Our Cat’s Passing: Lessons in Aging and Death

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.Autumn SunsetOn 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.

7 thoughts on “Our Cat’s Passing: Lessons in Aging and Death

  1. Again, I am sorry for your loss. Those who love and keep animals endure much pain along the way do to their illnesses and deaths. Once it was so painful for me that I was directed towards a writer whose name I wish to say is Michelle Small Wright (and that could be wrong). She is American and I think has gardens in Virginia like those in Findhorn. This was so long ago it is hard to remember. I do know that I found solace in her words regarding the dying of animals, after losing a particular animal. Animals had spoken to her about how they die. When I read this a new understanding came to me that eased my pain.

  2. Thank you. Reading this brings new peace about my former cats’ last moments… even about my husband’s somehow. I often forget how their presence in my life transformed me, and how we transformed each other. This is what remains in the end.

  3. thanks michael for sharing and i’m sorry to hear about his passing. what was your cat’s name? i remember when my dog, moochie, passed away when i was around 20 when i was away from home. i was beside myself with sadness for the longest time. she was a rez mutt and the smartest little hunting dog who could sniff out any game. she was sensitive and intuitive. i guess that’s the gift our pets give us. i learned so much from her. and she became my best friend after all my cousins moved away. i can see her in my mind as clear as day. it was just the other day that i was telling one of my neighbors about her – it’s been almost 20 years! she’s still with me in my memories as is your cat with you and your wife.

    1. Vera, his name was Windsor. He had a brother named Addison. The cats were picked up by our vet as strays and liter mates. They looked remarkably like Holstein cows, a breed popular here in Vermont. The vet named them after the two Vermont counties with the most cows. They were both remarkable teachers and companions. Windsor outlived his brother by several years. His passing leaves a large empty place in our home, and he is, and will continue to be, missed.

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