Our cat died. He was the family cat, but really he was my baby; mine. I got him from a FreeKitten box in the Boise farmers market on my 30th birthday, brought him home to Mitch, to whom I was engaged, and Mitch frowned at me and shook his head. But Mitch came to love that baby, who wouldn't? even though he swore he was not a cat person. Bosley was his name, perhaps the most personable cat I've ever met.
He'd been perfectly normal that morning. He ate his breakfast and meowed at the door to go out, then later he sat on his scratch pad while I gave him some catnip. He wasn't sick; he was just fine.
It was after school, and the kids and I were sitting down with a new stack of library books. We had just opened the first one when we heard a strange sound. At first I didn't know even where it was coming from, but it was the dining room, Bosley lying in his regular spot on the heater. When we got to him I was so confused. Why wasn't he getting up? Why was he yowling? I thought maybe his collar was caught and he needed help. I picked him up and he was limp in my arms, paralyzed. But he stopped crying while I held him, seemed to calm down a bit. His breathing was odd and raspy and I held him close. Then I realized things were bad, really bad, and I panicked, said out loud, "I don't know what to do!"In a moment I was able to collect myself enough to quietly soothingly shush him. Then he just died. Just like that. The whole thing was probably less than one minute.
There was one odd thing at the end - after he went still I exclaimed, with more than a little shock, "Oh my god. He died," and I looked up at the children's blank wondering faces. The kids began to creep forward, and then Bosley took one loud final in breath that startled all of us. The kids actually screamed and leaped away. I paused to watch and see if he really was dead, then I bowed my head and began to sob, and Clark across the room began to wail too. Frances was just perplexed, and later she asked Clark, "why did you cry?" I knew why he had cried. It was all very odd and confusing and sudden. I don't think it was because he loved the cat, but because he had no freaking idea what was going on.
I've been grieving and grieving. I loved that cat so very very much. Frances is worried about my grieving, keeps giving me hugs and kisses and wanting me to be ok. I keep telling her I will be, that it's all right for me to be emotional about it. On one hand I wish I could hold off my most intense grieving until she is not around, and on the other I see nothing at all wrong with her witnessing it, that maybe it's even good for children to see. See the grieving and then see that we are all right afterward. Frances asked me, "Mommy, would you be more sad if Bosley died or if I died?" See? It provides opportunity for these kinds of questions.
Frances always wanted to carry Bosley around, all 18+ pounds of him, which was a feat. I taught her how to hold him on her shoulder and support him under the rump, and she had learned how to carry him like a baby without his being too upset. Almost every night she carried him from his spot on the couch up to her bed where he snuggled up next to her. That day he died, around bedtime, she got sad. She said, "Mommy, my eyes are watering but I'm not crying." Little tears were running down her cheeks. I wonder if it was the first time she had cried without sobbing or wailing, as children do. She drew a picture of him and put it on her bed where he used to sleep.
Earlier she had written a goodbye note to him to put in the box with his body, as well as a picture she drew. On everything she wrote or drew she added the date. So interesting - I don't know that she saw that somewhere - I think it was just her instinct to memorialize it.
We had a funeral the next day, complete with bell ringing and a candle and prayers and a goodbye note Frances wrote to Bosley. He was in a box, and the kids had put his toys in with him, and some string because he loved to chase string, and notes. I asked Clark this morning if he thinks about Bosley at all, and he said "all the time," which surprised me though I don't know why. He's much more internal than Frances, I'm coming to realize. I asked him what he thinks about when he thinks about him and he said the funeral. He said he doesn't think about when he died, but about putting the box in the ground. It is a strange thing - to lower someone into the earth. He said he feels sad. "I really liked Bosley. Sometimes I see the speaker under the coffee table (one of Bosley's sleeping spots) and think it's him."
I'm glad this is their first real experience with death, and that it's an animal and not a person. I'm glad that they actually witnessed it rather than our finding him dead. Death: it's just a thing, just like other things in our strange beautiful confusing brutal world. It's an intense thing, and it was particularly traumatic for me not only because I loved him so very much, but because I was holding him when he died. I'm glad that I was, grateful that we were home so that I could hold him and provide him comfort. Still, a lot for me to carry in my heart.