Our beloved cat died this week. He had been ill for many years, somehow managing to find another life each time the vets had declared him finished. Then, this week, it became clear he would not survive his current illness. Further, he was in debilitating pain. We asked our vet to stop by and administer a fatal dose of meds. The house was awash in tears.On the day of his death the weather was fittingly wet; great buckets of rain fell from the sky. In spite of this Jennie managed to prepare his grave, lining it with plants he loved. After the rain let up enough for us to inter him, the skies opened again and we wept.
This summer I was oft reminded of a departed teacher’s insistence that all beings are equal in the universe, that all deserve respect and aid. Each time we called the vet or found ourselves at a clinic, we acknowledged the cat’s right to our support. Each time we wondered what was the most compassionate thing to do for him, and did our best. Finally, we knew.
After his death we found ourselves bereft. We felt so sad we had no room for a sense of connection to him, or possibly, any sense of connection was too painful to bear. Yet we also knew that we are all connected and that while death removes loved ones from this Middle World, the connection remains unsevered.
Later in the day I collected all of his belongings that could not be given away and prepared them for the landfill. My last trip into the garage to place materials into the garbage bin brought a surprise. There, at the foot of the bin, was the largest garter snake I have seen on our land. The snake showed itself in full, then disappeared into the sideboards. I have always been taught that garter snakes traverse the boundaries between life and death, often bringing the first notice of a birth to be. I accepted the snake’s appearance as an omen of our cat’s transformation and my heart was lifted, if only briefly. Later still, we asked a friend and colleague to journey to the cat and help him orient toward Home. She assured us he was well on his way.
Friday night we attended Shabbat services and the first night of Yom Kippur. Near us sat our vet. The rabbi’s sermon was on our culture’s rejection of wisdom and the aged. He noted the growing popularity of the idea of slashing services and supports for Elders. He pointed out that instead of speaking of Elders we speak of The Elderly, instead of “Senior Citizens” we say “Seniors”. Our society wishes to know nothing of aging, wisdom, or death, preferring to live in the hope that medical science will soon yield lives of a thousand years. I am aging as is our Rabbi. I am all too aware that growing old in this culture often brings isolation and poverty, along with the inevitable lessening of physical capacity.
Our cat was perhaps 15 years of age (his age remains very much in dispute), moderately old, medically needy, and expensive to care for. Some days we felt burdened by the logistics of his care. Yet he brought a great light into our lives, a kindness and attention that we sorely miss. Through his many trials he showed us the capacity of aging to transform folks for the better, including care givers. He was a blessing.