My cat died a few weeks ago. He would have been 17 in human years today, roughly 119 in “cat years.” His death came as a surprise to me, and stirred a well of grief inside me. He was elderly, showing many symptoms of age–dementia, joint stiffness, matted fur, etc. Despite all these signs, I convinced myself that he would live any number of years more as cats often live to be twenty or so. My state of denial might have been a result of being disconnected from his day-to-day routine. When I moved to New York City, I left him with my parents because I would not be able to care for him, but I fully intended to come back for him once my life stabilized. I have always had a cat; my parents had one before I was born, so it’s hard to grasp my new reality of life without one.
This cat was the second in my life–initially just a replacement for my beloved first cat who lived to be sixteen and a half and died when I was a freshman in high school. When she died, I was so overwhelmed with grief, I insisted our family had to get another cat right away. I wanted a kitten, however, and there were simply none available in our city at that time of year–we searched!! We finally found a six month old kitten at a shelter in a small town, a half hour drive from where we lived. When I first held him, it was obvious he had a temper–he bit my ear! It wasn’t a hard bite, but certainly an indication he was not the cute, cuddly kitten I had imagined. Nevertheless, he became my kitty and we grew to love each other. I even came to rely on him for security. There were times in the middle of the night when he would be on high alert–meowing and hissing at forces I could not see. This made me feel safe, as though he was protecting me by constant vigilance while I slept. He truly flourished in the darkness of the night, which made his diagnosis of dementia at his annual check-up so heartbreaking. The night time patrols he used to feel compelled to make suddenly confused him. He began howling piteously every night, and the vet said it was because he couldn’t remember where he was and needed reassurance.
When I received the news of his passing, I immediately felt guilty. I wasn’t there when he died; I had abandoned him. In the midst of my grief, I even felt ashamed, wondering what my cat thought of me not only for being absent at his death, but also for not being with him during his last years of life. Logically, these thoughts are slightly ridiculous; after all, he was a cat, not a human being, but even so, my mind can wander into surreal places when processing the loss of a loved one–animal or human. Fortunately, the Lord enters in and provides unexpected healing and grace. For some time, He has been showing me how to release the attachments I had developed in my life that kept me from fully surrendering myself to His will. I thought I had detached from most of my childhood belongings, but I had forgotten about my pets. Even now I am struggling, accepting the new reality that I no longer have a cat to call my own. I find myself trying to devise ways I could get another cat, but it is simply not possible for me at the moment. The Lord beautifully asks me to release control of this situation to Him. I am reminded that everything in my life is a gift from Him, including my cat. I was blessed to have him as long as I did, but in the final analysis, he was never really mine, he was God’s creature. Although I will always feel pain that I wasn’t there when he died, what I need to remember is that the Lord was. I am so thankful that through His grace He could do what I could not–release my beloved pet from what had become a harsh and unfamiliar world and give him peace.