I put my best friend down this week. He was quite active most of his life, even his last, his 18th. According to the chart in the waiting room at the vet, an 18 year old cat is in the geriatric stage of his life. He was 88 in human years, yet he’d still play with string or chase a light beam across the floor. When he was a kitten, I discovered that he’d play fetch. You could take a small piece of paper, crinkle it, his face would light up and then he’d chase it after thrown … he’d jump, pick up the ball with his mouth and bring it right back. I didn’t teach him this, he just did it one day to my surprise. We had been doing this together for almost two decades, since I was in my twenties. He was the best companion you could have expect from a dumb little cat. This week, I paid a man to inject chemicals into him that would cause him to exit this mortal coil in a humane fashion. I cannot help but hate myself a little even though I know it was the right thing to end his suffering. I have survivors guilt, it seems.
In 1992, I had been living in the Boston area for about a year. I had moved to Boston not only to start a new life but to get away from the old one. Like many Americans, like Gatsby, I had a plan to reinvent myself and a big vibrant city is a fine place to accomplish this task. I did not plan on the loneliness. I became a Big Brother and one day, I decided to get a cat at the Dedham Animal Rescue League. I let my little brother, Angel, pick the cat. He chose the one that was meowing the loudest, a white domestic short hair with some patches of gray and brown. I had always wanted a cat named Hamlet due to the neurotic nature of the Dane. He had been found in a Burger King dumpster by a BK employee and brought to the shelter so he always had a link to royalty. He not only gave me companionship but he gave me someone to come home to and someone to be responsible for. It gave me a strength from a source that I didn’t expect. It allowed me to stop concentrating on myself for a little each day. The moment I brought him home was probably the moment I started to grow up.
In the 18 years I had him, he had moved with me many times from Dedham to Brighton to Watertown to Concord to Roslindale to Burlington Vermont then to my first house in Monkton and now to Westford where he lies in a grave in my yard. He was always an outdoor cat. I have never believed in keeping cats captive inside. I find it amazing that he died of his kidneys failing and not getting hit by a car or eaten by a predator. He never really went far from the house. The furthest he ever went here in Westford is when he went out to the mail box with me. He’d follow me to the road and then follow me back. This is just one of the events I do each day in which I miss him now. When I am not thinking about him, I see a white spot off the corner of my eye and I think it is him. I feel him at my feet when I am sleeping and expect to awaken with him on my chest. When I work with my laptop, on my deck, I swear I can always hear him. Disappointment, a sense of loss, grief … it is daily now. My fondest memory of Hamlet’s adventures outside is one day, when I lived in Brighton, I stepped off the bus on my commute home and walked through the parking lot behind the Dunkin’ Donuts. As I approached I saw a big group of pigeons walking around in a big circles. “What is happening here?” I asked myself. I walked a bit further to see some donut pieces lying on the pavement “Why are the pigeons not eating the donuts?” I walked further to see the entire circle of pigeons with Hamlet in the middle of the circle watching. It was quite funny. He was like a lion, the king of the beast, on the serengeti. He was that beautiful.
In the spirit of this Blog, what I learned today (not just today but this week) is what a true sense of loss is. You could consider me lucky in that in my middle age, this is the first time I feel a sense of loss due to the death of a loved one. I know it sounds impossible. My grandparents died when I was very young. My mother’s death lasted a decade in which she suffered from a stroke. We lost her in steps which made the grieving experience less sudden. The long time allowed for gradual healing. You could also say one of the reasons why I haven’t lost anyone close to me because I don’t have many people in my life I am very close to. I am closer to my pets than I am to most people. When I was a kid, I asked for a puppy every Christmas. If they had only known that they could returned all my toys for just one pet that I could call my own. It wasn’t until I was older and had my own place that I could actually have a pet of my own. It has been almost a week and I have already gotten into the habit of going for a walk to his grave with one of my dogs each morning. It is a nice little spot at the top of a hill with a pile of rocks scattered with wildflower seeds. I have never understood until now why anyone would visit a grave. It is just a way to keep someone you miss in your life, however faint. Life is cruel and we cling to those that make it less so however unfulfilling that pile of rocks is.