Will you carry the words of Love with you?
Will you ride the great white bird into Heaven?
And though you want to last forever you know you never will
You know you never will
And the goodbye makes the journey harder still…
– Cat Stevens, Oh Very Young, 1974
It’s harder to write words of remembrance for a cat than it is for a person.
It has nothing to do with the volume of feeling. It has to do with the unspoken bond that humans have with companion animals. If you’re not a person with an affinity for pets you won’t understand how the death of an animal can break someone. It’s heart-wrenching on a level that’s difficult to express and it’s a trial to attempt to find the words to do such a companion justice.
Humans write their own words and sing their own songs. So do other animals, of course, but we can’t communicate with them in the same way we can other humans and so when it comes time to speak words of love and grief a human’s life and loves are easier to express – sometimes in the person’s own words. For our beloved companions we can only shape our language around the feelings they gave and the experiences which go so far beyond mere words.
When I met Mordred he was petrified of me.
My fiancee came up from Tasmania to Victoria with little of her own. She hadn’t come up to stay but stay she did and sent for Mordred later on. He came up in a cat carrier and his journey had not been kind to him. He always had a nervous disposition and being in a completely alien place with only one familiar person – his human – was a harrowing trial for him. Coming into the house of a strange human in possession of a wiry, yowling demon in the form of a Siamese cat didn’t help matters. The first few weeks of Mordred’s life here were hard on all of us but hardest, I think, on him.
Nonetheless he had a certain sort of affable adorability that made it impossible not to love him. He and I slowly became friends and although Shinji put up as much of a fight to remain aloof as he could there did come a time when they were caught snuggling for warmth or sharing a beam of sunlight together. Shinji was always the boss of the house and Mordred never forgot it but they became uneasy friends. Brothers, really.
As time went on we got a third cat, Bella, and his relationship with her was troubled. She was too headstrong to be pushed to the bottom of the pecking order and, so, Mordred found yet another cat dominant over him. She had terrible trouble with her temper as she grew – the vet who desexed her told us that’s not too uncommon for a tortoiseshell (a ‘naughty torty’, as she put it) – and at times we had to physically pull her off him when she’d seen something outside and become too over-excited. He bore more than a few scabs to her wrath.
Bella was desexed after Shinji’s death and Mordred soon discovered that ‘evil Bella’ was no more. The two became very firm friends and were often found snuggled in the same basket. More commonly Bella had usurped the basket and Mordred was pushed out to sleep next to it, instead.
And then Mordred got sick.
It was hard to say what was wrong. He began losing weight and had trouble eating. We took him to the vet and they weren’t sure what was wrong either. Steroid shots and antibiotics helped enormously and for a while he seemed to make a full (or near-full) recovery.
Then he got sick again. This time the steroids and antibiotics didn’t do much.
I won’t go into the detail of what was wrong with him as the specifics are difficult to think about and harder to type, but we believe he had advanced cancer. His lungs were giving out. So after an x-ray to determine the extent of the problem we made the heartbreaking decision to have him put painlessly to sleep.
I watched him as, like his brother before him, he put his head down one last time. It’s like having part of your heart cut out.
Then I took him to my parents’ farm. The same cat carrier in which he came into my life was the container that held him as he left it. He is buried not far from his brother Shinji.
And that’s all a nice story (for a given value of ‘nice’) but it’s just words. It doesn’t convey the tears we’ve shed over his illness, over the loss of him, or the tears I’m shedding now just trying to type cohesively enough to construct sentences. It doesn’t explain the sense of love we had for him and received back. It doesn’t express what it was like to see his happy-face when the spot between his ears, right on the top of his head, was being stroked, nor the way he loved having his paws brushed gently. I can never sufficiently write about how adorable it was to watch him hanging about with his tongue poking out for no particular reason at all, or the hilarity at watching him chase his own tail – on top of the back of the couch.
So I won’t.
Vale, Mordred. Rest in peace, my beloved friend.