I opened my front door Thanksgiving morning and called “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”
My 14-year-old cat, FatBoy had been missing 18 hours. I was up late in the night looking for him. He never went far, hanging around our shady front porch, but most eating (thus his name) and sleeping in various windows, beds, and closet corners throughout the house. No answer. No meow. I was in full worry mode. I’m no stranger to death. I know that losing a pet isn’t like losing a parent or spouse, or child but nothing in me wanted to go through this again. Not today. Not Thanksgiving.
My husband and I took our bikes and began to ride around the neighborhood calling him.
And then I saw him.
My husband threw down his bike and got to FatBoy before I did. His hands went to his heart. He ran half way to me, turned and back to FatBoy, then back to me–not knowing what to do.
And then he held his arms open and I folded into his chest and cried.
We’ve been through so much together. He held me when my adoptive Daddy died, the big teddy-bear hero who gave me a home and made the world right again. I held him when his brother-in-law died in a head-on car crash. Bill swerved the car and spared the life of his wife and daughter. My husband identified the body. I held him at four in the morning when he returned from the morgue and collapsed in my arms. He held me when my mother died after years of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, when exhaustion gave way to release gave way to void. He sat beside me on a sailboat as we helped to scatter a dear friend’s ashes into the sea, feeling our own mortality. We’ve stood side-by-side as we witnessed the death of friends, family, and yes, our beloved pets and remembered their lives in that bitter-sweet time of letting go. I can barely grasp what it would be like to lose him. I can’t even let myself glimpse into that sorrow.
Who would hold me? Who would I hold?
I’ve learned a thing or two about death. I’ve learned to not stop the pain, the tears. I’ve learned to accept the love, the support.
I stayed with FatBoy while Phillip went back and got a blanket. He was in a garden behind a small white picket fence. I call this particular neighbor’s house the Thomas Kincaid house. His paintings are warm cottages with trees and shade, and dappled sunlight. It was quiet, a little cool. I could sit with him. Be with him. I wasn’t afraid or nervous. It was just him and me.
My husband dug a hole in the backyard and we decided to bury FatBoy under my Buddha statue. I bought the laughing buddha for my birthday last May–did I somehow know? I laid my sweet, chubby, always there for me kitty into the earth and sprinkled the first handful of cool, moist dirt on top. I wanted to do this.I was fully alert and present. It wasn’t like Daddy’s funeral. I was 23, so young, so scared. I turned away when they lowered him into the ground. Today, I don’t need to turn away.
It felt right–for him to die in a garden and be buried in a garden. In the spring he’ll be surrounded by cannas and irises and calla lillies. There’s a windchime in a Live Oak nearby.
Our youngest daughter joined us. She hugged me–full body. We held on to each other, neither of us in a hurry to let go. Our middle daughter arrived for the day’s festivities. She’s the director of a massage therapy school and could charge for her hugs, they’re so good. I felt my muscles give way, and then her husband–a former wrestler with a wide chest and strong biceps curl around the two of us. My friend, Laura arrived and ran to me. She has four cats, and we cried and cried.
I’m tired of holding it all in. Tired of trying to be strong. Tired of keeping it all together. Each person, their arms, shoulders, necks and kisses comforted me. I allowed each of them to minister to me, feed me, be my strength.
We all pulled the meal together, sat down at the table and took hands. And I realized that it was good day for a death–I was surrounded by people I loved and who loved me.
The love that surrounds a death is healing. It’s comes in time. You’re ready when you’re ready, when life has brought you here. It will come.