Our lives ache today. There is a huge, cat shaped hole in my heart. Mr Patches, emperor of the house, our dear friend and companion for many years, is no more. A friend saw him last Thursday when they dropped in to pick something up. And then we didn’t see him again for a couple of days. This was nothing unusual, he was always his own cat – many the times there had been living here when we wouldn’t see him for a few days. I had a bad feeling, after only two nights. I could already feel that emptiness in my life.
Where we live is not the most cat friendly place – we have paralysis ticks, and snakes. He was a snake killer – we must have found half a dozen that he tore to pieces last year – one was a pretty big brown snake, too. It’s not a high percentage game for a cat, playing with snakes. And the ticks. He hated the stuff we put on the back of his neck every two weeks last year, hated it with a passion. Hated it so much that he wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t sit on my lap like he used to. I struggled and struggled with this. It just didn’t feel right to grab him, and force him to have this nasty chemical stuff on his body. He had awful skin issues last year, itching to the point of being scabby all over, and that went away when I stopped giving him the tick treatment too. We talked about it, and decided not to make him have the prevention treatment. We agonised over it. Was it the right thing to do? I think so. His sovereignty demanded it.
Was it a snake? Or a tick? We will never know. It is spring, and the snakes are out and about, and tick season is in full swing too. All I know is that I am sad to the heart of my bones. I loved that big, black and white fellow, and I still do. Beating myself up is pointless, and it really was his choice. He wanted to live, or die, on his terms.
At least, in the last month or two, he forgave me enough to come and sit on my lap a couple of times. Just a couple of times, mind you, and it took a good 4-5 months of not making him have any treatment before he did this. My wife’s lap was still the prime real estate, and he let me know that in no uncertain terms.
I remember the feel of that big purring mass of soft, cuddly warm fur, heavy and liquid. I remember when he was just a scrap of a kitten some 6 years ago, curled up and tiny on my lap, too. I remember then, having an amazing clear vision of him in his last body, when he was Martis, the old black bruiser of a dump cat who came to me on Magnetic Island. Part of my job there was to euthanize the feral cats trapped in the dump. One day this huge black tom cat was carried in with a baby possum clinging to his side. How they both got in there? God knows! He wasn’t a wild human shredding machine like all the other ferals, he was an awesome, friendly fella. I desexed him, and he stayed in the pound for a week or two. When I took him home, he went under the house next door and lived there for a week. Even after that for a while, he wouldn’t stay in the house if we shut the door. He was a free spirit, too. He got a tumour in his nose, and I had to put him to sleep when it got too bad. I cried a river that day, too.
I remember too much, and not enough. I remember watering the plants yesterday, and smelling that sweet foul hint of death. I remember following it to the edge of the garden, where the earth drops away into a bramble of wild raspberry plants. There he was, stretched out, a splash of black and white, melting back into the earth, buzzed with flies. He’d been dead for a few days. I shoveled earth, scraped it up, hard and dry, covered him over with the mothers last embrace. We sat, tears fell, and we placed flowers, bright on the dusty mound, talked about how deeply he had touched our lives, our hearts screaming silently in the background.
I remember looking at his body, and thinking that if I’d only searched the garden better, I might have found him in time, and maybe he’d still be with us. Never mind that I’ve had a crazy busy week – 11 home visits over the Tuesday and Wednesday and then a full day in the hospital on, Thursday, been on call that night, come home on Friday and had to organise one of the series of concerts that I promote that night (had to have a nap in the afternoon just to have enough fuel in the tank to be able to do that), back to the hospital Saturday morning, home absolutely knackered, then another 6 home visits on Sunday, and back to the hospital on Monday (an 11 hour day, with the commute). Yesterday I only had 4 home visits. Then I found him. And he was gone, empty. I remember cleaning out and tidying up my vet van, having to do something, anything, to try and fill the empty hole.
It can’t be filled. It can only be. Empty, aching, and at the same time rich and full of the memories of this wonderful soul, this hole in us that is this king amongst cats, who shared our life. An ultimate paradox. A puzzle without a solution. A cat, a friend, a soul now set free to dance wherever it is we all go at the threshold of life’s ending. I know it is only the end of the physical vessel, a shedding of the body, so the spirit can soar into the vastness of the light that is and informs our very breath.
Perhaps he will dress himself in another body, and come back to us some day in the future. I hope so, how I do…