This past weekend our family said goodbye to our fifteen year old feline family member, Mike. Although we knew his body was failing him and his time would soon be up, saying goodbye struck a blow to our hearts. We continue to expect him to greet us on our return home, to show up for treats when we are in the kitchen, and to sit on the newspaper when we are trying to read it.
We have done a lot of ‘lasts’ in the past few days: final cleaning of the food dishes, packing up toys and food to be shared with the shelter, brushing cat hair off of cushions. We’ve dug out and shared lots of photos of Mike over the years and Brian has updated the ‘Meet the Associates’ section of the Lorch and Associates website to share that our feline associate is no longer in the office.
Our grief is real and it hurts. And, in the midst of the mourning, there are also moments of laughter and thanksgiving for his life as we recall his quirks and his personality. Through the tears and the laughter, I’ve done some pondering on the lessons that Mike unintentionally taught me, both in his life and in his death.
- Napping is a valuable activity. Mike took many naps in a day. Seeing him curled up on his favorite chair was an invitation to sit down with him and take a few moments reprieve – never a bad thing in our often frantic and sleep deprived lives.
- You can never be too wary of butterflies, birds and squirrels. Although he often looked like he wasn’t paying attention, Mike was quick to duck when a butterfly or a bird flew by or watch closely when a squirrel hopped along the fence. It’s an art to look nonchalant and never miss what’s going on in your own backyard.
- Appreciate the humble things in life. Mike had plenty of store bought toys; however, none of them could hold a candle to a wadded up piece of paper tied to the end of a string. It was a good lesson that the shiny things that attract us in the first instance aren’t always the things that provide the most satisfaction in the long run.
- You’re never too old to play. Even in his advanced years, Mike would pounce on balls of yarn as I knitted, or try to catch the reflection of a watch face in the sun. (And after a little exertion, he would reward himself with a nap –see #1). His willingness to maintain the kitten in his soul was an inspiration to me to honour my inner child by being playful and having fun occasionally. There’s an old saying that ‘all work and no play makes one a dull boy (or girl).’ Mike got that.
- Stand up for yourself. Our daughter’s dog Keely is a black lab who didn’t scare Mike in the least. Although the dog outstripped him in size, Mike held his own, letting Keely know that he wouldn’t be intimidated. His determination to be recognized as king of his domain was an inspiration – if that little cat could stand up to that big dog, what could I do to stare down the big adversities in my life?
- Cultivate a mind of your own. Try as I might, Mike could not be convinced to sit in my lap at the time that I chose. He would only sit with me when it suited him. His single minded devotion to being his own cat could be annoying but was admirable when I consider my own tendencies to dither about what people will think of something I’m doing.
- Grief over the loss of a pet is painful and not to be dismissed. I work at home and have some control over my hours as a self-employed person. I have struggled to work as effectively this week as I normally do thanks to my grief, and it occurs to me that if I were employed, my manager might not be sympathetic to my lack of efficiency. It makes me wonder how we can honour peoples’ relationships with their furry friends in a way that allows them time to grieve without sacrificing organizational effectiveness.
Yes Mike, you taught me a lot in your fifteen years, including how hard it is to say goodbye to a friend who was a quiet but constant presence in my life. In the words of the country singer Garth Brooks, “I could have missed the pain, but I would’ve had to miss the dance.” I wouldn’t have missed our dance for the world old boy – thank you and rest in peace.