Saying goodbye to Stripes

I don’t know how to spend these last few hours with you, because whatever we do it will never be enough.

You, curled up warm on my lap, with your tail over your eyes and your smooth wet nose. You, now chirping and tilting your head in the way that invites me to scratch the side of your sweet face, whiskers sprouting from speckled cheeks, before you bury it with a contented sigh under one useless rear leg, hiding the sad crumpled ear that remains from the hematoma which began this downward slope that we’re still slipping down, so nearly at the end of.  You slowly close your eyes, and settle into sleep, leaving only the gentle rise and fall of your grey flank and an undercurrent of happy vibration.

It’s hard to fathom that after today I won’t be able to stroke the impossibly downy shock of white at your chest, which, just occasionally, you lift your little pointed chin to reveal, for me to admire and pet; nor trace the faint stripes on your legs that caused a child to give you the simple name by which we’ve known, loved and called for you these ten years; nor feel the soft but insistent touch of your outstretched paw on my hand or chest or face as you ask for more attention, more affection. You’ve always known what you like and don’t like, want and don’t want, and have perfected the art of communicating your displeasure to us with your tail and the odd warning nip, your desires and pleasure through the varying intensity of your purring, through the little noises, movements and “high fives.” You have wanted my affection and I’ve happily given it, but you have given me so much in return. Even your asking is a gift, showing me how simple it can be to love and ask to be loved. I always knew that if I sat or lay down on the sofa in your presence and pulled up a fluffy blanket, you would invariably jump up and begin your purring, your settling, your demanding. It’s nice to be wanted like that. Nice to have a warm little body to nap with on a Sunday afternoon, knowing we’re both enjoying the experience as much as each other.

You move in my lap and now you are a tangle of long limbs, white paws and warm pink pads. I know they are normally warm because the vet asked me to check them – on the phone in a panic after we found you with your back legs dragging behind you – and they were cold as ice. I knew that wasn’t good. Though you survived that night against all odds, blood clots staying away from your heart and finally dispersing from your lungs and haunches, the damage was already done.

I don’t want you to go. But this crippled stumbling is no way for you to live, raw patches appearing on the top of the feet you’re still dragging.

I’m glad, though, that you had ten years in which to spend almost all the warm or even just snow-less months outside, and that you had our woods to explore – climbing trees, chasing squirrels, finding spots in the yard to stretch out, in sun or shade depending on the day, and sometimes just sitting up tall surveying your territory, proud queen of the back yard, alert to every noise, smell and sound, ears twitching and nostrils flaring as you took it all in. You weren’t wholly ours out there. You were wild and free and in your element. You didn’t like to be carried or cuddled. But when we ate or sat outside you would saunter up and lie down nearby – close but not too close. You loved to follow me down to the clothesline and watch me as I pegged out the laundry, often taking a break to scratch your claws on the closest tree trunk. And it always made me happy when you’d decide to jump up onto the hammock as I lay in it, even deigning to lie down with me for short stretches, but preferring to rest underneath its shade. Close but not too close.

Thank you for wanting to be with us.

Thank you for being ours for this time.

(We won’t mention those few weeks last summer when you forgot you were ours and went to hang out with the people down the street!)

Thank you for being what you are, just a cat, so in the moment, and making me want to be more fully myself – just a woman, a human – making me want to cultivate the immediacy, un-self-conscious presence, generosity and simplicity that I’ve seen in you. When I came to prayer and you came to join me, you were a picture for me of the Divine Presence seeking me out, and as you settled trustingly into my open lap you also imaged for me the way in which I needed to settle into that Presence with trust and surrender.  Thank you. I hope I remember this without the icon you embodied.

My writing has disturbed you and your head comes up to see, green eyes and wide dark pupils watching. So I stroke your back and sides, and your purring predictably grows instantly louder. You are shameless in your pursuit of what you love and in the expression of your delight, and I thank you for this lesson, too.

My delight is in the feel of your fur under my palm and fingertips, the softest silk I know. I will miss this. Miss you.

In the words of the little poem my Dad wrote when our family cat Misty – grey like you – died of old age: “How can it be that a cat can so entwine itself around my heart?” And you have. You are. Entwined.

I loved my first cat Joanna with a fierce love despite her wild nature and constant running away, and I sang to bring her back and sacrificed my fluffy blue sweater to her pawing and sucking. I loved her daughter Misty for her faithfulness and intelligence, the sweet smell of hay on her fur from her barn-roaming, and her special miaow of greeting which sounded exactly like a human “hello!” But perhaps my heart has grown or softened over the years, because I love you more. You are the best and sweetest cat I have ever known. You’ve been my daughter’s cat from toddler-dom to adolescence and you’ve helped make our house a home with your warm presence and affection.

As I stroke you, you move to offer me the gift of your exposed belly – white and beige and fluffy – and you purr impossibly loudly as I bury my fingers in its softness. In this vulnerable position you are both oh-so-happy and also slightly wary, instinctively ready to protect yourself. But your instincts can’t tell you that this is your last living, breathing, purring, sleeping, stretching day. The fact that I know and you don’t is hard to bear – the choice is ours alone, a heavy burden – but your unawareness also, paradoxically, makes the decision easier, even inevitable. You don’t know and can’t choose; we are responsible for you and you trust us. It has to be this way.

I’m sorry.

You’re looking at me but my tears don’t mean anything to you. My sadness, too, is mine alone. I want to hide my wet face in your soft side, but I know from an attempt earlier this week that you don’t like that! So I won’t.

Shall we have one last nap together instead? I didn’t sleep well and I’m getting tired already. Let’s do that.

Then I’ll make myself some lunch and you can sit outside with me in the sun – your last day a sunny one as you’d like it – enjoying the grass and watching birds and insects and the play of the wind in the trees, and I’ll feed you some smoked salmon scraps I saved for you, a final meal fit for a queen. Afterwards I’ll carry you down to the clothesline (you let me carry you outside these days, though a little reluctantly) and we can take the laundry in together. I expect I’ll always think of you when I do that. And I wonder how long I’ll expect to see you trotting down the slope of the driveway as I reverse the car in, so you can greet me with a miaow and ask me to open the front door for you. Or how long I’ll think I see your shape jump up onto the narrow lip of the kitchen window and wait there – patiently, resignedly, slightly put out – to be noticed and let in for some food.

The house will feel so empty of you.

And I guess soon I’ll have to find a home for the things you won’t need anymore, the food you won’t eat.

But now it’s time for me to put down my pen, let go of the always inadequate words, and just be with you the way you know how to just be with me. Now is all you know; for you, it is enough. And in the midst of my futile grasping for forever, you show me that now is all I really have as well.

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Last Sunday nap with Stripes and “the demanding paw!” 🙂

 

Selfie with Stripes!

 

Enjoying the garden one last time

 

Always seeking the sun

 

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