Death of a cat - a haunting farewell.
Any animal lover will know that dread moment. The moment you realise your pet is going to die, the moment you know there will be no reprieve. Despite the common response from people who have never shared their homes with pets that 'it's only an animal' the grief is felt as much as if you were losing a human, sometimes more.
The first signs of illness.
The first sign that there was anything wrong with our red tabby cat, Spotty, was when she snatched a mouthful of food, yowled and ran away from her food bowl to hide. A trip to the vet uncovered bad teeth which we had extracted.
Over the following two years the problems kept returning until one day the vet diagnosed cancer. Spotty was still only about 12 or 13 years old and as I was used to my cats living until they were almost 20 the news was a bitter blow.
Cancer in a cat.
Despite doing all we could there was no recovering from such a death sentence, the cancer was in her lower jaw and was inoperable. The thought of parting with her was devastating to us and we decided to let her enjoy life for as long as she could as long as she was not in pain.
I wanted her to be able to die peacefully in her own home. The trauma of the final visit to the vet's surgery was something I really didn't want to put her through.
With the aid of painkilling medication she continued to seem to enjoy her life ... and even her food for a while but eventually she stopped eating and began to sleep much more. Anyone who doesn't know cats will tell you that cats seem to sleep all the time anyway and it certainly true that they do sleep a lot.
But many cats have made some effort to adapt to the human daily cycle and Spotty did spend a lot of 'awake' time with us, supervising and checking that we were doing things right. It told us a lot when this no longer happened.
At that time I had some weird notion that it was better for an animal to die a 'natural' death rather than be humanely 'put down'. It was all part of some crazy 'New Age' belief system that had got hold of my mind at the time but it seemed to fit whilst she was in no apparent pain. She just slept her time away and I expected her to pass quietly in her sleep but I had severely underestimated her indomitable spirit.
As the weeks passed she began to sleep more and more and I carried her up and down stairs when I went to bed so she could sleep on the floor at my side of the bed and I could check on her. Often waking in the night I would put out my hand to touch her and find her body cold with no discernible heartbeat but, miraculously, the next morning she would still be there groggily looking up at me with loving eyes.
I took to just sitting, nursing her on my lap for long periods and putting her in warm spots of the house, upstairs on the landing usually as it was warmed by heating pipes under the floorboards. She was very weak now and I thought she would not attempt to come downstairs. On sunny days I took her outside to listen to the birds calling. She lay in my arms like a baby looking up at me, blinking with love and purring like mad, apparently pleased to be outside in the sunshine with me.
Leaving to die in peace?
One day when I came back from the shops she was gone and panic set in. I could hardly believe that she had had the strength to go downstairs and climb through the cat flap but asking around my neighbours it seems she had done just that and they had seen her making for the fields. I had heard of cats disappearing off into the countryside to die but selfishly I could not bear for that to happen to Spotty and I knew I had to find her.
I slipped through the five bar gate that lead to the river bank calling for her and after a while I saw a little ginger speck weaving its slow, painful way towards me from a distant hedgerow. Slowly she got nearer until there was only a barbed wire fence between us. She sat down, bedraggled and exhausted, on the other side of it, as if unable to see a way through.
I climbed over and picked her up and she melted into my arms with what seemed to be a sigh of relief. I will never know whether or not she had tried to leave to die in peace or whether she just wanted one last check of her personal domain.
Giving in to convention.
Eventually I knew I would have to have her put to sleep. She still did not seem to be in pain but she was not eating and seemed to be staying alive only because I loved her so much. It felt wrong. So I took her to the vet and held her as she was injected and that felt wrong too.
I carried her poor wasted little body home and buried her in the garden just below the kitchen window and of course, in spite of our grief, we continued with our usual workaday lives.
Spotty says 'thank you' ...
It must have been two or three days after Spotty's death, when I was at work at the natural health centre that I ran with my partners, that I received the message.
Our centre had become very successful since we had first started it and we offered a wide range of therapies as well as working there ourselves. We rented out our rooms to a great many different therapists, one of whom was a no-nonsense, down-to-earth Yorkshire lady called Mavis, who gave Reiki, a hands-on Japanese healing system.
Reiki has a very spiritual element to it and strange things often happen when doing a healing. As a Reiki Master myself I can attest to this. Messages can often appear to be 'channelled' whilst working in the quietness of a Reiki treatment and this often happened to Mavis in particular.
I was sitting in our reception room taking bookings for treatments when she came hurrying up to me after working with a client. She said she had had a 'funny' sort of message that she did not understand whilst giving the treatment and the message appeared to have no meaning for the client with whom she had been working.
In her inner mind she had heard the words "Spotty says 'Thank you'" accompanied by the image of a cat. She did not understand what she was telling me as I had not told anyone about Spotty's death. In fact Mavis did not even know I had had a cat.
Strangely she had not even been told to give the message to me specifically, something just prompted her to mention it when she joined me in reception and despite the bizarre nature of its delivery I instantly understood the message and it meant a lot to me then in the newness of my grief.
Looking back now I cannot remember feeling 'spooked' by what seemed to be a message from the after life and from a cat at that, I simply accepted it for what it felt like, an attempt to comfort me. The message still has the power to comfort even now, whenever I remember the timid, gentle and extraordinarily loving cat called Spotty who once shared my home and my heart.
Another story of cats in the afterlife ...
Many 'otherworldly' things have happened to me over the years. For another one concerning cats see my post The Spirit World of Cats.