze and head to the bars like her predecessor. Just got her outdoor shots and her tags, though, so we’ll know soon enough.