Max died recently. He was one of our three cats. When we were out of town visiting my brother last week, there was an awful storm here that knocked out the power for 18 hours. We don’t know for sure, but from the report of the cat sitter and the awful images in our imagination, the loud scream of our generator joined with the lightning and thunder to frighten him into hiding, a hiding he never came out of. Or maybe, he just knew it was his time. Cats seem to know such things.
We looked for him for days. We looked and looked and called and called and always expected, or maybe so wanted him, dreamed of him, prayed for him to just emerge from the bushes or from wherever. But he didn’t emerge. I finally found him hidden out of sight in one of his safe places. Until that moment, we could never accept that he was dead.
He was such a good friend. He was originally found on the streets with his sister before being taken to the ASPCA. And he remained a street cat in spirit all his years, loving to be outdoors. He’d come inside at dinner time, ask for food, but not eat it until we put it outside. But when he did come in to see us at night, or to rest or sleep, he was our only cat who cuddled. Who sat in our lap or slept on top of one of us.
He had a heart problem. One night, when he was a few months past his first birthday, we heard a scream outside. We guessed he was in a fight. I ran outside, looked up into the ancient apple tree that sits outside our front door. And Max fell from a high branch into my arms. Literally.
We took him to the best vet we knew. She said Max wouldn’t live for more than a year. His heart was not able to adjust to any deep stress he would face. She prescribed surgery to give him a pacemaker. We then took him to Cornell Veterinary College for a second opinion. They said don’t do the surgery. It probably wouldn’t work, and if it did, he’d never be able to roam outside again. That would have killed him. He clearly didn’t die that year, or for another 12.5.
It hurt so much when I found him. All the worry and wondering where he was and what had kept him away turned to anger, guilt, and pain. When the fearful wall of death meets the universe of love, an intensity of what ifs, of should and could have beens, can arise. The intensity of regret increases with the number of half-lived, half-hidden moments we’ve stored away. And it decreases, hopefully, with the gratitude, amazement, even grace mixed in with the grief. There’s something so naked and mysterious in many relationships between humans and beings of other species.
We had a funeral for him in our yard. As we covered him with soil, we also covered him with memories, with “We love you, Max.” “We’re so sorry.” And then, unplanned, I started chanting “Aum.” My wife joined in. The notes seemed to rise up and quiet the world….
*To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.