I had to dig a foot-and-a-half hole in my yard the other day. By myself. It’s one of those solitary events that you read about, but don’t realize how difficult it is until you actually endeavor to get it accomplished. The ground is hard, the soil refuses to move, your hands cramp and you constantly wonder if you’ve gone deep enough. Let’s not mention getting the job finished with tears rolling down your face. It’s possible my neighbors thought I was having some kind of mental collapse across the street, or fighting my rosebushes into submission. In some ways, both misconceptions were correct.
After 17 years together, my cat Poe had died.
I know there are some dog owners out there rolling their eyes; in the constant debate of cats vs. dogs, cats are always considered the lesser animal. But this particular cat was a king of his particular species and ruler of the house. He was a feline born with a human’s soul and social temperament who paraded around the house like Henry VIII in his fur underpants.
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At his prime, Poe weighed in at a whopping 17 pounds, wandered our many FAC crowded get-togethers like he was manning the party, and lounged in the backyard like one of his top-of-the-food-chain tiger relatives, waiting for prey to come to him. We were all his servants. He and my daughter fought for 11 years for the right to claim the third spot in the household, and the fight never ended till the day he died.
His death didn’t surprise me – the poor guy had been in renal failure and steady decline for the last few years. But what surprised me was how much his absence left a gaping hole in our household. Several days after his death, I was still looking for him as I got ready for work in the bathroom, a routine that he never missed from his perch on the tub. My daughter was still expecting him to wander into the living room and demand to be let outside. He hauled small objects – hair ties, swim goggles and occasionally, the wounded or dead mouse – around in his mouth, leaving them in the hallway for me to step upon in the dark morning hours.
The hallway is clean and completely free of debris now; something that makes us scratch our heads and look around in confusion. Because in the cleanliness, there is disorder in our world.
I debated his death and considered the possibilities for closure. In the end, I felt he deserved to be eulogized. Yes, eulogized. Why not? Regardless of his feline status, our relationship had lasted much longer than a small country dictatorship, and shouldn’t that be celebrated? Or the fact that that terrible fall from the third story balcony wasn’t his complete undoing? As I thought about the right words and tried to describe his life in a paragraph, my other female cat, Niya, his lifelong companion, sat in the upstairs hallway and let out what I can only describe as a cat’s version of a “Celtic death wail.” It was a horrible sound, akin to something she used in the past to get Poe to find her when he was alive, but now she was doing it endlessly because he refused to answer her call. My daughter walked around with her hands over her ears, crying. We shouted at Niya to stop, but she refused. Together, we were all in a state of mourning, but Niya was simply more vocal about it.
I posted Poe’s eulogy on Facebook. I included a few pictures. Poe often wandered the neighbors’ backyards, and he would lounge on the porch as friends would sit and drink beers with us. Most of those people responded to the eulogy and posted their regrets. It was like a mini-Internet funeral. We had already planned a small neighborhood get-together the day Poe died. As people rolled in and grabbed beers, I received many kind words and condolences, and it seemed a shame that Poe wasn’t around to wander through the crowd and rub against legs. He always loved a great party.
As we age, and our number of friends shrink and the world becomes very small, isn’t it important to celebrate, animal and human alike, the lives that touched us most and loved us unconditionally? I can’t help but believe that Niya would agree, as she continues her “death keening” from her perch on the second floor, reminding us that a great person has passed, like the heralds of old, announcing the end of the reign of a great king.