Seven years ago today, on 9 January 2005, my beloved cat Macavity died. Here he is, in some shots from 2001, when he was aged 12 and looked in the prime of life:
By 2003, when 14, he was still active and in good condition:
But by late 2004 old age had got to him. He was getting thin, and his energy had departed. Here he is, looking out of the front door of the house I was then living in. He wasn't too happy - unwell, not eating nearly so much, and feeling the cold breeze like never before. Poor thing:
And then he died in the first days of 2005, when nearly 16. I sat up with him. It was a bonding experience I've never forgotten. I wrote about it in a post about someone else's cat (see Ashley Lynch's cat has died, posted on 6 August 2009), including a poem of my own which went as follows:
DEATH OF A CAT
In the abyss of your eyes
I read no pain,
Only the knowledge of a deep sleep to come,
A secret cave of dreams.
My head next to yours,
My fingertip in your paw,
The claws gentle,
The pressure speaking of a kind of love,
A meeting of souls,
But not of fear.
Oh Macavity, so thin now,
Too weak to stand,
But still resplendent in your soft striped fur.
A gaunt giant of a cat,
My cat, my own.
I named you, I loved you,
Did you know that?
And now I grieve for you,
My lovely, lovely cat.
I love you now,
I don't want you to die.
Still we hold each other's eyes.
What are you thinking?
Do you remember when you were a kitten,
Arriving in a box,
A tiny bundle in a corner.
And we lifted you out,
And you filled a shirt pocket.
You were so small.
And later you looked for me
As I lay sorrowing on my bed,
Pondering my broken marriage.
You comforted me,
And we made a pact,
And I let you be the warm hat on my head.
And now you lie here dying.
Still the bond is strong,
We cannot break it.
If my voice, my tears,
And the touch of my hand
Then you will know that I love you,
And that my life is changed.
[Macavity talking now]
Oh, don't worry about me,
I've got nine lives, you know.
I'm glad you took care of me,
And fed me,
And let me roam.
Thank you for a long life,
And for giving me a home.
I hope you enjoyed the mice and birds I caught:
I gave you the best,
And you can't blame me if I ate the rest.
I hunted to my heart's content
In the long tall grass;
And when the sun was hot
I was glad you were no gardener,
You left bushes and brambles,
And I had many a favourite spot.
I know you cared when you took me to the vet.
I hated it, but I went for you, because you cared.
And I know you are caring now.
I saw sixteen summers
And never a moment of fear or pain.
I will be lucky in my next life
To have it all over again.
And now I must dream.
And I added this footnote:
I don't care that it's a bad poem. It says what I want about a wonderful cat.
My eyes fill with tears whenever I read my own words. I loved him, and I can't help it.
Macavity died overnight, in the small hours, dreaming hunting dreams. In the morning, I found that although lying on his side on his soft cushion, he had assumed the position of a cat leaping, a little tiger. I put him out in the back garden while I prepared his grave and his funeral service:
The grave would be in the far corner of the garden, the corner by the fence that you can see in the photo. I dug it deep, crying as I did so. I gently placed his cushion in it, with sprigs of white heather, and his favourite plastic lizards to play with:
Then, wrapped in a blanket to keep him comfortable to the last, I placed Macavity in, and with tears streaming down my face, and a broken heart, slowly hid him from view under the good brown earth. Over the top I placed a large heavy paving slab:
Ideally I would have engraved on it:
HERE LIES MACAVITY 1989-2005 He was the best of cats
That wasn't feasible. But I did place some more heather and some flowers on his grave that M--- had made into a bunch:
By the way, all through this M--- had helped me and supported me, and was just as upset. She had often held Macavity tenderly in his final days.
Macavity's death heralded six years of huge change. Two months later, in March 2005, and quite out of the blue, a chance to retire early came up. I applied without much hope, but was successful - though not without reservations at this stroke of amazing good luck (see The Pension, posted on 24 February 2010). I retired in May 2005. Later in 2005 I sold my house, because my pension wasn't large enough to pay the mortgage with. I moved in with M---. I felt sad leaving Macavity behind, but the new owners erected a garden shed over his grave, guaranteeing that it wouldn't be disturbed for a very long time to come.
Looking back, I'm sure that retiring so early was a tragic mistake in several ways. Just look at what disappeared from my life from the beginning of 2005:
# My cat Macavity.
# My job, and with it dozens of colleagues, an entire daytime social life.
# Most of the structure in my day.
# My own home.
And then as transition arrived and progressed:
# My parents.
# M--- herself.
# All of M--'s family and friends
# My best friend.
# Nearly all my retirement capital (£200,000 gone forever).
I would of course say that the gains - chiefly my own successful transition, and the freedom I now have to use my remaining life as I best choose - are an enormous compensation. But the changes and losses ushered in my Macavity's departure have also been enormous. Truly my life has been turned upside down! But not ruined. And I don't blame Macavity. He was innocent.
And he taught me something about how to care, how to be kind, how to love unselfishly, how to touch, and how to cry.