Readers of this blog, or anyone who knows me, won’t be surprised that I am recommending a book called “The Inner Life of Cats.” It was written by Thomas McNamee and if you are an animal lover or a friend to the felines, you will enjoy it. I particularly appreciated that the author, like me, seems enamoured of Rome and her various cat colonies. (Some links here to my photographs of Rome’s cats, as well as other cats.)
But what I loved most about — or perhaps needed from — the book was McNamee’s opening up about the grief he felt when his beloved cat, Augusta, died. I sobbed reading some of it. Those of you who followed my old website might remember when my senior cats died (within six months of each other). What I appreciated about McNamee’s writing is that he was able to express what the loss did to him in a way I never could. I wrote a sort of detached piece here about trying to scatter Orloff’s and Pushkin’s ashes – I made sure it was written in a way that was almost a travelogue, with little snippets of humour, because I feared the waterfall of tears that would ensue if I were honest about the depths of my grief. (I still have their ashes, fyi.)
This passage from McNamee’s book reflects far more accurately my experience:
It will tear a hole in your life. Her love was unconditional. When you stayed away too long, she didn’t sulk when you came home, she welcomed you with gladness. She was so innocent. So naive. No human being ever loved you with the purity of her love. Did you tell her things you never told anyone else? Did she purr just because you were there — because you existed? His stuff is going to be all over your house. What are you going to do with his bed? His toys? You’re going to listen and listen for the bup-bup-bup of his paws on the floor as he comes trotting to greet you, and you won’t hear it. You’re not going to be able to sleep. You’re going to eat too much, or not enough. You’re going to wonder if there’s something wrong with you. A lot of people stay home just so they won’t have to hear people say, “Come on, it was only a cat.” Somebody’s going to tell you to get a kitten, and you’re going to think, No! No kitten could possibly replace her.
Oh Lord, how I remember the silly people who said that to me — it was only a cat. What idiots. Why didn’t I just tell them to f**k off?
This next passage also rings true:
Augusta’s death paralyzed me for two months at least, and I’m not ashamed of that. Excessiveness is in the eye of the judge, and in this matter only I can judge. I did find myself defending myself sometimes, sometimes against myself, more often against someone mystified, whose mystification as time passed shaded into annoyance, or just distance. You are as alone as you have ever been. You hoard your grief. You stay home. Friends ask you out to dinner, you find a lie for declining. Work? You can’t focus on anything, except this one thing. In the loss is the life you shared, Wiman says. Now you’re supposed to see the joy and the light in it, somehow to be in that life. How is that supposed to be possible? The fucking cat is dead.
And this – the hours of guilt I have experienced thinking about Orloff and Pushkin, the times I wasn’t patient with them, the times I left them with sitters, and above all, their deaths — did I wait too long? Did I not give them enough time – did they still want to live in spite of their illness or pain?:
“I could have loved you better,” I sang the Tom Paxton song back through time to Augusta. “Didn’t mean to be unkind/You know it was the last thing on my mind.” Maybe not the last thing, but bad enough. I wasn’t paying attention, Augusta. How did you feel when we went away? I didn’t even think. You were glad to see us when we returned, which was enough to fool ourselves into believing it must have been all right. You were only a cat. We didn’t mean to be unkind. She loved us anyway. What choice did she have? Who else was she going to love? Augusta had love inborn. She had to do something with it.
McNamee and his wife did eventually get another cat. I have yet to do so. I tell people that it is because we travel so much, et cetera, but in reality, I don’t know that I want to feel that kind of love — and therefore the inevitable loss that will follow down the line — again. Oh, I imagine that one day there will be another cat in my life, in my heart, but for now, I am sticking to working with the street ferals in Toronto and enjoying books about cats. So glad I found “The Inner Life of Cats.”