It’s 4am. I’m sitting in bed, trying my damnedest to fall asleep, but I know it’s not going to happen. My cat, one of two remaining geriatric animals in my home, is sleeping in a chair beside me. She hasn’t left my side except to eat and wander around the house, crying out for attention. I can’t help but feel shame for thinking that the decay-smelling lamentations are a poor substitute for the playful chirps that used to fill my home. Those were the meows of her daughter, Holly. But I’ll never hear those sounds again, because on May 27th, without sign or warning, she died.
On December 25th, 1998 my family came home from Mass to find a parturient cat yowling from under the couch covers. All throughout Christmas dinner we took turns checking in on the unusually runtish Bengal mother as she gave birth to four tiny kittens. Only one of the four was female, Holly, named for the leaf-shaped rosette on her forehead. I’d like to say that she and I were inseparable since birth, but, for a time anyway, my affections were mostly spent on the lion-like alpha male; “my” cat if there ever was. However, over the years Holly and I formed a unique bond, capable of communicating as much as a human and a feline could. She meowed incessantly every time I came home, and twice as much if I had been away for a long time. When she wanted attention she sought me out, and when she wanted to be alone I was happy to leave her be. If my lap was available, then she needn’t look elsewhere for a place to rest. I’m not exactly proud to admit that she, a cat, was best friend, but it’s likely the truth.
Writing this obituary for a cat might tempt people into thinking of me as the young male equivalent of an old cat lady, but I assure you that’s not the case. I write this because I feel incapable of talking about her passing in a way that is both complete and unfiltered. When talking about it, people either cut me off, loose attention, or feel compelled to state that they aren’t cat people. I know a lot of people who, often for good reasons, don’t like cats, or who have had bad experiences with cats. Holly never displayed any behaviors associated with bad cats, other than stealing a warm perch from her mother. My cat was exceptionally personable, unusually expressive, and indomitably affectionate.
In the days leading up to her death, she was distant, but not exceptionally so. On May 26th I noticed her appearance was gaunt; she looked half-starved. She wandered around the house, yowling woefully. In the afternoon I was only concerned, but my concern turned into worry by the evening. She didn’t seem strong when I picked her up; her grip on my shoulder was unusually weak. Her cries seemed to express pain, discomfort, but most of all confusion. I could tell something was wrong. Of the two cats, her mother seemed to be the one who was most frail, and, until that night, we had little reason to suspect anything was wrong with Holly. After a failed attempt to get some food into her skeletal body, I moved her to her favorite chair in the cool basement (at the time I suspected the sharp rise in temperature to be a factor in her weakness). When I dropped her into chair, she remained as I’d placed her. She didn’t adjust herself or attempt to correct her rag doll-like posture. A few minutes later I was watching a live stream of an online show, comfortable and assured that my cat would be stronger come morning.
It was then that I heard Holly wailing in the hallway just outside my room. She had somehow found enough strength to climb two flights of stairs, but not enough to reach my door. I found her collapsed against the wall, moaning in pain. I knew right away that this was bad, and her situation was not going to improve by morning. I typed, “Gotta go, my cat is dying” into the show’s chat, and signed off. At that time Holly was still trying to jump up on things and wander around, and I was afraid she would hurt herself in doing so. To avoid this, I moved her into the bathroom, setting her down on blanket-covered pillows. I sat with her for hours, listening to her wails, watching her wander in circles, grabbing her when she feebly tried to leap onto the toilet. It was taxing to see her this way, but I had already steeled myself for the inevitable.
At one point she put her paw into the bowl of water I put beside her pillows, and dragged it around the room. This behavior was her signature way of drinking water. There were times when the sound of a ceramic dog bowl being dragged across the kitchen tiles was commonplace in our home. But that night she didn’t drink the water. Instead, she put her other paw into the water, then lowered her head until her chin touched the water. I watched her hold this pose for about ten minutes. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to cool herself off, or if her confused mind and compromised instincts were driving her to go through the motions. I stirred her by rubbing a wet thumb on her forehead, and placed her back onto the pillow. She stayed there, her wandering tendency sated, and cried feebly and infrequently. My intent was to stay in the room with her all night, but around 4am I felt it was alright to leave the cramped confines of the bathroom.
I awoke when my mother came downstairs the following morning. Concern for my cat brought me to the bathroom door mere moments after my eyelids were open. The scene within was, to say the least, heartbreaking. Holly was splayed out in front of the shoe box of cat litter I had placed there the night before. Apparently, she was so weak that she was unable to pull herself over the five-inch-high edge. Her wails showed she still had strength, but her limp body was proof that she didn’t have much time. She seemed too weak to even raise her head, or move anything more than her toes. I knew then that she wouldn’t make it through the day, and if she did, it would be a cruelty. I stayed with her, trying to bring what little comfort to her I could provide. At one point I felt the urge to hold her in my arms, but when I lifted her she let out a piercing cry of pain that no healthy cat could ever reproduce. The scream cut me like a razor blade. I lay down beside her for a long time staring into her unblinking eyes, watching ragged breaths issue from her open mouth.
At around 8am I texted my brother that my cat had had some sort of stroke, blood clot, or heart attack, and that she was going to die soon. I had made plans to visit him that day, and, all things considered, I was disappointed to cancel the trip. At 10am he received another text confirming that she had passed. We brought the mother cat in to see her daughter, but she simply sneezed a few times, giving no indication of being aware of the nature of the scene before her. I didn’t want to delay any of the cleanup or burial; there was no sense in dragging out what needed to be done. I dug a hole near the trees I had buried my lion-like cat a few years prior. Admittedly, I was genuinely annoyed by the tedium of the dig, and my mood was sour disappointment. If this was fiction, I would write something along the lines of, “my tears mixed with the rain as it pelted the exposed earth.” But, it was sunny, and I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t sad. If anything I was grateful that it was over quick; she didn’t suffer long. I even joked a bit when I placed Holly’s shroud-wrapped body into the hole, mockingly scolding her for not moving her stiff legs into position. I covered the plot with stones sourced from around my yard, and went inside. No words were spoken by me then.
Later that day, my brother stopped by, and our family spent a few hours together. I was glad my brother made the trip over because his free time is so valuable, and spending the day by myself after my cat’s passing made me uncomfortable. Requesting to reschedule the trip after I’d already canceled also seemed awkward. “Well, the cat just died, so we can hang out now,” was not something I would feel right saying. We settled on seeing a movie that night, but, keeping in fashion with his busy schedule, my brother had to leave soon after he had arrived. He was trying to adopt kittens, and after months of diligence and waiting, his luck had finally paid off. It was a now-or-never situation, so he sped off to pick up his two tiny balls of fluff. I chalk it up to coincidence that he picked up cats on the same day that mine had left, but everyone else thinks it was some fate-related circle-of-life thing. Side note: the new X-Men movie was really good. You should stop reading this and go see it.
Later that night I stood next to my cat’s grave. “Fuck you, cat,” I said. You weren’t supposed to die, I thought. You weren’t old, and you were healthy, I thought. A few days ago you were alive and happy. “Fuck you, cat.” Holly was my best friend, and I was bitter that she died so unexpectedly. When people offer their condolences I simply say, “it is what it is.” That’s how I genuinely feel about it. It’s easy for me to move on from death because that’s just how I am. Although, I admit, sometimes I half-expect to see her sitting on my bed, or imagine her darting past me. She was a good cat, and I’ll miss her.