Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Death of my cat

Jingles just last month, in her favorite place - my lap.

I don’t think there’s any way you can really prepare yourself for the passing of a loved one. When the loved one is a cat, folks may say things like, “She had a good life. She was one of the lucky ones.” They mean well and they’re usually right. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

Last night was the first night in years that my cat Jingles didn’t sleep on my pillow. That’s been her preferred spot since I brought her home twelve years ago as an injured stray. Even in those early days when she was thumping around the house in her purple cast, she managed to hop up on my bed then and curl up on my pillow as if to say, “This is My Spot. And you are mine.”

Larry had told me I could keep her until she was healed, but I think we both knew she wasn’t going anywhere.

I woke up about 2 a.m. this morning to find Jingles missing from Her Spot. I groped around for her and then got up to look for her. I finally found her in the bathroom cabinet. Sometimes she goes in there to get away from things, and normally I just haul her out. I don’t know why I didn’t this time. It was as if she were putting out “leave me be” vibes. So I did.

When the alarm clock went off at about 5:30 Larry got up as usual. About three minutes later, just as I was about to doze back off I heard a horrible cry. Alex came running in obvious panic.

 “Mom, I hear an animal crying! What is it?” 

We thought something was attacking the goats; that’s how loud it was. Then I realized it was coming from Alex’s room, from under her desk.

I found Jingles in a full seizure and I knew right away she was dying. My sister’s cat, Ivan, died of a stroke several years ago and what I saw was a lot like she described.

I cried out and picked Jingles up. She was cold and drooling. Her pupils were fixed and dilated. I kept telling her I was there, that I wouldn’t let her die alone. Alex started crying and Larry came running in.

I took Jingles into the living room and sat down on the couch. She cried out and seized a few more times, and while I’m not a religious person I summoned whatever connection I have with the Divine and communicated just one thought: "Don't let her suffer. I can accept that she has to leave, but I can't accept seeing her hurt like this."

And then, just like that, she kind of relaxed.

“I’m going to take her to our chair,” I said, referring to the recliner where I start each day working on my laptop. Jingles always sits in my lap when I do. Recently, after she jumped on my keyboard, got her claw hung under the “B” key and pulled it off (I still need to get that fixed) I learned to type with the cat in my lap and the Mac balanced on the arm of the chair. Jingles was all about being accommodated.

She had a purr like a motorboat, and this morning that was all that was missing. She didn’t look like a dying cat. She just looked like she was sleeping. After a few minutes the labored breathing slowed to become deep sighs. I think she knew we were there, all of us, because by this time – one by one – our other cats came in to sit at different points around the room as if paying respect to their friend.

And then she died.

It was about six o’clock, and shortly afterwards Lucas came in. He cried and cried when we told him, and came over to give Jingles a few posthumous “dot-to-dot rubs” (what he calls head-to-tail strokes) as Alex scratched her around the ears and above her little bob tail. Jingles especially liked those "butt scratches." The base of her spine was her sweet spot, and she’d throw back her head in ecstasy when we did that.

We spent some time comforting each other; it was especially hard for Lucas. He’s never known life without Jingles, and this was his first experience with Death.

We talked for a bit about what to do with the body. Jingles was still on my lap, looking – and still feeling – like she was just asleep. Larry offered to have her cremated and I considered that - having Jingles forever interred in a little cat urn on my shelf.  But I'm frugal, and ultimately decided that I preferred to bury her in the flower bed by the front door, beside the Lady Banks Rose.

I told Larry I’d just hold her while he dug the grave. While he did, the kids made farewell cards for Jingles. Alex drew three little portraits of Jingles and Lucas drew one. His rendering gave Jingles a long, giraffe-like neck. I don’t now how she would have felt about that one. We tucked the cards between her paws.

Alex offered to take a few pictures. She's turning into quite the little historian. Like me, she feels that everything needs to be documented, even the sad stuff.

"You can delete them later if you don't want them," she said. But I never will. Jingles death, like her life, is now part of our family's tapestry.

Last time going to sleep in my lap.

Farewell cards. Farewell, cat.

My 18-year-old son, John, is blessedly not here today. He’s autistic and Jingles is one of the living  things in his life that he truly loves. I don’t look forward to telling him that she’s gone. I don’t really know how I’m going to do it, in fact. There’s more to think about when a cat dies than you realize.
John and Jingles on Sunday, two days before she died. John, who is autistic, adored Jingles. 

Years ago I heard Garrison Keillor recite a poem called “In Memory of our Cat, Ralph,” in which he recounted the passing of his own beloved feline friend. The line I remember most was something about “that warm weight missing from our laps.” As I sat there holding my recently departed kitty, the dread of burying her grew exponentially with each passing moment. Because once she was off my lap I’d never feel that sensation again. Only cat people understand that every cat feels different, and Jingles felt the best of all. Her fur was warm and dense, and she purred so deeply that she practically vibrated. Sometimes I swear she'd purr so hard her whiskers would shake. And more often than not when I looked down at her she’d be staring at me through half-opened lids, her blue eyes telegraphing the message, “This is nice.”

And it was. It was so nice.

Larry came back in before I was ready, but even if he’d spent the day digging no time would have really been right for what I now had to do.

“OK,” he said and I stood, cradling Jinges with those homemade cards still stuck between her paws. My legs felt shaky and my stomach hurt from grief as I walked outside.

Alex had lined the grave with a piece of pink netting that she'd found. The dark of the soil was visible through the netting, and when I laid Jingles down the light parts of her fur looked so bright against the darkness of the hole. For a moment I wanted to pick her up, to hold her just one more time. But I didn’t. I'd had my goodbye, had been able to hold her and comfort her as she slipped away. She'd given me that, and I was grateful.

So I knelt, crying, and scattered soil over her body until I couldn’t see her any more. Larry finished filling the grave, tears running down his face as he finished burying the cat he’d joked would never die.

I won’t go into all the other things I’ll miss about Jingles. We give our pets voices and personalities and Jingles talked to us – or through us – so much that it’s going to be hard to get out of character. Or to get the character of her out of us. Last year I even made her an ordained minister.

It’s almost nine o’clock now, Jingles has been dead a full three hours and I’m sitting here watching this litter of farm cats we took in rip around the living room. There are four of them, and last week we added a fifth kitten someone had dumped in our ditch – a coal black kitty we dubbed Pookah. Today is the day I’ll put them all on Craigslist so they’ll get a chance to become beloved pets, to hopefully bring someone the joy that Jingles gave me.

“You could keep one,” Alex suggested this morning when I was asking myself out loud what the hell I was going to do now that Jingles was gone. “You could find the one that likes to sit in your lap and keep that one.”

If it could only be that simple, but cats are like people. They just can’t be replaced and I’m quite sure I’ll never find another one like Jingles. But that’s OK. Having just one Jingles in my life was probably more than I deserved anyway.

So now, with an empty lap and a heavy heart, I move ahead. Because that’s really all I can do.

Update: It's occurred to me that this may be my Most Depressing Post Ever. My beloved Andrea has informed me that it made her cry, which was not my intention. I'm sure the Dead Kitty pictures didn't help. So for balance here are some awesome pictures from when Jingles was alive and doing what she did best - terrifying Frodo the Dachshund and then Making Nice with him.


Andrea said...

I'm so sorry to hear such sad news this morning. This totally made me cry. And even though I'm only an online friend (so far), I care about your family and I really feel for this loss of yours. I'm glad that Jingles knew your love in her life.

**hugs to your family**

Morgan said...

Thanks, Andrea. That means so much to me.
I'm sitting here trying to get some work done but it feels so weird not having Jingles on my lap. I just looked over and got a start to see one of my other cats; from the back she looked like Jingles. I guess I'm going to have a lot of those moments.

Andrea said...

Please don't worry about me, I'll be ok. Thanks for the additional pictures though...it helps to see Jingles throw down and then get cuddly :)

Morgan said...

Jingles was all about the Throw Down. Sometimes she went a bit too far. An example is the Great Parakeet Massacre of 2000. We'd had these parakeets for over a year and she'd never showed any interest in them. Then one day we came back from town to find that she'd killed them, beheaded them and tried to hide the evidence in the litter box. And it's not like she could blame the other cats, either. She was the only one with blood and feathers on her face.
Those were the days. Oh, great. Now I'm getting verklempt again....

Christopher said...

It's funny how things that might have upset or annoyed you at the time--like the Great Parakeet Massacre--are the things you look back on with the greatest happiness. They're the moments that make you completely break down and cry because you know they'll never come again. They're the things that make any loved on distinctive, and maybe that's why you hold onto those memories when they're gone.
I can't tell you how sad I feel, and sorry for you I am at the moment. I could say I hope you've never been through this, but, as I'm sure you and even Lucas already know, even if you've never been through this before, these losses never get any easier because each one is different.
Psychologists say there are five stages of grief: anger, denial, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.
What they don't tell us is that the loss of a loved one is like a physical injury. Like an open wound it has to be treated, and, even when it heals, it leaves a scar. I wish I could say something more comforting, but you and all who loved Jingles will carry that scar forever. At least it will always be there to remind you of the love you shared.

Morgan said...

Thanks, Christopher. Your condolences and friendship are appreciated more than you know.

I've always hated the way people push for closure when you're sad. Thanks for not doing that. "Closure" is just a word for, "Hey, your grief is making me uncomfortable. Please get over it."

Right now I'm taking comfort in the small things by telling myself it could have been worse. She could have gotten cancer or kidney failure or something awful like that, necessitating a trip the vet. She hated cars, hated vets, hated leaving home. I'm glad she got to die here in my arms, in my lap.

I don't know what stage of grief I'm in right now. Is "numb" a phase? I dunno. Right now I'm just kind of sitting here afraid to get up because every room I go to won't have Jingles even though I won't be able to stop myself from looking for her.

I didn't promise that loss will ever get easier. I told him the opposite, basically that it's the price we pay for surviving our pets, our friends our family. How's that for an uplifting mother-son talk? I told him it was OK to be sad, that you can't have happy without sad after all. Or life without death. A little while ago he came up to me, his half-eaten orange in his hand and said, "Death is part of nature," and walked away.

Clever lad.

JohnR said...

I'm sorry to hear about your cat, Morgan.

Yes, numb is a phase. You haven't had time to "process" Jingles death.

Ha, "process" is almost as annoying as "closure."

Seriously, Morgan, I am sorry to hear the news.

Morgan said...

Thanks John R. I plan to start processing later today after some of the numb wears off.
In the meantime, thanks for your kindness. Your friendship means so much to me.

Jana said...

I'm sorry to all of your family. Losing a loved one is so very hard. Hugs to you all.

Morgan said...

Thanks so much, Jana. It's been a tough day, but things go on. I took a nap this afternoon and woke up to a kitten purring next to me. That was nice. I really appreciate your support. You are awesome.

laughingwolf said...

so sorry for your loss, hon :'(

i cried too...

bb to all in this difficult time...

r.i.p., little jingles....

Morgan said...

Thanks, Wuff my love. The bright blessings will light my way. Thanks for such sweet words and, yes, even for crying. I hate to cry alone. :-(

Little Jingles is being terribly missed right now. Larry took me out for dinner and that perked me up till we got back home and walked in to Jinglelessness.

It's gonna take some getting used to, methinks.

Micky-T said...

Great story.

Not a happy one for sure, but a great tribute of your family's love of a cat.

The end is always a beginning of something else.

Morgan said...

Thanks, Micky-T. And you are so right. So very right. Last night I couldn't face the notion of a catless pillow so I put that little ditch kitty we rescued in my bed. She purred up a storm and slept nestled in the same spot Jingles used to occupy. It was so soothing, and I felt slightly guilty but then realized Jingles wouldn't mind.

thimscool said...

Morgan, I am so sorry for your loss.

I don't know what else to say. Rest in Peace, Jingles.

It sounds like she was a kindred spirit to my beloved Vixen, who died of kidney failure a few years ago. There's no way to fill the hole this will leave in your lives... reading your account brought fresh tears to my eyes as I relived the pain that I had buried three years ago. Hold your family tight.

Morgan said...

Thanks, Luke. I'm so sorry about Vixen, too. I know I'll move on to have another special kitty who loves me best of all, but Jingles passing will leave a little cat-sized void in my life.
I can still feel her in my arms when I close my eyes. I hope I don't forget that feeling.

Micky-T said...

Good for you, and good for Ditch!


laughingwolf said...

time will help, but you know, also, she'll always be part of you and the rest of your family....

Caroline Grace said...

Big hug!! Your kitty is lucky to have had so much love!

Lu' said...


Morgan said...

I loved her so, Lu. Always will. *sniff*

Ruth said...

My own (or rather my husband's) little cat has just died in much the way you described. He's curled up on a chair as i write looking as if he's just sleeping. We will bury him later today when my husband has come home from work. Comforting to read your account, though I'm crying as I write. Noble little creatures aren't they?

Morgan said...

Dearest Ruth, I just saw your comment. I am so sorry for the loss of your kitty. It is indeed very difficult to say goodbye. It's the one hard thing about having pets. They usually leave first and leave us behind. But still its a small price to pay for the joy they bring us.