| By Daphne Ruth Darcy |
When Morris was dying, I chose to be fully present and prepare for a home death with no heroics or life prolonging measures. To make this work, I juggled many demanding roles: funeral director, hospice social worker, next of kin, primary comforter and caregiver. I intentionally leaned into the sharp points with no map or compass and many opportunities to breathe deeply.
We loved Morris, the orange-striped, adult rescue cat we adopted in January 2003 – Chichester stray. The town where he was found was the only information we ever had about him. Based on dentition, the vet estimated his age at 3. We did not expect to lose him at 15. Morris, the fifteen-pound gentle giant, with snowshoe paws and a deep loud purr, jumping on your chest to settle in for a snooze. I admired his mellow personality and high self-esteem. Morris confidently arrived on his own at a city park pool, a bonfire, a school playground for recess, or your back deck – a wanderer, warmly welcomed everywhere.
Nothing rattled him, not dogs large and small, not traffic, not children. He rode in the car from New Hampshire to North Carolina, looking out quiet and curious – no need for a cat carrier. Remained so serene during a rectal exam, tooth extraction, even injections, that the vet put our Zen cat on their Facebook page.
Was the scruffy fur an early sign? Fur quality markedly improved when we upgraded to a recommended brand of high-end kibble. What a relief to find such an easy fix. Then his weight – not his appetite – started to gradually decrease. We added wet food, then raw hamburger, cans of pure tuna, light cream. The net result was slowing weight loss, but not stopping it.
Meanwhile, as a couple, Bill and I were awkwardly trying to repair our own relationship, which was in a fragile state. We were united in our love for Morris and utilized complementary skills to ease his passing. Grieving together and working together with a common purpose strengthened us as a couple.
To the vet we went for his three-year rabies shot on Jan 28. Wishful thinking? False hope? He weighed 6.75 pounds. How did we not know the end was nigh? Maybe we were not ready. Decline rapidly accelerated his last week: 6.4 pounds on Feb 4, dropping to 6.0 on Feb 8. I created comfort stations with pillows and fleece and small padded spaces to snuggle. We monitored his weight and took many pictures during what were the last few weeks.
Still, I missed a cue when I heard a mournful mew in the middle of the night, yelling, “Morris, be quiet,” not knowing he needed comfort and orientation. I regret going away for an overnight Feb 7-8 to see a performance of my favorite character, even though my neighbor slept here. Liz told me she searched for Morris when he yowled at night and brought him to her bedroom.
We returned to find Morris visibly weaker. Bill took him for a neighborhood walk. Morris walked slowly, stopping often to rest, to drink from natural bodies of water, to feel the winter sun. They came in at dusk. Bill collapsed on the sofa looking drained, “I’m gonna miss him so much,” he sobbed, his chest heaving, so different from his matter-of-fact response when our cat died in 2006. In twenty years I’d never seen any emotion, let alone this outpouring. I witnessed his pain.
That night I put Morris in a flannel lined box in our room. We woke to strange noises. Summoning last vestiges of strength and great pure effort, he heaved himself over the low edge of the box, dragged himself across the area rug, and stretched out on hardwood. Twelve hours later he was shivering and his breath became a death rattle. I wrapped him in a fine wool scarf and laid him in his box on our bed. Bill, our 13-year-old cat Lulu, and I encircled him to sit vigil. Morris slipped away so quietly, I cannot be sure of the time.
I left a voicemail for a friend, whose sudden appearance on the porch startled me. I tearfully pointed to Morris in an open box on his favorite living room chair, ”It’s his wake.” She did not come in. Just as well, it wasn’t pretty and ended abruptly when I noticed live fleas.
Wrapped in soft, old cotton flannel, tenderly tucked in his box, we laid Morris to rest at a private graveside service. We tearfully told him the many ways we loved him then sang ‘Go Now in Peace.’ We sent an obituary. Sympathy emails, cards, poems, and notes recognized our grief and helped us heal. “I know your heart is breaking and it was already breaking before and how much more can it break?”
Eight-year-old neighbor Reba brought flowers and tears. I showed her a framed triple photo of Morris in his prime. “Now Bill will walk you and your mom to his grave so you can place your flowers.” Later, Bill and nine-year-old neighbor Chloe planted bulbs on his grave. Both little girls arrived at my door together, bearing gifts for the grieving parents: artwork in memory of Morris.
Bill gathered photos from multiple sources, scanned sympathy cards and Reba’s drawing of Morris, and put text from emails into orange cartoon talk bubbles to create a chronological story. I wrote a characteristic vignette, which Bill decorated with a border of paw prints. A touch of whimsy to complete our hardbound book, Morris Lives on Memory Lane.
Still grieving, our hearts broken wide open, yet willing to love again, we adopted an orange adult male rescue cat. Noony wears Morris’s leather collar.
Storyteller, K-2 reading tutor, and retired clinical social worker, Daphne Ruth Darcy considers cats an essential part of her life. (email@example.com)