"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The End of Forever

Someone told me recently that cat years are calculated this way: the first two years are twenty-five in human years, and each year after counts as four human years. Emma made it to ninety-nine.

Knowing her days were numbered. Watching her decline. Making the same trip to the vet twice before with her sisters in the same year's time. None of it helped.

Every day since she turned twenty last summer telling her I loved her. Holding her close. Breathing her in. Praying gratitude as I petted her increasingly-less-silky fur and felt the soft percussion of her purr under my hand. Counting blessings and reminding myself that our forever was about to expire as I cleaned up after her and lost hours of sleep while she meowed through the house in the middle of long nights.

In the weeks I was home recovering from surgery she was my constant companion. She was so present and demanding, it seemed that she just might live forever. Those were days of extreme presence in the moment for me. I had to be aware of every pain and movement. And so I was deeply aware that, appearances aside, I was being given a special gift in these last days together.

I started walking, fast and unhindered, with a cane in those December days. The nearby park once again became my territory, and every day I went a bit farther than the day before. The glorious freedom of it lightened my soul and my steps for hours after. Emma's decline paralleled my healing.

Two days before Christmas she stopped eating. I wasn't ready. So we made a deal and she gave me two more weeks. I still wasn't ready, but she was, and so I helped her go.

One last trip to the vet's office with her. This time to the one room with its own outside door. Holding her and talking to her, sharing her with Walt reluctantly. And then she was no longer Emma. No longer the beautiful tabby who went to sleep on my chest every night. No longer the hunter of rodents large and small, and the occasional bird. No longer Toby's curled up companion.  No longer the demander of certain foods, the claimer of my chin and my chair and every spare bit of my love and attention. No longer there to respond to my greeting when I walked through the door at the end of the day.

We carried a surprisingly heavy and warm blue bundle into the night onto which some kind vet tech had sharpied a small heart. We buried her in the garden next to her sisters, aware that she might have preferred the field instead, where she could have reigned supreme and solo even into forever. We moved forward without her.

Three weeks of empty house now. It's almost impossible to comprehend how eight pounds of fur and attitude can fill a space so completely, and leave it so decimated. I start to call her name a dozen times a day. I look for her in all her usual places. In the morning when I feed Toby, my body wants to finish the routine with Emma.

This is the first time in our marriage of twenty-five years that our home has been feline-free. I looked at cats a few months ago, not wanting to be in this place. But the only one I was drawn to was a young female with much the same personality as Emma's when she was younger. And I couldn't do that to my aging queen who had barely tolerated her own sisters.

I started looking again last weekend. Not to replace Emma. There will never be another relationship with a cat in my life like the one we shared. She can't be replaced. But for someone whose home once held two litters of kittens and assorted adults (nineteen in all), I know my heart has room for much kitty love. And this time, in a surprise gift of heart, Walt has joined me.

We bring Alex and Bunkie home tomorrow.