I have spent much of today at the computer, so in a way it’s a surprise I am willing to be here again. But for a variety of reasons I have been thinking about cats. MasterB is the feline recipient of my love and affection today, a worthy successor to my first cat, Freddy. Ten years ago on 20th March, Freddy, known on these pages as Cat, and the original cat of the title of this blog, died suddenly and in my arms.
Some of you I know were following my posts then, so you knew it was a very difficult time. My mother was in and out of hospital. Two weeks before Cat’s death we were preparing for Mother’s death. Miraculously she rallied. I had stayed with Cat at the sheltered housing scheme where she had her flat. Cat had slept beside her as first she clung to life, then surprised the doctor, the carers, everyone by leaving her bed. Cat loved being there. He found his way into the airing cupboard, a place that was out of bounds at home.
Naturally very sociable, he schmoozed the carers, explored the garden, surprised and entertained the other residents as he made the scheme his territory. He brought me comfort, and gave us all reasons to smile. One of the carers, who was not a fan of cats, became one of his greatest admirers. She saw how Mother responded to him, how when he walked the corridors residents would watch him, start to look out for him, find pleasure and interest just from seeing him. She saw how he improved life at the scheme and announced that she thought there should be a resident cat.
He died just three days after we got home, and then three days later, Mother went back into hospital having had a bad fall. She never returned to her flat. Her last two years were spent in a nursing home. Whether the scheme did acquire a cat or not, I don’t know. But Cat’s ashes are still in my airing cupboard, a place he was not allowed in life.
In lockdown many of us who live with pets have learned a new respect for what those pets do for us, for our mental health, for our wellbeing. Cat was with me through Mother’s last years, as dementia took its relentless toll on her faculties, turned her from a competent capable woman into a frail, anxious and scared one. I say Cat was with me, but he also supported Mother. When I visited her he demonstrated his affection for her and she would beam. She remembered his name when she forgot mine. He didn’t care that she said the same thing over and over again. He would look at her, blink at her, let her fuss him. He loved her and she loved him. It was enough. It was wonderful.
He also loved Aunt, and knew how to play her. He would put his paw on her arm as though she was the only person in the world who understood him. Maybe she was. She had a great affinity with cats. He was larger than life. Handsome (ginger and white), assertive, affectionate, interactive. A story book cat, one neighbour called him.
So when people asked if I’d replace him when he died I couldn’t answer. How do you replace a flesh and blood creature who has meant so much? You don’t. I am lucky. I have MasterB, another loving, beautiful cat. I would not have adopted him had not been for Cat who adopted me when I had no intention of having a pet. MasterB is not a replacement. He is much loved cat in his own right who, when the inevitable moment comes, I shall mourn as I still mourn Cat. As I still mourn all those I have loved: human or animal.
Cat died on a Sunday. The following Sunday I lit a candle in the window to remember him, and asked others to do the same to remember pets they have loved. People emailed me with stories of pets I had not known they had had. Strangers got in touch online. Since then I have continued to light a candle on the Sunday in the week following 20th March. Locally we have also started putting lighted candles in our windows when someone’s pet has died, and that has even been extended to remember H’s father, a great animal lover.
So I hope some of you will join me on Sunday 28th March in putting a lighted candle in the window and celebrating the lives of pets, and people if you want, we have loved.
Stay safe. Keep well. Give that cat a cuddle.