Honoring a friend...

Copright © 2005 Daniel V. Klein

My beloved cat "Thing" died on September 15 of this year. He was 9 years old, just about to the day. And in writing this, I see the word "beloved", and realize that that word has been so overused as to lose much of its significance – it has grown hackneyed and banal. Yet "beloved", at its core, still carries with it the dark power of some other words, like "bewitched" and "enthralled". Words that import a somber and solid feeling. And truly, Thing was beloved. I dearly loved him, he was my dearest, my heart, my soul. Every time I saw him trotting out to meet me, when he raised his head and tail in recognition of me, or when he "whumped" down next to me as I lay down to sleep, my heart beat easier, my breath came lighter, and my soul felt at ease.

When my wife left me, I used to jokingly call him "my blood pressure medicine", for indeed any time I held him in my arms, I relaxed. And I also knew, as any pet "owner" knows, that my love was returned and redoubled. People who do not know cats may scoff, and say that he was only in it for the food. And it is true that some cats are aloof, skittish, or just plain ornery. But not Thing. He made friends easily, and no one who met him ever doubted that he loved me – I certainly never did!

I could go on about his life, but that is another story, another time. This story is about the day after he died, and a gift I was given that rocked my soul. It all happened two weeks ago, but it is still vivid...

I'm actually doing pretty okay now. I still miss him terribly, of course, but after he died I had a mystical experience, a life-changing experience... I assume that he died of a heart attack – he had a heart murmur, and from all the physical evidence and lack of trauma to his body, I think something spooked him, he ran, then lay down and stretched... and his heart just stopped. It was all over very quickly and painlessly. I think he died sometime on Thursday, and he came to me in a dream on Thursday night. In my dream, I found him, gently chastised him, and picked him up and held him close. I hardly ever remember my dreams, and I had never dreamed of him before... yet this dream was very physical, I felt him...

We found him at about 11am on Friday, and that was pretty awful, but I kept telling myself "I am so grateful that I found him". His fur was still soft and lustrous. He was stiff, but newly dead – not bloated, not fly infested, eyes gone, not broken or bloody – none of the myriad nightmare ways that I could have found him – just cold and stiff, but still my boy... (this is hard... I have said all of these words to myself many times, but this is the first time I have let them out...). But I found him, and I carried him home, hugging him to my chest the way that he loved, and I felt the echo of that dream. I laid him in the swing chair on the back porch (he used to sleep in it) and I sat with him for a while, then on the kitchen floor, and finally (reason and logic be damned!), I carried him up to my bed, and lay with him for an hour – and finally took him to a funeral home that also does animal cremations.

That night, a cat walked across the bed. It wasn't Azhyet (she's too old to jump onto the bed anymore) and it wasn't Dybbuk (because no cat jumped off the bed, and she never stays). But I felt a cat walk across the bed!

The next day, he was everywhere, and we could "see" him. And I lay down on the bed, and patted my chest (my way of telling him "c'mere"), and he did. As a "rational scientist", I have no way of explaining what happened next, and I frankly don't care if I can or not. Because he sat on my chest, and I was filled with love. I was a sponge, and no matter how much I tried to soak up, I was filled to overbrimming. Love and affection bubbled out of my chest, and spilled over the sides, and I was awash in it. I was filled and overfilled, and I glowed with the blessing of... of I don't know what. Thing was there, on my chest. But for lack of a better description, God touched me, and held my heart.

We are all manifestations of God – all creatures, all nature, everything is a physical manifestation of whatever "God" is. God is us and we are God. I have believed that for a very long time – I'm very pantheistic in my beliefs, and the only way I can explain what happened to me is in those terms. Because Thing came to me, and held me that way I held him, and it was all okay again.

He'd wait for me while I was in the shower, and he couldn't wait to jump up on me after I'd put my robe on to dry off. He snuggle in, and purr, and be "velcro boy", and I would hold him to my chest, and do the "daddy rock" (mommies tend to bounce up and down, daddies tend to rock back and forth or rotate side to side – that last one was me), and I'd look at the joy on my face in the mirror, and I'd look at Thing snugged up against me, and I'd think "I am the happiest man in the world, and I am the luckiest man in the world". Because the love at that moment was palpable. The love was always there – but it was strongest at times like that.

Those moments were a candle flicker compared to the spotlight glare of feeling that washed over me as I lay on the bed – and it inundated me for 45 minutes or more, until I finally forced myself to roll over and sit up. I could have lain there all day, wrapped and enveloped in that love.

And people would ask me how I was, and I would try to explain to them what had happened – I felt that glow for hours afterwards – and I'd tell them that I was okay, and I'd ask them "After experiencing something like that, how can I be sad? How can I possibly be sad?" And there would be tears in my eyes, but I would feel joyful and at peace.

It took more than 3 years after Oscar died before I could get another cat. Part of that was that I was wracked with guilt at having not been there when he died – I was in Denver on a job, and was gone for the month. And if I ever failed to thank Donna (my ex-wife) enough for being there when he died, and for taking care of him at the end, please let me publicly apologize and say how grateful I am that he had someone as loving and caring as she was to be with him. But I nevertheless felt terrible, and terribly guilt ridden.

While Thing was still lying on the swing chair, I resolved to get another pair of kittens. I still miss Thing terribly, and I still catch myself checking the back porch before I come inside, or in all of his usual sleeping places before I go to bed (with one exception, when he got locked in a closet downstairs overnight, he slept with me every night of his life that I was home). But part of the wonder and mystery of that Saturday morning experience was that he was telling me "yes, of course – get another cat, I'll be in him, too".

Animal Rescue League has 3 beautiful, smart, gray tabby boys. But we don't want to split them up, and getting 3 new kittens may be a bit too much to handle. I secretly hope that someone takes one of the kittens, so we can take the other two... But I'm doing okay, and I'll get new kittens soon, these or others...

Thing's ashes are on the night table next to my bed. I MISS HIM SO MUCH! His raw physicality, his unambiguous and unequivocal love – and I am very sad right now, writing this all out... but I'm doing okay... Part of that comes from allowing the process of grief and healing to happen, and not to second guess anything I may have wanted to do in his honor (example: I compiled a list of my silly nicknames for him – I'm up to 30 and counting).

And part of it is because of the inexplicable, utterly unfathomable, undeniable manifestation of his/our/my love, that transcendant moment when he healed my broken heart.