How a Noble Cat Allowed Me to Grieve

Sometimes it's small tender moments that open the door to our feelings

Posted Dec 06, 2018

Noble cat with a stump for a tail. Lilly you were found at two weeks in a shoebox on the pavement in our leafy suburb of Sydney. A small tin of food like a shrunken top hat sat on a box. Your brother was with you and we took you both home, but soon we recognized your brother was not well and we had to put him down. We kept you. 

Seventeen years ago, you found yourself separated from all that you knew. Always a nervous cat, we understood why. Orange stripes, patched with black on white, your neck, soft, white and long, I remember as you reached your head up stroking your body along my leg, asking for some help to climb up on the side table as you aged, Your bowl was always full but you were dependent on one of us to notice that you were hungry, because the dog ate what was in your bowl. 

That tender stroking used to drive me mad as I hurried to and from the kitchen, a big family to feed and work to get to. On auto-pilot, I would fill the bowl with dried pellets and pick you up, often with little of the tenderness you offered me, always moving onto something else.

Now, I sit in a room full of new strangers, the window of this office looks out onto the Empire State Building. A big American flag floats just outside. The sky is blue, playing innocent a day after  it dumped six and a half inches onto the city creating mayhem, where a one-hour commute became 14 for some. Where the leaves of the trees were weighted down, not ready for the new load, branches and trunks fell into the streets. And I sit here thinking of your warm strokes on my leg and ache for that tenderness from you. Is it the lost time or the lost place, the familiar people, the family together, or the sense of purpose so simple and clear? Or is it the memory of your life nearly lost, a life which crossed my path in a cardboard box and came home with me?

We brought another cat home when my daughter decided to bury herself in her basement bedroom.  I brought the kitten home and gave it to her. They were inseparable for six months. Pausing only while she was at school. At six months her cat, Calcifer began to explore the house and we came to know him. It highlighted how important nurturing is in the animal world, like in the human one. A cat who was weaned from his mother at eight weeks, and then lived with another tender mother for another six months developed into a lively, confident, curious, adventurous cat. Tolerated by Lily.

My tender feelings for Lily didn’t extend to Calcifer in the same way. Was it something about the beginning perhaps, about deprivation, abandonment, that opened my heart. Why do these feelings emerge now? My youngest daughter is flying back to Sydney today, to our home that is up for sale.  Strangers will be walking through the rooms where we fought and we played, danced led by DJ dad, performed plays, told stories, cooked countless meals together, felt lonely and sad, as each family member left home—and sometimes only when they left the kitchen to recluse themselves in their rooms.

The cats have moved out and have new owners.

My daughter is flying to say goodbye, while I am here starting a new life. Perhaps I identify with Lily. I didn’t come here in a shoe box but I came a little battered, exposed from the natural losses of parenting and aging, into a city that cares little for those quieter moments. And yet, and yet as I write I know this is also not true. 

We, the family, didn’t say goodbye to the house, to the animals together. We each said goodbye separately and perhaps that is how it is, grief, how it needs to be. So what of Calcifer and the Calcifers of this world. Those with charm find a loving home as he has done, where a beautiful 4-year-old boy reads Noam Chomsky to him at bedtime.

What is noble is the will to live, despite the suffering. Perhaps also, absorbing each tender moment, that you touch someone in some way, recognize the other, as it was for Lily.  It’s not the beautiful family home we are losing that moves me but the gentle reminders of Lily’s presence and her needs.  It’s imagining my baby in that house without us there, seeing strangers walking into the rooms that were a safe and familiar haven. Perhaps it’s just the passage of time.