The death of our cat Izzy last night (I’m writing on 5th Jan 2018) has turned me into a 7 year old. I lie awake in the middle of the night with tears in my eyes asking God if he would please look after our little cat. I worry about her padding into heaven in her presumably rejuvenated little furry body and her wondering what’s happened and where she is. She might need someone to feed her, find her somewhere warm and cosy to sleep (in fact all manner of places as her favourite places only last (lasted) a week or two before somewhere else would be favoured). I think that maybe God will ask my lovely grandma (who as I remember ticks all the ‘lovely grandma’ boxes from story books) to look after her – to give her little furry head and ears a rub and talk gently and reassuringly to her and take her in. My grandma used to buy proper cream. Perhaps Izzy can have some now, she wasn’t allowed it when she was alive, not that we buy it much. She loved yoghurt too. I wonder how we can let Grandma know that Izzy really likes yoghurt and if she’ll understand because you didn’t really get yoghurt in this country when grandma was alive. And as a 7 year old I don’t think much further than that, I just want someone to look after our lovely friendly old cat. I want to think that if she can’t be in our good hands then she can be in someone else’s until we can all see her again and like she did in real life she can pad down the road to meet us as we come home, seek us out for company and pad across the pillows as we try to sleep before curling up on the bed. She’s the first pet I’ve had (though not just mine of course) and when I get to heaven myself I think I’ll be met by Izzy first with my dad and grandma somewhere close behind…
Then I wake up a bit more and it all falls apart.
In real life her stiffening body lies in the corner of the vets in a plastic box waiting presumably to be picked up by someone in a van, maybe refrigerated but probably not – a van that’s probably a bit stainy and smelly, to be taken away to be dumped into a big incinerator with all the other cats that have died in the city over the last few days – the fat old over-indulged ones fed on virtually fished to extinction tuna (actually they’ll probably be disposed of in other ways), the neglected ones, the kittens found in a sack in the canal, the feral ones found at the side of the road and all the others. Some will never have had a person to look after them, some will have been suffocated with attention. But soon they’ll be dust on a mound somewhere no-one knows and no-one talks about.
We could have had her stuffed. This seems morbid and weird (and expensive). We could have had her individually cremated and received her ashes back to scatter in her favourite places. But where? Under a radiator? Next to the tumble drier or in the cupboard under the boiler where she crawled off to (presumably) feel safe when she was ill and, as it turned out in the end, dying? In some randomly chosen ‘favourite place’ where we imagine she (or somehow her ashes) can watch the trees and the birds? All seems a bit pointless and still just a tiny bit weird and morbid. We could have had her remains put into some sort of souvenir casket or turned into some sort of memento. That also seems a bit weird. And what happens to that when we go? Does it get passed lovingly down the generations – the remains of a random dead cat that no-one alive knows or cares anything about being passed down the years, added to the growing pile left by the previous generations? To be quietly tossed in a bin when the house is cleared I guess.
We could have buried her in the garden. But I reckon the garden will be full of 1960s rubble a couple of feet down or near the edge there’ll be endless tree roots - and there are stories of cats buried 6 feet deep being dug up by foxes months later. And no-one fancies seeing the remains of some black and white fur stuck to some thin bones being dragged across the garden in future months. And I don’t think we have a decent spade so that’s a few quid too. And it’s raining heavily.
We found her not moving in the morning as we got ready to leave for work. We have a quick look round and are worried she’s gone off somewhere either to die or maybe just in a confused state. Last night she didn’t seem very with it. After a suggestion I have a look and see a sort of cat shape at the side of the tumble drier towards the back - but ‘sort of cat shapes’ abound in half light and I can’t count the number of times I’ve nearly spoken to a small pile of clothes or a bag or whatever thinking it’s a cat. We get a torch and can see she’s lying curled up with her paws out with her head pointing towards the back wall. We can see a little ear sticking up perkily as it should. We can’t see her eyes but we shine a torch at her looking for the slightest movement convinced that the light will wake her if she is asleep. We’re grateful for the fact that she’s not died in the litter tray where she was the night before seemingly not wanting to be moved and showing the first sign of pain as we tried to move her.
One of us quietly turns the central heating down as we leave. During the day we read the ‘death bit’ of the cat book and / or look on line for various cat death information - how sometimes wee and poo comes out after death and the body might need cleaning up a bit. We know now that decay and rigor mortis can set in quite quickly. When we get home she’s clearly not moved so there’s little chance of it being some sort of deep sleep. So after arranging a time with the vets we move the table and tumble drier, litter tray and everything else and she’s picked up with gardening gloves to be put in a box – which somehow seems more suitable than a bag of whatever kind. We know we’re handling a corpse and the gloves seem a good idea. We talk about what we need to do and quietly ask each other who wants to do what. We decide to put her in the box and go to the vets in one go so we don’t have her sat in a box while we contemplate what’s happened.
We don’t talk to her body and our daughter doesn’t want to see it at all. Before we move everything we talk about taking a last picture of her where she lies. She looks peaceful and asleep next to the back of the tumble drier. We decide we will and it’s quickly done. Just one. More seems tasteless. I later think that we can show our daughter that she was peaceful and that’s maybe a partial justification. But I don’t know if, when or where this photo will be filed, if it’ll be labelled and kept or quietly deleted. But we have it now if we want it. In a similar vein I guess there’s probably been a debate about having photos taken at people’s funerals. I think that a few discreet ones of family and friends are taken in the corners of funeral teas these days but that not many people have an 8 by 4 of grandad’s coffin on the mantelpiece…
We go for the easiest, second cheapest option (after the garden burial) and take her to the vet’s in a plastic box (not the see-through one we initially find) covered in an old pillow case. We’re not expecting the box or the pillowcase back. We wonder about going in the back entrance at the vets and I also vaguely wonder if we’ll bump into a little girl or boy in reception who might ask us what’s in the box and want a look. The pillowcase covers all of her apart from a bit of her tail that pokes out. This once again turns me again into the tearful 7 year old.
So back to heaven. My 7 year old self wants God to look after our cat and make sure she’s OK. My older self thinks that there’s not a God at all. My older self thinks that if there were a Heaven then my Grandma would probably be looking after some of the cats that never had a home, or that she’s simply beyond earthly things including cats. My older self thinks that heaven can’t really have cat friendly places and temperatures. Heaven can’t have trawlers or abattoirs that mince up other animals so cats can be fed. And what would be the point in being some sort of disembodied spectral cat? If a cat is anything it’s a physical thing. And unlike a person a cat might not get all this afterlife stuff at all.
Christianity doesn’t seem to think that animals go to heaven - and what religion would want a cat heaven where birds and mice are routinely torn apart for fun? And after a few decades chasing what presumably must be faux prey or alternatives to prey (balls of wool cut from all the dead sheep?) even cats must get bored and long for it all to stop. Or perhaps that would be just all the miserable dead people sick of eternity longing for it all to stop.
We tell ourselves various things. She’d has a good life. She was quite old, she died in what we presume (there’s a lot of presuming) was her sleep in no particular pain. We got her from the RSPCA in 2009 and she’d lived (with a woman who died apparently) somewhere else in Leeds for a few years before that. She’d been ill recently and we thought we’d lose her then. She bounced back and was quite well for another 3 or 4 weeks so we appreciated her in her last days. She didn’t linger at the end, she died at home with food nearby (one of those small posh tins – inherited from another tragic dead cat) and water and in a warm place. She didn’t cost us a huge amount of money in vet’s fees for fruitless operations and whatnot and we didn’t have to feel guilty about putting down a purring cat for want of 2 grand for that potentially (though temporary) life-saving operation. She sought out company though didn’t much like being over-petted though would occasionally let us get her tummy (and she our daughter do this more often). She was a lovely friendly cat with her own personality.
So Izzy the cat has just gone. We loved her and love is supposed to conquer all but it’s actually just horrible irredeemable pitiless cold death.
But I’m still 7 and I still want someone nice to look after my lovely old cat wherever she is. I think I will still say ‘please look after my little pussycat’ in the middle of the night. I think she must be somewhere and I’m crying for my little dead cat. The boy is the father of the man I suppose…
A couple of days later I’m wondering if she’s been cremated by now and if what’s left of her is flying about on a hill somewhere – or just in a hole on some wet industrial waste site. I find a clump of her fur where she’d been sleeping a couple of days earlier. For some reason I don’t put it in the bin where I usually would. I take it outside. It blows away in the wind in the garden. I feel silly and sentimental. I do it quickly feeling vaguely uneasy that I might be seen by someone. But I think I’m glad I did. And it still seems vaguely possible that she’ll just turn up as usual any minute. My 7 year old self knows that that’s possible and will keep a lookout.
But my adult self knows that that’s that. That’s that cat. No more Izzy the cat.