“Memento Mori” – Translated from Latin it means to “Remember Death” or “Remember that you must die” (Wikipedia)
On April 19th at 8:41 AM, I said goodbye to my closest friend of over 15 years. My cat, Mew, was my companion since he was a kitten. He was euthanized. This decision was not an easy. Without the help of my wife, I would be desperately and unsuccessfully trying to save him. She was able to step back and see the reality of his condition. In the end, her strength spared all of us from the suffering that was inevitable given his ailments and declining state. She was even there for me when I couldn’t dial the vet’s phone number without becoming choked up.
Not that this whole ordeal was easy for her. Mew was her cat as well for eight years. When we started dating, I told her that if Mew didn’t like her, that would be a deal breaker. No pressure for someone who never had a pet and whose culture, in general, doesn’t like cats. However, he loved her as much as any cat can love a human. She loved him despite being a cat. After all, she put up with an extraordinary amount of cat hair on clothes and furniture during that time.
Some of you reading are thinking, “It was just a cat.” If you never had a pet, then this won’t make much sense. It is true that he was just a cat, but he was my cat. Years of constancy will cause you to miss any item when it is gone. The familiarity built combined with the knowledge that it will be there is powerful. A living, breathing, and loving animal only makes the bond stronger. The familiarity and routines ingrained to a deeper level. In the case of Mew a conscious decision was made to end his life.
Bartholomew “Mew” Powell was born on November 11th, 2000 as the only kitten in his litter. A miniaturized black panther with fierce green eyes. Four months later he arrived at the townhouse that would be the first of many homes. The first night while watching him play, jump, and run I debated on what to call him. Later that evening, I asked, “What am I going to call you?” His answer was a soft mew. My roommate at the time, Ken, stated that he needed a Christian name to make him official. Shortly after being named Bartholomew, Ken took to calling him Black Bart Terror of the Seven Living Rooms. A name he lived up to for his entire life. Not bad for an eleven-pound domestic shorthair black cat.
His was the first face that I saw nearly every morning that he was alive. Standing on the bed, meowing at me to get up or pay attention to him. Mew followed me around the house. If I were sitting, he would either be on my lap or near me. That changed a bit with Neha because she had the blanket. That ball of fur always waited for me to return home. His loud meowing greeted me the moment I walked through the door. Sometimes before I got in the door if I was slow with the keys. Through the good times and bad, he was a steady constant. That same constancy carried over to his toleration of the abuses of my small daughter.
The morning after his death, the alarm trumpeted at 4:30 AM. I rolled out of bed to go through my usual routine on autopilot. Reality crashed down on me as I ran through my to-do list in the shower when I got to go downstairs and feed the cats. Lacking the walls that my rational mind builds when fully awake, I broke standing under the flood of water. I couldn’t breathe as the tears burst from my eyes. I struggled and failed to regain control, but moments later I was sobbing silently in the shower trying not to wake my sleeping family. Minutes later hot water running out with tears and snot streaming down my face, I regained some composure.
Out of the shower and dressed I headed out of my bedroom once again in my morning routine. At the top of the stairs, I saw the water bowl and couldn’t breathe again. The process of disposing of remaining food and never to be used again litter boxes wasn’t easy. Imagine a full grown man carrying items to trash cans or filling trash bags while crying like a baby. Not a flattering image. There was a catharsis in purging both physically and emotionally that made the rest of the day better.
Death in all forms brings with it a remembrance of our mortality. A reflection on the nature of the world. A moment where we peer behind the veil. Writing at my dining room table, I begin to imagine what the impact the decision to remove a parent from life support has? What if the loss was a child? Instead of the last time of petting the soft fur of a pet, it was the last time holding your significant other’s hand or kissing their lips. The last time you spoke to them face to face. The last time you held them in your arms. In the imagery of my mind, it is suffocating. It is an unbearable loss.
Humans, the amazing creatures that we are, do it every day. All around the globe people face those decisions and worse. They experience losses, but they continue to move forward. Time and distance the insulator to those devastating moments. The support and love of family and friends the salve soothing the raw edges.
Two weeks have passed since that day. I will catch myself standing somewhere in the house expecting to see a familiar black shape, then becoming choked up teary eyed when it isn’t there. I don’t expect that behavior to change anytime soon. The feelings of loss will diminish as they are already beginning to do. After all, there is a strong connection backed up with years of routines.
I have reflected on what I learned from this event. It is easy in our grief to forget the impact it has on other people. I know that I fell into this trap. It is important to remember that you are not alone in your suffering. The most important thing is that many of us hold too much inside. Be open and honest with those around you. Stop waiting and stop moving.