The first time I experienced real grief was when my grandpa died in 1996, just five days before my 21st birthday. We knew it was coming. He had been deteriorating for months and finally had to go live in a nursing home.
My second grandparent (Grandma) died almost seven years later. In her case, it was a relief. She was felled by a massive stroke in November of 1998 and spent the last four years of her life in a nursing home. She could not speak coherently, or remember who any of us were. She was a shadow of her former, formidable self.
My last two grandparents passed away within a year of each other. In both instances, I came home from Denver to attend their funerals. As with their previous mates, we knew their end was coming and I think the family was relieved. All four of my grandparents had lived full, happy, fulfilling lives. We shed tears over their passing, but their deaths felt like the natural conclusion to their lives.
I grieved for all four of my grandparents when they passed, but it was a gentle grief. In my life, I have experienced other forms of loss that have resulted in grief. The move from Denver to Omaha would certainly qualify as a loss. The loss of friendships, break-ups with certain girlfriends, the loss of our family pet dog, Yogi.
But I have never experienced anything like the grief I feel over the loss of Mags.
One month ago today, I took her to the vet and made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of the alleviation of her pain and suffering. 13 days after that, Dana went with me to the Completely Cat Clinic one last time so I could reclaim her ashes. They are in a beautiful wooden box with her name printed on top. I placed them on my bookcase right next to the clock, just as I said I would.
Sometimes, I randomly walk over to her box and just touch it. It is a comfort to me to know that her ashes are nearby. Even more of a comfort to me is her kitty bed, which rests against the pillows on my bed, exactly where she would often lie when she was next to me. Her bed is the last thing I feel at night before I drift off and the first thing I feel in the morning when I wake. Sometimes, I still tell Mags goodnight, or good morning. In fact, I think I may talk to her more now than I did when she was here.
I’m not going to tell you that there aren’t benefits to Mags being gone. My heat bill is a little lower; cats like it warm and this apartment has lousy insolation, so I kept the temp at a constant 76 degrees during the cold months. The frequent vet bills and Lyft fare to maintain her health no longer strain my paycheck. I can come and go as I wish, not having to be bound by Mags eating schedule. If I want to take a trip out of town, I no longer have to make arrangements for her. I seem to be sleeping through the night, not being awakened by the sound of her jingling collar, or by thumping cupboard doors. I can now smoke a cigar indoors without fear of hurting her little kitty lungs.
Yet, I would trade it all in a heartbeat, if I could just feel her brushing against my legs, or leap up on the bed after I am settled in. My nightly hot bath Is a lonely one. We just had our first major winter snow yesterday and it seems colder than usual without her here.
I no longer get teary when I walk in the door and she’s not here to greet me. I can now listen to our Pet Pause program at work without breaking down. I can hear about other people’s pets without getting irritated. Often times, I think I’m doing better. Then, some random thing creeps up on me.
Star Trek fans remember that Data, the android from The Next Generation, had a pet cat named, Spot. I was watching the seemingly innocuous episode, “Data’s Day,” not long ago, when I heard Data feeding his cat in one of the scenes. I lost it.
Sidebar: Strange how I always seem to turn to Star Trek as a source of comfort when I’m going through a tough emotional time. As it turns out, “Data’s Day,” was the very first episode to feature Spot. Her last appearance was in Star Trek: Nemesis.
Even though I have Mags’ ashes, I am still angry with myself about one thing. I wish I’d kept her collar. I should have asked for it after she passed, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. Sometimes, I think I can hear it in the stillness of my apartment… Or is it the wind rattling something outside?
People keep asking me when/if I’m going to get another cat. My answer is always the same. I probably will at some point, but I’m just not ready yet. Maybe when I’m done grieving for Mags, I can move on and find another companion.
I wonder if cats chase mice in kitty heaven, or if mice go to heaven and it’s separate from cat paradise.