I sat for quite a while next to the grave, my hands palms down in the fresh dirt. Just sitting. Breathing. I was surprised to notice a red and white marble, unearthed earlier. I picked it up and held it, then put it down. Everything felt like slow motion. I watched a grub who’d been disturbed during the burial unroll and slowly crawl its way back into the soil.
I sat for a long time. Just sitting there. Bird song all around. Sun shining bright. Young mockingbirds peeping. I didn’t know what else to do. It was a beautiful, beautiful day.
Before I buried him in a perfectly sized hole dug lovingly by my husband, I arranged him gently on a towel. He looked so much like he was sleeping. I’d been petting him and talking to him for quite some time since I’d brought him home – I had trouble believing he wasn’t really in there anymore able to hear me. I combed the matted places on his front paws where his runny nose had clumped the fur. I cleaned him and combed him. I left him in the sun on the towel in the dried leaves in the flowerbed, in the place he used to love so much, to go gather some blossoms for him.
I picked petunias (he used to sleep amidst the petunias), salvia, clover flowers and roses. When I leaned over to pick a giant pink rose I almost tripped over our resident box turtle who I rarely see, but who’d made an appearance earlier in the morning at the other end of the yard. Noticing her twice felt like a sign.
In fact earlier that morning there were two turtles. One who I had only seen for the first time the day before, in the back yard under the bananas. And then again, that morning, crawling right at the edge of the freshly dug hole. A minute later his companion (are they companions?) emerged, purposefully striding over the stepping-stones to the flowerbed. Were they here to be witnesses? Guides? Messengers? Or just plain old yard turtles?
So I gathered the flowers. I laid him, wrapped carefully in the towel, curled up as if sleeping, into the grave. I placed the flowers on the towel. I covered him with the soil. I so didn’t want to. I briefly considered digging him up so I could hold him one more time. Why not go completely crazy, like a character in a Faulkner short story, and take his sweet furry corpse to bed?
We used to tease Buster about having him stuffed when he died – he was so beautiful, so loving – so cuddly – his favorite thing was to be carried around or to hold court on a lap. Any lap anywhere would do. He would press his forehead against mine and purr and purr and purr.
But he couldn’t stay. He was so weak. So small. Less than half his original weight. I slept near him in the back room his last five nights because he couldn’t really walk well. He would hoist himself up and stagger to the litter box, but if I didn’t spot him, he would topple to one side and lay there, unable to right himself.
When I brought him food and water, during his final days, he would eat and drink tiny amounts, mildly enthusiastically, almost as if to please me. Occasionally over the last several weeks, the wonders of subcutaneous fluids and steroids would perk him up so he seemed almost himself – able to hop on a lap, interested in going outside to sit in the grass. He purred throughout; even the last morning he was able to muster a tiny purr. So weak but so sweet.
When I brought him to the vet, the Spa radio station was playing a perfect lullaby. It’s a beautiful song about sailing silver ships over a silver sky. My heart broke open. I didn’t want him in a silver ship, sleeping, in the sky – I wanted him better, happy, here, alive, well. But he went very peacefully. He was ready.
I have been heavy with grief. When I’m alone, I let it wash over. Crying, talking to him, just being sad. I know he’s “more with me now than ever”, but I miss his furry, purring, present form. I miss his white nose. His sometimes demanding meow. I miss his almost ubiquitous presence. He was never far away.
I’ve never experienced such a desire to know where he is and what it’s like. Has he crossed the “Rainbow Bridge?” Is his soul already occupying some other creature? Is he floating nearby, watching over me, a cat angel? Has his wonderful Buster energy just dissipated through the Universe? I don’t know. It’s so silly, but I keep gazing into the sky looking for cat-shaped clouds. Or some other sign. Some clue that he’s somewhere.
I have fantasies of Buster living on in artwork, like George Rodrigue of Blue Dog fame did with his dog, Tiffany. I picture Buster’s face with angel wings. Like a cherub. Only a cat.
Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “Geez, he was just a cat.” How could this be such a loss?
Buster was different to us. We have had a lot of sweet cats. Buster’s sister is still with us, and absolutely adorable and very friendly. But Buster was superlative. He had a giant personality. He didn’t seem so much like a cat. He wanted to be with us, where the action was. If there was a lap, he was in it. If I went to sit in the grass, he joined me. When he was healthier he would hop our picket fence and wait on the sidewalk for us to come home. He would come to the car, meowing in greeting, “Where have you been?” He converted anti-cat people into cat people. I know at least two people who have cats now because they met Buster.
He and his sister were rescued as kittens from under the Bead Shop in New Orleans. They came home to join two grown cats we already had. They were our first kittens together. They lived in the bathroom at first, chasing rubber balls around the tub. Buster was sweet and curious and purry and cuddly from the start.
And for the past nearly fourteen years, he’s been there. Part of the family. Especially now that I work from home. He was by my side when I took my oral test for coach certification. He was often nearby when I was coaching clients. He sat on my lap and purred while I tutored students. He was around. In the yard or on the porch or in the kitchen or in the bed when it was cold.
He loved being carried. If he was on my lap and I had to get up to grab something, I’d just put him over my shoulder and take him with me. He was boneless that way, soft and pose-able and so happy. And if he was in my lap sleeping especially peacefully, I would holler to my sweetheart, “I’m trapped under a cat – can you bring me the ___?”
He was completely trusting. Not skittish at all. He would sprawl out in the middle of the front walk and not move when the mail carrier came – she would have to step around him. He wasn’t afraid of vacuum cleaners or blenders or other loud noises. He’d never been harmed by people – only cuddled. He didn’t see any reason to run away.
He got into his share of fights in his younger years, and had plenty of cuts, abscesses and other nicks and scratches. And he’d been very ill on and off for two years, so we were lucky to have him as long as we did.
He was an excellent hunter. He could jump four feet in the air to catch a rat in the banana trees. He was an excellent napper too. He could sleep anywhere.
He was beautiful. His coat was a black/grey stripey fudge ripple. His back feet were white and huge like a jackrabbit’s. His front paws and his neck and chest were white too, and he had a little asymmetrical white blaze on his nose. His eyes were expressive, sweet, expectant, loving, curious. His purr was loud and rumbly. My husband called him “Buster Boy, Kitty of Joy.” And he was.
I don’t have lessons or insights for you about grief yet. Knowing he had a wonderful full life doesn’t seem to help with the empty sadness. I know time will help. And I am letting myself feel sad (very sad) in the meantime, tucked in between the places where I am out in the world, doing my work. It’s been less than a week. It will get better. I still feel the crazy impulse to go out there and pull him out of his grave, but not really. His body is likely already returning to the earth. A good friend sent us a tiny oak seedling in memory of him. He can be part of that tree, the soil, the air, the clouds.
Goodbye, sweet Buster.