He used to visit when my mother was alive but she shooed him away, not because she did not like cats, but because she was scared she might trip over him. After she died, every time I came to the house he would visit. By the time I moved in, he seemed to have already decided that this was where he wanted to be. I reopened the old cat flap so he could come and go as he pleased. Every time I came home from one of my adventures or from working in the city, he would be close by, waiting for my return with long stories and much purring.
Everybody knows that cats are fickle, that they have a cavalier attitude to human ideas of ownership and territory, and generally do what they please. After a few awkward situations with the people in the house where he used to live, at Easter this year it was decided by all concerned that I should become his keeper, so that his attachment to this house and the responsibility for his care be made more formal. He continued however to visit his old house from time to time, as well as others in the neighbourhood, and when we were away, neighbours gladly fed him.
The company of a cat during illness and recovery is always positive. After recent radiotherapy I spent a lot of time in bed. The cat was always with me, purring gently or uttering little sleepy noises, curled up on the bed beside me or on the chair in the corner. With this new phase in my journey, I was looking forward to continuing comfort from my feline friend, particularly as from time to time I took to my bed in order to deal with my body’s deteriorating abilities and the increasing stiffness, pain and incapacity bone metastasis seems to be delivering.
But alas. Yesterday morning we received word that he had been killed on a nearby road and that his body was in safe keeping with neighbours.
Grief is such a selfish emotion. All I can think of is how on earth I am going to get through to my own demise without his companionship; how can I leave home now knowing that when I return he will not be here waiting in one of his places; how will I be able to face the loneliness of the coming journey without the comfort of soft paws, tickly whiskers and deep purring; how can I carry on at all knowing that one day my lovely wife, my friends and family will have to face this crippling pain?
We laid him out in the shed and lit candles, then when the stars were out we buried him under a rowan tree in the garden. Resident populations of small birds and rodents will undoubtedly benefit from the departure of their nemesis, and the local sparrowhawk will be relieved by the loss of a competitor, but the human beings are all devastated.
The passing of an animal companion is always difficult to endure, particularly when it is sudden and violent. Even though it is obvious that an animal is capable of deep feelings towards human beings, that it can communicate and persuade human beings to do stuff, we still never know whether the animal knows about death, or the fragility of life, what a precious gift this is. At least when a human being dies we can talk about it, and know that even if it turns out to be sudden and violent, we human beings know that one day we all will die.
So, goodbye Mr Pussycat, Garfield, Sunpuddle, Turmeric, Mango, Ryzhiy, Puss and all the other names you went by. Thank you for always being at home, waiting patiently and keeping the place warm for our return. Thank you for looking after me when I have been unwell and for raising my spirit when I have been low. Thank you for the lessons I have learned because you came into my life, about being alive and letting go of my peculiarly human prejudices. Most of all, thank you for the love.