On MMDDYYYY, we went to visit my mom at the cottage. We saw a cat hanging around, and Mom said he had been around a while and must’ve been abandoned. At night he’d meet up with the local raccoons, and they taught him to forage for food, but their hands were better suited to the task. He only got whatever they left, and was very thin and small. She half-jokingly said we should take him home, but we shrugged it off. We didn’t have any pets, and had no plans to get a pet.
That night we had a fire, and Ula and I were sitting on an outdoor porch swing (http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/515CdqYY-PL.jpg) . The cat came right over and jumped up into our laps. He curled up, and started purring. He knew we were suckers, right from the start… We tried to be strong. We said “Ok, IF he comes back to us tomorrow when we’re leaving, we’ll take him home, but if he isn’t around, it wasn’t meant to be.”
Sure enough, first thing in the morning, he was right at the door waiting for us to come out and scratch him. He stayed near us all day. He had clearly chosen us, so we had no choice but to uphold our end of the deal.
Ula held him in her lap while I drove back to London in our recently acquired first car, a 1989 Volvo 740GL. We made one stop along the way, at PetSmart, where we bought a litter box, some cat food, litter, some cat toys, and a book about how to be a good cat owner (which we never read).
We got him home, somehow immediately decided to name him Max, and setup his litter box. We put him in it a couple times, and showed him that he could dig in the dirt. The first time he had to go to the bathroom he went straight to the litter box and did it there. The only time he ever had an “accident”, it wasn’t an accident. It was his way of saying “It has been far to long since you emptied my litter box, you animals. I’m a civilized being, so I’m going to poop right here on the tile floor beside my box until you clean it out.” Fair enough.
That being said, because he was raised by raccoons, he missed out on some early “how to be a cat” lessons. For example, he never quite fully understood the litterbox technique. He would go through the proper motions of burying his poo, but instead of digging up some litter to bury it, he just cleaned off his paws by rubbing them on the side of the litterbox. It didn’t bury his poo at all. All it did was get the litter out from between his toes. Maybe that was intentional? Maybe this was just part of his civilized way: “Burying poo is beneath me. I’ll clean my paws, but that’s it. I’m leaving the poo-burying to you folks”. It was ok, though, because Sammie would bury it for him before she did her business.
Anyway, Ula was afraid to tell her parents we had gotten a cat because her dad (Tony) had always hated cats, which is why she’d never been allowed to have one growing up, despite always having wanted one. Years ago Tony’d had a neighbour who didn’t take care of his cats, so they went to the bathroom in the hallway of the apartment building. He came to think of cats as filthy animals, and never looked back… until he met Max.
We told him about how Max used the litter box right from the get-go, and he was impressed. Ula’s parents came over to meet him, and Max went right up to Tony, flopped down onto his back, thrusting his optimum scratch-spot (tummy) into the air curiously close to Tony’s hand. One scratch later, and the affection was flowing in both directions. From then on, Tony affectionately called him Tiger.
WHAT A CHARACTER
In the early days, we tried to do a lot of “the right things”. We put various collars on him, and he removed them all, immediately. We tried a harness, and attached it to the clothesline, but he hated it, and it seemed like it could hurt him when he got to the end of the line and it yanked him off his feet. We drove him to the vet to get his shots, and the vet commented that he was a very happy, content cat. On the way home, we weren’t thinking straight and had the window open. Being in the car made him nervous, to the point that he actually jumped out the window at the intersection of Florence & Highbury. Luckily, Ula was paying close attention, and just managed to catch him by the tail. He wailed, but we managed to get him back in the car, and both he and his tail were fine.
We learned that he would let out a deep, sorrowful moan any time (day or night) he was inside and another animal friend was outside, or when he was trapped and didn’t know how to get out (such as in the neighbour’s fenced-in garden). I’ve never heard anything else like it.
At the time, I was working from home full-time, so Max became what my friend Chris would call my office manager. Whenever Ula was at work, Max was my only company. He always wanted to be on my keyboard, my desk, or the printer. If I printed something, he’d reach down the paper loading slot to try to catch whatever was moving around in there. More than anything, he just really wanted to be wherever I was, so I tried to be accommodating. Eventually I figured out that if I emptied out my desk drawer, he’d curl up in there and not bother me. He was so small back then, but that didn’t last long.
Max was smart. He taught himself to push open doors, and he didn’t do it timidly. He’d give it a good shove with his full weight behind that paw, and once it was completely open, he’d mosey in like the cowboy that owned the joint.
Not long after that, he learned to open doors from the other side, by pulling the edge toward himself and then backing away to let it swing open. Then he moved on to cupboards. He would occasionally hop on the counter in the middle of the night (never in the day), pull open the cupboard containing the butter dish, and stand on his hind legs until he’d licked it clean!
He could also open the cupboard that contained our garbage. I can’t count the number of times we were laying in bed when I heard the distinctive creak of the garbage cupboard door, followed by the soft thud of our plastic garbage can tipping onto the floor.
Max was so tenacious that we eventually had to put elastic bands around the handles to hold the door shut. Even that wasn’t enough to deter him, though. If there was something particularly delicious in the garbage, Max would fidget with that cupboard all night, until he removed the elasticity successfully, or broke then with his claws. One time he pulled hard enough against the elastics that he was able to slip his arm in between the door and cabinets, reach up, and pull the garbage out one piece at a time. The bag was in shreds in the morning. One night last week we forgot to put the elastics on, and sure enough, in the morning the garbage was everywhere. He really enjoyed our porkchop scraps. The raccoons would have been proud.
Shrimp and chicken were the things things he loved most, but he would eat just about anything. He always wanted some of what we were having, regardless of what we were having. The only way we could get him to leave us alone was to let him smell our food. We’d put a bit on a fork and lower it down to his nose. He’d come up, sniff, and decide if he wanted some or not. If it was broccoli, he’d walk away and stop bothering us, but if it was virtually anything else, he was relentless. He enjoyed: lettuce, carrots, cheese, cheese-filled-pastry, pepperoni, crepes, curry, chicken korma with sauce, chicken wings, even Vietnamese beef from Thuan Kieu. His appetite was insatiable, we think because he almost starved to death in his youth. Curiously, unlike most cats, he did not enjoy milk.
Everyday around 6:45am (which he decreed was breakfast time) if we had our bedroom door open, he’d come in and either scratch the dresser or scratch our new bed, because he knew we’d get up to chase him out and make him stop. If the door was shut or if we had already chased him out, he’d whine and whine. If THAT didn’t work he’d reach under our door and repeatedly twang the doorstopper until we went to get some catfood to feed him (and later Sammie). We’d take a can of wet food out of the pantry and go over to the counter to open it. He’d get SO excited that he’d reach up and scratch a drawer in giddy anticipation. Over time the top left quarter of that drawer became obliterated. Later on, it somehow became his job to wake us each day, and get us to put out the food for he and Sammie. As soon as we did, Max would get forehead licks from Sammie, as if to say “Good job, love. Thank you for providing!” Max was a good provider, and she appreciated it.
Of course, it wasn’t always that nice. In the early days, Max would eat all of his food AND all of Sammie’s food. It was only later, after they became family, that he let Sammie eat first, and then inhaled whatever was left. Max grew to become a gentleman, and he made sure it was always ladies first.
Speaking of Sammie, I should mention how and when she came into the picture. We’d had Max for about 6 or 12 months (date check) when we visited my mom on the farm where I grew up. There was a very small, very skittish cat living in my former tree fort, which was going to be torn down in the sprint. It was the dead of winter, and the snow was deep. Mom usually put out some dry food or milk for the cat, but it would probably have a hard time surviving in that cold. Every time we visited, the cat would appear and rub up against our ankles, but when we tried to pick her up, she would run away… Until one time she didn’t. She let us pick her up and pet her, and she purred, and we knew right then that she needed a home, and would be a good friend for Max… or so we thought.
We brought her home in the car, and immediately introduced her to Max. That was probably a bad move. Max was like “s’up?”, but Sammie was not prepared to meet another cat, and she freaked out, hissed, and ran away. She stayed hidden under a coffee table, in the corner behind the couch, for months. We had to put her food down there, otherwise she wouldn’t eat. If and when she did come out, she’d hiss at Max, and attack him, swatting his face faster than Mohammed Ali. Max was so chill that he just let her do it. Often he would lay down and roll onto his back, exposing his tummy as if to say “Look, I’m no threat! Stop actin’ all crazy!”
About 6 months in, I was watching Sammie have one of her usual freak-outs, hissing, and spitting, and slapping as Max sat there patiently. Then, with the split-second-speed that only cats and hummingbirds know, Max rose up and gave her a good solid right hook to the left cheek. Sammie didn’t know what hit her. A few hours later they were cuddling on the couch together, and she was licking his forehead and face.
From that moment on, they were family. There was never any sexual interest between them, but they did everything together. She did kept him on his toes, though. Almost daily, she would walk up to him, lick his forehead and face, and neck, showing immense affection… and then immediately bite his left year, hiss, and threaten to swat him if he didn’t go away. She was slightly crazy, but she was family, and he loved her. He knew it wasn’t personal, and the facelicks were always worth it.
Max was such a character, with loads of personality. In the early days, he acted pretty much like any other cat, lazing around on our back patio’s astroturf, and walking along the top of the fence, looking for squirrels, birds, mice, voles, and chipmunks. Later, he and Sammie learned to double-team their prey, like velociraptors. Sammie was faster, so she’d chase the creature to wherever Max was laying in wait. They didn’t stand a chance, and from that point on I don’t think I ever saw another chipmunk in our yard. We did have a few brought to us as trophies by a very proud duo of kitties, but we never saw them in the back yard
HABITS, PREFERENCES, & PLAYTIME
When Max was younger, he’d fall asleep between us in bed, laying on his back, with all 4 paws up in the air. He was completely at ease with us, and that made it easy to love him.
After he and Sammie became friends, whenever it was cold and our bedroom door was closed, Max and Sammie slept together to keep each other warm. Ironically, Max always played the part of the small spoon.
Max liked to be warm, but he also liked to observe, and eat. He had a lot of favourite spots in and around our house that allowed him to do just that.
He’d lay by the side of the fridge, where the heat from the compressor came out. It was also a high-traffic area, so he’d see us regularly. Plus, it just happened to be where we stored the food he’d often get scraps of.
At Christmas time, he’d always sleep under the Christmas tree, on the runner. Even after we loaded it up with presents, he’d find a way to get under there, and hang out in amongst the fake-pine, and coloured lights. Sammie never went near it.
Max supervised countless home renovation projects: the basement, the patio, the cold room, the bathroom. He’d always watch intently; not just me, but exactly what my hands were doing. Just yesterday he sat on a chair in the home office and watched while I installed a new curtain rod and curtains.
He liked to sit/lay on top of something, whenever possible – a full warm pizza box, a gym bag, or as a last resort on our memory foam bath mat (he wouldn’t walk on it, he’d walk around it, but he would sleep on it). He’d sleep on the kitchen table, the bedroom dresser, the leather recliner, the floor between the pantry & bathroom, and lately the couch in the bonus room. He also loved to lay on top of the car in the garage. Once or twice he snuck out there to explore while we were bringing in the groceries, and ended up getting locked in the garage overnight. He never panicked, though. He just laid on the roof until we realized he was missing, and opened the door. Then he’d mosey back in, and head straight for his food bowl. “Meow.”
In the summer he’d lay under the neighbour’s evergreen tree, whose branches hung so low as to keep him hidden, but let him watch people pass by on the sidewalk.
One time, we couldn’t find Max. We looked all over the house! Under things, in closets, behind things. We eventually found him on top of the bar, curled up in a cardboard box, fast asleep on top of a pile of irregularly shaped stuff. It didn’t look comfortable, but he slept there regularly for the week or two the box was there, while we were cleaning out the workshop. He even watched a movie from that box, with just his head poking out.
At night, he and Sammie would both come into our bedroom. I lay on my left side, and Sammie would usually curl up between my arm and chest. Max would sleep on top of my dresser, but once every few hours he’d jump across to the headboard, which was positioned directly beneath the window.
Our windows are old and draughty, and he loved to have his nose next to the cold glass. When it was warm enough, I’d open the glass, and he would sit there for ages, staring out, watching the pedestrians and traffic, inhaling the evening air.
There was more to that headboard than just a place to sit, though. It was designed as a sort of cabinet, such that each person has one compartment above their heads, with a third compartment in the middle. It’s usually open, but can be closed by sliding one of either side compartment’s doors open, such that it would close the middle. Early on, Max turned this into a game called “Hide and Claw”. He would climb into the middle compartment and lay down. Jokingly, we closed the door on him. He didn’t freak out, though. He was totally quiet. When we cracked it open a bit, a white paw shot out, and grasped around, trying to catch our fingers. We closed it again. Then re-opened it at the opposite end, and touched his tail. He would turn around inside the compartment, and try to reach out and attack our fingers again. This provided a LOT of fun for all of us. Later on, he was too big to turn around in there, but he still liked to grab at our fingers, and play. He never forgot that game.
Speaking of the headboard, it was too high for him to jump on by himself, so he’d first jump onto the cedar chest, then to the top of the dresser. From there, it was just a short jump to the headboard. Once or twice he didn’t quite make the jump, and fell off. He ran away, all embarrassed, and we could hear his distinctive gait go “doop doop doop doop doop” down the hallway, as his belly wagged to and fro.
Our new bed was almost too high for him to jump directly onto, but not quite. He could get up there in 1 of 2 ways. First, and most frequently, he’d sit at the base of the bed, drum up all his might, and lunge upward, using his claws to compensate for any lack of lift. He always made it. The second way was much more rare, but also more entertaining, and he did it just last week. He would start all the way down the hallway, and sprint like a bat out of hell straight for the bedroom. Within a moment of entering, he’d leap instantly to the top of the bed, and use his momentum to spring forward right onto the top of the headboard in a single elegant movement, like an olympic athlete vaulting over a pommel horse. It was epic.
Another game we established early on was the bathroom game. There were 2 variants. In the first, you had left the bathroom door open while you were using it. Sitting on the toilet meant he had you trapped. You had to give him at least a few good scratches before you were allowed to leave. In the second variant, you had shut the door. Max was outside it, and he heard something inside, so he’d reach his paw under the door, grasping for something… anything. Putting your bare toes within reach was only natural. He’d usually manage to snag one, and while it kind of hurt, it was also fun. That game quickly became a family favourite.
Max did have one other favourite spot, and it was reserved for special occasions: Ula’s stool, which sits just below the front bay window, between the glass and the sheers. If we were out, Max would sit there waiting for us to come home. We’d pull up to the house in the car, and his face would always be there, waiting. As soon as we hit the button to open the garage door, he’d dismount the stool, and his face would disappear. He ran to the inside of the door, and greeted us by rubbing against our legs until we picked him up, cradled him like a baby, and rubbed his tummy, which he loooooved, and always rewarded us with a long deep purrrrrrr. To be honest, him waiting on that stool is one of our favourite memories. Sammie rarely sits there, and never waits for us. It’s just not her thing.
After some time, we bought Max a cat perch, and positioned it by the sliding doors that look out over our back yard. It became his default spot during the day. He would always lay or sleep there, basking in the warm sun, watching the birds and squirrels. For the past year or so, he adopted the pose of the “I don’t always ___ , but when I do, I ___” meme-guy. I found it extremely entertaining.
Max was so friendly that I worried every time we let him outside. He was not afraid of people at all. He’d go up to anyone, flop over onto his back, and be like “Rub my belly!” Consequently, he had a lot of friends in the neighbourhood. He was skin and bones when we got him, but over the years he had gained weight up to about 17-20lbs. We tried to put him on diets several times, but he would beg and beg, or just eat all of Sammie’s food as well as his own. She was never a big eater, and didn’t complain when Max ate her food. Even when we did manage to keep Max on a diet, he never lost any weight. I have a feeling that he’d charm his way to unlimited treats from the neighbours. He was always friendly to everyone, and as gentle as gentle could be. He only ever bit anyone once, and that was 2 weeks ago. It wasn’t intentional, though. Ula accidentally slammed his tail in the door, and he bit her out of instinctual fear. They both felt badly afterwards, and had a good cuddle to make-up.
Usually, when Max and Sammie were outside, we could just shake a treat bag to get them to come running, but on occasion one of them wouldn’t come back. If it was Sammie, there was nothing you could do but wait. If it was Max, there was one thing you could do. On the 4 or 5 occasions that Max was nowhere to be found, I picked Sammie up, and whispered in her ear “Go find Max. Go find Max. Max Max Max”, then I’d put her back outside. Within 5 minutes they’d both be at the door. It worked like magic.
Another other unique thing about Max is that he snored… when he was wide awake. Any time he was super-relaxed, or content, he would snore. He could be sitting on the headboard staring out the window, and after a few minutes, the snoring came. It eventually got so loud that Ula had trouble falling asleep. I think its repetitiveness actually helped me fall asleep. He snored on his perch, looking out the sliding doors at the back yard. He snored on Vine, and Instagram. He snored on the leather recliner, while we were trying to watch movies.
Oh, movies. Whenever he hadn’t already fallen asleep, Max loved to watch movies with us in the basement. He would either sit between us on the couch, or on one of the bar stools, with one of his paws dangling through the handle-hole. Even if there were glasses, or plates, or remotes on the bar stool, he’d figure a way to squeeze himself on there. Either way, he stared intently at the screen. If there were characters on the screen, you could watch his head follow them around. Same for video games. The only part he didn’t like was the loud rumbling bass of explosions. He would immediately jump down, and run upstairs. He would usually come back, though, once things had quieted down. You see, between us on the couch was the perfect spot to get a 2 hour belly-rub. Being able to watch a movie while we rubbed was just a bonus.
What else was he afraid of? Not much, but definitely the treadmill, the vacuum cleaner, and the lawnmower. Any time we used then he’d go hide on the chair in the dining room, in the bedroom, or on the recliner in the basement.
Max was overweight, but he was still fast, and agile. Often, Sammie would just start running around the inside of our house, and Max would give chase. Sammie went so quickly that her momentum would push the carpet runner in the hallway over and up the side of the wall. Max couldn’t catch her, but he never gave up trying. Outside, I have no idea how, but he could still jump the gate to get out of our back yard, and back in. Just this summer I saw him bolt all the way across the lawn, and straight under the BBQ cover that was laying against the house. He came out a second later with a mouse. I have no idea how he saw it from that far away, or how he managed to catch it so quickly, but he did it with ease.
He also had a favourite summertime game with Sammie, which they loved to play again and again. There’s a patch of very long jungly grass-like stuff in our garden. It’s so long that it arches over so that the tips touch the ground. This creates a kind of grass tunnel/canopy. Sammie would hide in there, and Max would hunt her down, pouncing when the time was right. She would sprint away, and either circle back around to hide again, or race up the big Maple tree that Max was too heavy to climb. It was a good game.
Max loved being outside. In the fall, he’d chase leaves. In the summer, he’d chase butterflies, and lay in the long grass. Most memorably, though, is that he also loved to just sit in the garden, looking at flowers like a furry little Buddha. Let me clarify; he would sit on the grass just outside the garden, facing the flowers, which only had a wooden fence behind them. The only thing to see in that direction was the flowers… and he’d sit there staring at them for ages. Occasionally he’d go over and smell them. Other times, he’d just go sit under the big maple tree, surveying the yard. He loved the tranquility of it all.
Max also loved being with his family. Wherever we were, Max also wanted to be. If we were in the bedroom, he wanted to be in the bedroom, and would whine or twang the doorstopper until we let him in. If we were in the TV room, so was he. If we were in the bathtub, we closed the door to keep the warm air in, but he still wanted to be in the room with us (even though he was afraid of the sound of running water). If we were in the back yard, he wouldn’t go exploring. Given the whole world, he preferred to stay with us. We were his friends.
When I was growing up, I lived on a little hobby farm, just outside of Petrolia, a small town in Southwestern Ontario. I was too young to bike or walk to friends houses, and my sister wasn’t born until I was 7, so I spent a lot of time alone. I was very sensitive, and whenever I got yelled at, or when my parents fought, I would tell all my troubles to my dog, Freeway (I named her that because she was fast — kid logic). Anyway, point is, I established a pattern of treating my pets as best friends. It always seemed like they understood me when nobody else did. They always seemed to care, and give an empathetic lick.
Later, in high school, and at university, I didn’t have any pets. My friends took over that role in my life, and I still try to keep in touch with that inner circle of people, but in 2008 I met Ula, and moved from Toronto, to London. I didn’t have any friends in London, and I worked from home. When we got Max, it was only natural that he become my new confidant. Max took on the role like a champ. He never licked me, but he and I did share a special bond. Whenever I was deeply emotional, I would tell him my problems. We were either in bed, or I was sitting at the table, and he was laying on the table. In any case, when he saw that I was distraught, he would get up, walk over to me, and make a slight head gesture. I would lower my head down to his level, and he would press his forehead against mine, with the middle of our eyebrows touching in the same spot. He’d give a light press forward, and then back away. Occasionally, he’d repeat the motion. Sometimes, in reply I’d rub my chin between his ears. Then he’d curl up in my arms and lay a while, in a comforting way. He normally demanded scratches when he lay next to you, but never when I was upset. My “language of love” is touch, so that was immensely therapeutic.
On Saturday morning, we woke up, put out some food for the cats, and went to the YMCA pool together for the first time. We did 10 laps (20 lengths) followed by 45 minutes of Aquafit. I have to lose a lot of weight in order to be eligible for a kidney transplant and time is running out, but we both love swimming so that’s how we’re going to do it! After the swim we went home, hung out a bit, and then headed to Ula’s parents’ house around 2pm for thanksgiving.
In between preparing the turkey, and my mom arriving, we had a whole conversation about how we fit “The Whole Family” (Ula, Me, Sammie, & Max) in our double bed, and about how it has gotten more difficult recently, with Ula’s pregnancy, and the addition of a body pillow… but we still manage, and we still love it. We talked about Max and Sammie, and how after all this time, they are still best friends, and true characters. We talked about how Max always jumps up on the bed where Sammie is, and lays down almost right on top of her, thrusting his face into her licking-zone. She dutifully licks his forehead and face, then hisses, jumps down, and runs away. Max just shrugs and enjoys having a clean face.
We got home around 9pm, and were beat. The cats hadn’t had dinner yet, and were starving, crying for food, as usual. I was too tired and lazy to open a can of wet food and dole it out, so I just gave them each a handful of dry. Max isn’t a big fan of dry, but’s he’ll eat it. Plus, it’s Sammie’s favourite. Then we went straight to bed.
The next morning (Sunday) we woke up at 5, and Sammie was laying on my hip. I turned to face Ula, and Sammie jumped down and left, as usual… A few minutes later she came back and laid on Ula. Rare, but whatever. We fell back asleep and got up at our 6:20am alarm, so that we could be at the pool for 7am.
Max hadn’t yet scratched at our door, or whined for food, but we were up earlier (6:20) than he usually came by (6:45). We did notice that he wasn’t there begging for food, but as we were in a rush, we just brushed it off and thought “He must still be sleeping downstairs on the recliner” (as he so often did), so we just put out some dry food and ran out the door.
We got back around 10am after having swum, bought groceries, and stopped at Ula’s parents for tea. I was in the bathroom when Ula yelled “Come here! Come here!” I replied “Is it a spider?”, and she said “It’s Max!” My heart skipped a beat.
I didn’t even finish what I was doing and ran out “Where is he? Where is he?” She pointed. There he was, laying next to the heat register in the dining room, in his usual cozy, calm, relaxed pose, but his chest wasn’t moving. I immediately fell to the floor and felt him… room temperature, and stiff.
We both burst into tears and wailing. We cuddled there on the floor, asking how… why… screaming no, and that we missed him, and that he was the best cat in the whole wide world. I ran my fingers through the hair between his ears, as I always had, and scratched his chin, and pressed my forehead to his, because he could no longer press it to mine. How utterly horrible.
For years, Max & Sammie had been our only children, and I have been looking forward to introducing them to our first human child in January. I’ve imagined countless times, watching the baby touch the soft kitty fur. I have imagined Max watching over the baby while it sleeps. I had imagined having to tell the baby not to trim his spectacular whiskers, because cats did not need haircuts. But that had just all come to an end.
As far as we can tell, his heart stopped while he was sleeping. There were no signs of sickness, fear, vomit, or otherwise. His eyes were closed, he was in his most comfortable pose, and he was just gone. He died peacefully in his sleep.
We started mentally beating ourselves up. we sould have noticed that he didn’t greet us when we came home; that he wasn’t sitting on the stool in the window. We felt horrible for not realizing sooner. But there was nothing we could have done. The reality was that he had passed in the night, while we were still asleep, long before we got up to go for a swim.
That explained why Sammie had tried to stay in our bedroom this morning. Her friend had died, and she wanted some comfort. Then I remembered Sammie. Where was she? I looked, and found her on our bed all hunched up in a tight little ball, completely silent, alone, and sad. She’d had hours to realize what had happened. She wasn’t interested in his body at all. It was as if she no longer recognized him. After a little cuddle, she wanted outside.
PAYING OUR RESPECTS
We let her out, and she immediately ran around and burned off some energy, but then she did something very unusual for her. She sat in the garden looking at the flowers. She sat by the tree that Max had chased her up countless times. She chased a few leaves, which was Max’s habit, not hers. While I dug a large hole under the old maple tree, near the birdbath, this was how she paid her respects. Afterwards, she inspected the hole, but did not enter. I think she knew. Then she hid in the bushes while we went inside to prepare his body.
We wrapped him in a light blue blanket, and laid him to rest on his favourite pillow with his 2 favourite toys (a knitted mouse with yarn tail that once had catnip inside, and a mouse that hung from a doorknob on an elastic string). We carried him out to his grave. It was a crisp autumn day, with leaves falling effortlessly to the ground, without being intercepted by Max’s paws. A sunbeam fell across his final resting place as we lowered him down, and then together, each with a hand on the shovel, filled it in, both wanting to participate equally in the ceremony.
It’s 10pm now, about 36 hours since we found him breathless, and I have been breathless ever since. I can’t remember a time when I cried so hard for so long, virtually nonstop for two days. I’m 38 and have never really come face-to-face with death. All my former pets either ran away, or simply disappeared, which was fairly common on a farm. I’m having trouble coping. I can’t tell Max about this problem. I haven’t been hungry, and skipped most of my meals. I only made it part way through dinner before falling apart again.
Nobody begged for my turkey scraps tonight, and for the first time in a very long time, we only had to wash one catfood dish.
Everywhere I look, something reminds me of him: bits of his shed hair peeking out from under the bed, all the spots he loved to sit, Sammie walking down the hallway alone, meowing quietly, awaiting a reply that never comes.
I am grieving for myself, and Ula, and Sammie. She lost her best friend, too, and now she’s the only cat left in the house. Ula had to work today, but Sammie and I spent the whole day in bed together, reassuring one another that we’d get through this.
It’s thanksgiving Monday, and we are so thankful to have had Max in our lives. He died too young (7), but he was a happy cat. It’s nice that he didn’t have to know the pains of growing old, not being able to catch mice, not being able to chase Sammie, not being able to jump up on the dresser, etc. We are thankful that he didn’t get hit by a car, and we are happy that we could give him a life of luxury, with the family he chose to love, who loved him back with every ounce of their being. We’ll always remember him with deep love. So long, my friend.
I see a lot of myself in Max. We were both at risk of dying due to being overweight. Max’s weight caused his heart to stop 5-10 years prematurely, and it’s the number one thing preventing me from getting the kidney transplant I so desperately need. They won’t operate on me until I lose ~100lbs; a seemingly insurmountable challenge… but given this weekend’s events, death is, all of a sudden, much more real and painful than it was before.
Max didn’t know he was about to die, but I do believe that everything happens for a reason. In this case, I believe he died just far enough out of sight that it didn’t stop us from going for the swim I needed in order to help establish a new healthy habit; one that could literally save my life. That was his last gift to me… and holy fuck I’m crying as I type that.
So, I’m going to visit my dad, my sister, and my mom more often. I really need to spend more time with them. Life is so short, and can disappear with no notice, when you least expect it.
Tomorrow morning, I’m getting up bright and early to go for a swim.