Death of a cat: Empty chair. Empty bowl. Empty basket
Broadside: From a flexible frolic to an arthritic shuffle, Samba shared our life
Samba on the stairs: ‘When he first arrived as a kitten, he squeezed himself between the piano and the wall for hours, declining any invitation to venture forth and join us.’
“He is dead, isn’t he?” My daughter pauses, mid-shovel. We peer into the hole, earth half-covering Samba, our blanket-wrapped elderly boy. I reassure her and we continue to shovel, covering up his now seemingly sleeping form, concealing him forever beneath the earth’s good grace.
Twenty years. Twenty years of living with and loving him. Twenty years of family life with him, the challenges, the changes, the hiccups and heartaches. Good times and bad, he shared them all. A steady, trusting and comforting presence throughout. Stoicism in action. We had looked at him as he faded during his final days, coaxing him and urging him on but the question arose – “Who are we doing this for?”
The difficult decision taken. A visit to the vet. Not the home death we had planned for him.
Holding him close I whispered, This is your garden and you’ll always be here
Before we set off for the vet’s, I sat with him on the bench overlooking the garden he had roamed and ranged and made his own; the trees he had climbed and the bushes he had half-hidden in (believing himself invisible) all moving gently in the warm breeze. Holding him close I whispered, “This is your garden and you’ll always be here,” kissing him gently behind his ear, his soft spot, receiver of so many previous kisses.
Now he was gone, brought home after that final, fatal jab. But he would always be here in his garden, as I had promised him, sleeping softly beneath the earth.
When he first arrived as a kitten, he squeezed himself between the piano and the wall for hours, declining any invitation to venture forth and join us. Eventually, hunger driving him out, he gradually settled into family life. Before long he was making his way up the stairs in the early morning and sneaking himself under the covers for early morning snuggle-time.
With his tiger stripes, spotted-dick tummy and golden-syrup eyes, he commanded praise. “Handsome boy,” we would say and he would blink in agreement. “You’re such a teddy,” we would gush and he would allow himself to be smothered with affection. Dancing with him in my arms to any waltz-like music that came on the radio, he never objected as we twirled around the kitchen.
Brushing him was a different matter. He loathed it with a passion; it seemed to offend his dignity. Much patience was required from both of us to achieve the final result of a well-groomed coat.
He would lie at a safe distance watching their activities, the very epitome of a tennis umpire at a match, left-right left-right
Slumbering laconically in the long grass on hot summer afternoons, daisies tickling his pink nose, he would look up as birds flew overhead and let out an “ack-ack-ack” sound, just to let them know of his whereabouts, with no intention of disturbing himself.
Similarly, when rats appeared scurrying across the end of the garden during another far-distant summer, he would lie at a safe distance watching their activities, the very epitome of a tennis umpire at a match, left-right left-right, his head moving in exact time to their every move, ignoring our cries of “Go get ‘em Samba.”
But courage he had in bucketfuls as he recovered from an operation to remove a cancerous growth from the back of his neck – an operation which gave him 10 more years of life. The vet’s skills notwithstanding, Samba tolerated his morphine-induced fog, valiantly making his way about the kitchen complete with plastic headgear, determined to carry on as normal. What a trooper.
From a flexible frolic to an arthritic shuffle he made his way through life. From a lightning leaper and lunger to a slower more faltering mover, he was gone.
I had forgotten how the presence of an absence permeates everything, producing tears at unexpected moments
Hole in the house. Hole in the heart. Empty. Empty chair. Empty bowl. Empty cushion. Empty basket. Empty. I had forgotten about grief. How it hits you from behind without warning, knocking you off balance, or punching you in the solar plexus, leaving you gasping for breath. I had forgotten how the presence of an absence permeates everything, producing tears at unexpected moments. The never-no-more. The never-going-back of it.
A few days after we buried him, as I was hanging out the washing, I glanced down the garden and caught sight of him sitting placidly beneath the shade of the tall plants growing there. We studied each other for a long moment. I knew in my heart that I couldn’t approach him or follow him down for he was in another world, one I couldn’t reach.
Soft sleep Samba, my beautiful boy. And thank you.