My cat died today. My little Star, comfort and companion these last twelve years. She’d been staying outside in the sunshine but today it was raining and I had her inside. She’s been fading over these last few months but still happy enough. Today I could see she was suffering so I phoned the vet and our appointment was at 5 pm and ten minutes later she was gone. I can’t say I didn’t know she was on the way out and this day would come. But I wish, I will always wish, I’d understood that it takes seconds for a cat to die when the anaesthetic is injected as I feel like I didn’t say goodbye properly. The move from ‘She’s clearly in pain’ to ‘The kindest thing is to put her down now’ was too sudden for me to take it in.
I didn’t understand the bond it is possible to have with another animal, interspecies love if you like, before Star taught me, through the intensity of her attachment, that she loved me. It was that fact that blew me away. For a human to be fond of an animal was one thing, I had no idea how capable of love an animal can be. One of the problems with having a job that wasn’t local was how much she missed me. I’ve heard how she cried when she thought I was gone and how she purred when she discovered I was around. (I had to go through this sentence changing the tense from present to past.) Sometimes when I was writing in the mornings she would put her head on my wrist and press down to force me to stop and pay attention to her.
I am trying to remember when I first met her – 2000 I think, when she was someone else’s cat. She wasn’t then the world’s most engaging cat. She drooled constantly and was jumpy and nervous. She came to live with us in 2003. It took a long, long time for her to trust, two years before she ever curled up on my lap – the very first time was while I was meditating. She had a particularly blissed out look when she was being petted sometimes, a smile of pure pleasure was what it looked like.
Her character changed a lot from those early scaredy cat days when she wouldn’t go into the garden unless I was with her. She became opinionated, ready to argue the toss. Her meow of indignation was hilarious. She got cross with me when it was raining, backing into the kitchen from the door and giving me a very dirty look, protesting as if I could do something about it. Who knows what goes on in their little heads but there were times when it seemed like she understood exactly what I was saying and had plenty to say in response.
It’s weird being alone in the house. I’m expecting her to get under my feet as I walk around or to find her curled up somewhere. Cats are supposed to be independent, free spirits but nobody told Star that. Over the years of ill health, it made such a difference all those weird woozy lost days to have this sweet little Being beside me purring. When I was recovering from the operations, she didn’t ‘fuss me’ looking to be petted but sat quietly on top of me with a deliberate intensity and, say what you like, I found it healing to have her love focused so.
Yeap, Star was in my world for a long time and I’ll miss her. Her passing is the end of an era, of a chapter of my life.
It’s Lughnasadh and for any of you for whom that word has meaning, I wish you a happy Lughnasadh. It is the pagan time of harvest, of celebrating all that the cycle of seasons has brought to fruition. It is usually a time of connection, a time when I am enjoying the company of others. This year I am about as isolated as it is possible to be, house sitting for friends in a place where I know no-one. There are two cats here, one about as disdainful and disinterested as a cat could be, whereas the smaller and younger one grows more friendly and affectionate the longer I’m here. I was finding it so difficult to be at home without the familiar presence of Star that it is perfect to be here with the company of Ferne, the little cat that must be about twice the size Star was.
Star’s death changes things. I am free now. Free to move on to whatever comes next, free to find my way forward. I was blessed to have her all these years but her departure is timely as I need to sell this house and it will be such a relief to be released from the debt that’s been accumulating over these months of recovery. I never did have an assessment for ESA. If I had, I’d have been £30 a week better off (approximately). It is another example of the meanness of this government that the chronic underfunding of the Welfare System means that thousands of people never get the money that even the government says they are entitled to.
I am still working out what my options are and trusting that I will work out how to get from here, a place that feels so uncertain, so confusing and unclear to a life that reflects what matters to me. What’s the relationship between this and the fact that I am now sleeping for far longer than I’m used to? The inability to sleep properly was a major contributing factor to the breakdown. What does it portend that I am now sleeping for nine hours a night and then for an hour or so in the afternoon? I reckon sleeping until I wake up naturally is one of the great luxuries, the outstanding benefits of being in this peculiar limbo, this odd state between one life and the next. For months I have been forcing myself to exercise every day. Since I landed here, I’ve temporarily given up on all of it and sat around thinking, writing, meditating. The oddest thing about this house is that it is full of books and all of them are non-fiction and non-literary. If I’d realised this I reckon I’d have brought some poetry books with me at least.
I am in a very different place now to the one where I wept at the drop of a hat. Yes, I am sad that Star’s gone but it just means I don’t want to be in the house where I’m so used to her being around. Writing for ‘Transformations’ and reading the article Andrew posted about depression and debt has helped me put things in a different perspective. Not my fault that the way the job was set up leads to so much stress-related illness. Not my fault that the system is set up so anyone who becomes ill also ends up in debt. I am very fortunate that I have a way to get out of debt, that I have a home to sell. And beyond that, I am fortunate that I have skills and experience that, even if I can’t see how right now, will enable me to make a living in the long run.
I feel even more like I’m in a cocoon here where I am temporarily free from ‘I’ve got to….’ I’m home in a couple of days and I hope that all this lazing around means I return with renewed energy to the things that need to be done.