Eulogy For My Post-Divorce Cat
The loss of a pet yields a unique type of grief.
Some people’s post-divorce acquisition is a home, other’s a car, but since I got the house and did not need a new car, mine was a cat. It’s a rite of passage for the newly single, perhaps the first time they have made a major purchase solo. Or, as in my case, the first time in a long time.
The cat was not really a solo acquisition. It was my son and me. It was the first big thing we did together post-divorce that was just the two of us.
Eighteen and a half years ago we drove to a double-wide in a slightly more rural area than ours, too close to the city to be country, but too far and wild to be suburban. It felt like an adventure.
She was a beautiful, tiny kitten billed as Siamese, which the mother clearly was, the father clearly not. It was one of those situations where, you’ve come this far, can you walk away kittenless? Of course not. I did not point out that she was obviously only half Siamese. Truth be told, I was a little afraid to question the sellers who didn’t look like they were too interested in bargaining.
Though this was to be a sweet, shared experience, half-way home she peed on my son and he asked if we could take her back. I said essentially that there was no way I was going back there and was quite sure we were not getting our money back.
Oddly, though a person of many cats, I’d never had a cat with fleas before. We had to figure that out, or I did. My son was not having any part of fleas. She was tiny enough to sit on my shoulder and was light as a feather, so she was forgiven the fleas.
Violet was a special girl. Being a post-divorce cat, she helped me through many a long night. Chatty like a Siamese, she never met a stranger. No lap was foreign territory for her. No one could escape her light pounce or refuse her piercing blue eyes.
Incredibly agile, she could leap easily from the table to the island and up to the top of the fridge without losing her footing or balance. My aunts would have been horrified: a cat on the counter!!!
Fearless, she was an indoor cat but liked to go out and explore a bit. When the house next door was being cleaned up, having been gutted by a fire, she thought it was fine to explore the pit; I called and called for her, worried she’d gotten lost or worse, but she was just nosing around.
Violet was a hunter as well. In addition to miscellaneous bugs and lizards, there was the time the other cat brought a chipmunk in as a gift and Violet tore around the house after it. I’m not quite sure what she would have done with it, but in case you’re ever in the same boat, a colander serves quite well as a small animal trap.
Unlike many people, she was never one to hold a grudge. When my son moved away for college, she relished his visits and summers home. Years later she forgave me the many days of meds. Though I did get a couple of scratches, she always pretended she wasn’t really upset with me.
There is not one appropriate way to mourn a person and I believe that the same holds true for pets. Not only do we all grieve differently, every pet is mourned differently.
Two cats saw me through my first marriage, a divorce, graduate school and into my second marriage. One of them I mourned so much harder. I wasn’t with him when he was euthanized and I felt terrible about that. Even now I can get teary thinking of how I failed him, though I know that’s not really the case, and it was over 30 years ago.
That cat was my first big grief. It was bigger than grief over the demise of my first marriage. I was too young to appreciate the deaths of my grandparents, except for my grandfather, and I was far too self-absorbed as a teenager to sufficiently mourn him. I loved him, but we were not close. I did not see him daily, the way the way one sees one’s pets, the way they are woven into the very fabric of our lives.
Not that long ago I lost another cat. I was not present for his euthanasia and felt quite relieved to have missed it. He was a very independent fellow and I suspect he did not mind my absence in the least.
Intellectually, I know that being present at one cat’s demise and not another’s makes no difference to them. They’re not drawing any comparisons. They don’t know what’s in store. It’s a few seconds in their lives which have previously been filled with your caring presence. It’s like missing the precise moment of a person’s death. It does not undo a lifetime of affection and love.
But oh how it can make a difference to us. And perhaps we make too much of it.
Already I can hear the cries of dissent from readers. I know the death of a pet can be incredibly painful, sometimes more difficult than the death of a person, for a variety of reasons. But hear me out.
You’ll have memories and funny stories, like the time Violet got her head caught in the handles of a mini-shopping bag, going after the handmade, palm frond rose from Savannah, running madly around the house until she could be corralled and freed. Or how she always knew, as if she read my mind, precisely when I was getting ready to box her up to go to the vet. So many late cancellations because she could not be extricated from deep beneath something or because she simply vanished.
And there are so many animals out there in need of homes. When you’re ready, and usually it’s a lot sooner than you think, just like dating after divorce comes sooner than you expect, you’ll look around and find another true love.
You’ll give a being in need a loving home.
You’ll move on. If you allow yourself to move on. If you cultivate acceptance.
It doesn’t mean you forget. Like the cat of 30 years ago, I’ll tear up whenever I remember Violet’s last moments, but I’ll remember them far less frequently as time passes, because that’s my plan, my intention. I want to remember more of the happy times. It may take a while, but just like after divorce, life goes on.
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