Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Happiness and a Dead Cat

Snickers, you were a good cat

I watched my cat die this afternoon.

This is my week of writing about happiness. How to write about a cat dying and keep to that line of thinking? The first thought that comes to mind is that I should write about how happy the cat has made me, but then there's this other line of thinking I've been having this week about being present and remaining in the moment. How to talk about our cat dying, stay in the moment, and find the happiness sounds like an intractable problem.

Turns out it's easy.

First, the story. Snickers was our adopted cat. She had been my in-laws' cat, their son's cat really. He long ago moved to South Korea and left the cat at their house in Florida. They then moved here to Syracuse. The cat, for whatever reason, was about as thrilled with Syracuse as my in-laws have been and began howling through the night. It got to be so much that they took her to a shelter to give her away.

Hearing this, my wife and I said that Snickers needed to come live with us. She would add to the menagerie were already harboring. And so she came to our house and remained.

Without carbon dating or slicing her open and counting the rings, it's tough to know how old Snickers was, but our best approximation is that she was twenty-three. That's a good long life for a cat who hadn't seen a vet for twenty years, was declawed, and in her later years was tortured by our kitten.

We came home from vacation this week to find that she was significantly weaker than usual. Then yesterday I came to the conclusion that she was too far gone and we needed to put her down. My wife volunteered to take care of it, we let the kids know, and that was to be that.

I came home from work early because I've been sick with a head cold. My intention was to rest on the couch and when I went in there, Snickers was lying there. As I sat with her it became clear that her four pm appointment was a few hours later than she should have to deal with her condition. She sank by the minutes and I knew that she had to go right then. Her discomfort and disorientation were too much.

The vet said that they could take her and so I drove up to my wife's work and called for her to come down. She joined me just as Snickers expired. We drove to the vets office together with Snickers' body and handed her off to the vet for disposal.

So where's the happiness, right?

Here it is: I cried for the whole drive. Dripping, sniffling, not breathing right crying. And it felt good. I wasn't wishing for things to be different. I wasn't angry. I was just sad and, though this will sound odd, happy to be sad.

I'm a guy who hasn't been very good about being emotional about things. I at least haven't been good about letting those emotions out. Stoic is one word for it but another is repressed. Today, driving Snickers to the vet and talking with my wife about the old cat, I was open to how the whole thing felt. I was there. I was present.

Now, hours later, I'm happy. I miss Snickers. Sure. But I'm happy with the day, with how she passed, with the ways in which I was in every moment of it. Today was a good day. Snickers isn't in discomfort and I experienced discomfort and just let it happen. Because of that I came out the other side happy.

There are those of you who don't like cats and I understand that. This isn't about a cat. It's about being open and present to what is happening. That's what makes for the happiness out of a time of sadness. Loss is gain.

The girls have already decided that our next kitten should be named Nigel Whiskers. I think that might be the perfect name for a cat. It's almost enough to make me go adopt a new one right now. But I think we'll wait. No need to replace Snickers yet when there is still so much to experience about this moment.

And Snickers, though you never held a pen, you sure did like to walk on the keyboard. So in your way, I expect you were making an effort to write on.