I used to have a totally awesome cat who was a strange combination of my very best friend and my child. I got this cat when I was 11 and he instantly became my best friend. I kid you not: This cat would sleep on my pillow, wrapped around my head, every single night. When I left my house, this cat would wait for me by the front window from the minute I left until the minute I returned. I taught this cat to sit, lie down, shake hands, and say "Mom." Again, I kid you not: This cat could say "Mom."
This cat was also pretty awesome because he let me put clothes on him and did not scratch my face off. If I was a cat I would think that might deserve some kind of award or something. This cat was also pretty awesome because he accompanied me several times when I ran away, hanging out in my book bag like he was in a Baby Bjorn, head sticking out and just taking in the world. When we would find a place to hang out for the night, he rarely left my lap. Nothing in the world was more interesting or important to him than I was.
Ten years later when I got married and moved in with my husband, on our very first night together this cat hopped up onto the bed to assume his position by my head — but before he got there, he made a quick stop to throw up on my new husband, right on his face.
I never realized how smart that cat actually was until I found out how horrible my new husband was and realized the cat had figured it out first, but I digress.
One morning when my alarm went off at 5 a.m., I reached over and turned it off just like I always did, and then I reached above my head to let the cat know that it was time to get up, just like I always did. This time, though, my cat felt different.
I knew instantly.
I screamed with such alarming intensity that my husband jumped out of bed so fast he got tangled in the sheets and knocked the nightstand over. In his hurry to turn on the light, he broke not only the lamp but the TV as well.
At this point I was kneeling on the bed, looking at the body of my now-gone best friend-child, and I couldn’t even process what to do. I picked him up — which was the worst idea ever and caused me nightmares for months on end — and immediately realized what death felt like. Because he was still warm, I thought maybe I could bring him back.
I started CPR. People, I’m not kidding. That’s what panic mode does to you.
When I realized that it wasn’t going to work, I knew I needed help. Who do you call for help? You call 911. The only reason that the paramedics did not show up and take me away to the hospital was that my new husband wrestled the phone out of my hands. My best friend/child was gone and I was shattered into a million tiny pieces.
In my horror and a combination of overwhelming grief and self-protecting numbness, I called my mother. My mom and I don’t have a good relationship. If I am calling her, it’s because something big has happened, and the whole family knows it.
Her phone rang at roughly 5:23 a.m., and this is how the conversation went.
Me: "Mom, my cat’s dead."
Her: "How do you know he is dead?"
Me: "I just woke up and he was dead on my pillow. I picked him up and he was all floppy and he peed on me."
Her: "He died in your bed? Why did you even move him?"
Me: "I wanted to try and give him CPR. It didn’t work."
Her: "You gave him CPR!?"
Me: "He wasn’t breathing."
Her: "Of course he isn’t breathing. He’s dead."
Me: "I don’t even know what to do. Should I call 911? Do I call a vet? They will just cremate him and I won’t have anywhere to visit his body!" [Clearly I am hysterical here and past the point of reason.]
Her: "No, don’t call 911. Just get him in the car and we will bury him in the backyard."
Me: "Is that even legal? I thought you couldn’t bury pets in residential areas?"
Her: "Just hurry up before everyone else gets up for work and no one will see us. Your father and I will find a box big enough to put him in."
Okay, now bear with me here. There is a reason I am telling you all of this. It’s because I want to warn you.
If you ever make a phone call to someone at 5:23 a.m., alerting them to the fact that your pet has just died, and you value the condition of the heart that is currently beating in the body of anyone who might overhear that conversation, please make sure that they know what you guys are talking about, because my dad?
The dude who was in bed next to my mom, the dude who knows I would never call unless there is an absolute emergency, he heard this:
His wife: "How do you know he is dead? He died in your bed? Why did you even move him? You gave him CPR? Of course he isn’t breathing, he is dead. No, don’t call 911. Just get him in the car and we will bury him in the backyard. Just hurry up before everyone else gets up for work and no one will see us. Your father and I will find a box big enough to put him in."
Oops. Sorry, Dad. We almost had to bury two family members that day as my father listened to one half of the conversation, thinking that my mother and I were talking about my new husband. In fact, he was in the background apparently pacing in circles, hands on his head, and screaming, "What on earth!? What are you talking about? How did he die?" and my mother kept shushing him.
Again, sorry, Dad.
As for the cat, we did bury him in my parents’ backyard. I spent a fortune on a pet headstone and visited my best friend/child often for many years. Now his picture hangs framed on my wall, prominently displayed for all to see.
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the emptiness that surrounds my pillow, but the years have eased the pain, and the sharpness that is the memory of that morning has dulled.
As for one-sided phone calls, I myself was a victim of that many years later thanks to a half-received text message, a friend who took her date home and an accidentally smashed restaurant takeout tinfoil duck container. I would elaborate but … it’s complicated.
Sorry, Dad, you’re right: It can be bit hard on the cardiovascular system.
Have you ever freaked out when your cat died? How did you handle it? What got you through it? Did you call on family and friends? Tell us your story in the comments.
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About the author: Eden Strong is a quirky young woman with a love for most animals with fur. She readily admits to living her life completely devoid of most social graces and so far she’s still alive. More of her crazy antics can be read on her blog, It Is Not My Shame to Bear.