I started writing this months ago, not long after Bagha died. In India, to be precise. As a way to help me come to terms with his loss, I spent some time trying to write down what made him special for me. What is it exactly that I’m grieving, through him?
I actually tried to blog this once before, and that ended up being the article “Sorting Through Grief“. Like all painful things, it’s tempting to postpone this kind of exercise — but now that I’m preparing to take Bagha’s ashes out of the back of my cupboard to scatter them in the garden he loved, I feel it is time to pick up this list again. I need to move forward. These last weeks, or maybe months, I’ve slipped into a not-too-uncomfortable limbo somewhere along the road of grief. There was a little sideroad somewhere with a bench, and I sat down.
It’s time to start walking again.
What follows is a little raw. It’s also not “perfect” — meaning that I’m aware I’m failing at sorting through some of the things I was hoping to sort through while writing this. That’s the whole point, I guess. Otherwise I would just sail “happily” through grief, if it wasn’t that difficult for me.
So, what made Bagha such a special cat for me? Quoting from my previous post, here’s what I’m trying to disentangle:
- what it means for me to now be living completely alone (ie, “petless” => by extension, what having a pet — any pet — adds to my life)
- what made Bagha special, as compared to other cats (his personal caracteristics, pretty objectively)
- what made Bagha special for me, in terms of the relationship we had and what he meant to me
I’ll start by setting aside the obvious: what kind of cat Bagha was, outside of the relationship I had with him.
- he was big and strong
- he was a beautiful animal
- he had a mashed-up nose and ear tufts
- he had a long non-twitchy tail
- he slept on his back with his front paws crossed
- he was long-legged and slim with very sleek fur — had the body of an Indian cat
- he was a spotted/striped tabby with lovely eyeliner
- he slept on his back, front paws crossed on his chest
- he had a very girly high-pitched meow which was kind of comical for such a big boy
- he snored gently in his sleep and made little moaning noises when being petted
- he wasn’t fearful
- he liked people and people liked him
- he was smart
- he was communicative
- he was dignified
- he had an attitude
- he was cuddly without being needy
- he was patient and tolerant but not out of fear
- he had a strong character
- he was very territorial and peed on all the bushes
Things he did (I’m aware we’re in the anecdotal department here):
- he opened the fridge
- he drank out of the toilet
- he gnawed on drawer handles
- he played with sticks and chewed them like a dog, holding them between his two front paws
- he would creep into cupboards the second the door was opened
- he opened drawers
- whenever possible, he would rest his head on a pillow (proper or improvised — a laptop would do)
- he would deftly knock over glasses of water to drink it
- he would knock things off my bedside table if I didn’t wake up fast enough
How he was with me, bearing in mind that this is pretty standard cat-behaviour:
- he loved having his belly rubbed
- he liked being carried under one arm
- he liked being cuddled curled up on my chest
- he’d sleep with his head and paw resting on my arm
More about his behaviour and interactions with me and other humans, which is maybe a little less “cat-standard”, but not yet the stuff that made my relationship with him so special:
- he would come back home all by himself, right into the flat, and come and say hello
- he trained the whole building to let him in and out
- he would patiently let me give him his meds or put his collar on before going out
- everybody who met him liked him and saw he was not an ordinary cat
Here we are, now. The cat-companion. This is what the emptiness of his absence is made of.
- he slept with me every night
- he would follow me discreetly from room to room
- he’d sit on the table while I ate
- he’d wake me in the morning to go out with just one meow
- he would come and lie down where I patted my hand
- he would come and cuddle when I watched TV or worked at home
Trying to rise above the mundane details of daily cohabitation (even if they’re important), here are some of the deeper roles Bagha played for me:
- he would be waiting for me, always happy to see me
- he kept me company every day
- he helped me connect to people in my building and neighbourhood
- he connected me to India and Aleika
- he was a constant through all the changes my life went through these last ten years
Of these, I guess the fact he kept me company and was happy to see me are more pet-generic than Bagha-specific.
But the role he played in helping me find my place in my neighbourhood, the connexion to India and Aleika, and the ten years of my life that he saw me through — those are things that are uniquely linked to Bagha. No other cat will ever be able to give me that again. He was a living, breathing, purring witness to these things, no lost forever. I carry those years and that part of my life completely alone, now.
Along the same lines, here are two more things I’d like to add:
- he made eclau a special coworking space
- he brought me closer to some of my friends who lived in my flat to take care of him when I was away
Eclau will have other cats, and be a “special” coworking space in that respect in the future. Salem, my upstairs neighbour’s cat, has already taken quarters on the couch, and will probably soon have his own page on the eclau website. Some time next year, I’ll be ready to have cats again, and they’ll come to eclau too. It will always be a kitty-friendly coworking space — but Bagha was the first, and his constant presence in the office was soothing for those who worked there.
The fact that quite a few of my friends cat-sat at some point or another when I was travelling over the last ten years made him a connexion between me and them — connexion which is now gone, like some of those friendships. His absence makes their pastness a little more present.
On a more emotional level:
- I loved him and cared for him
- I gladly gave up some of my freedom because I loved him
- I accepted some risks (like losing him to a car accident) because it gave him a better life
These are things I learned for life because he was my pet, and will treasure for ever. His legacy in me. Traces of his life that his death cannot erase, and which — I believe — make me a better person.
I believe there is no meaning in the world other than the meaning we put in it, consciously or not. Beyond the meaninglessness of life and death, we choose to make sense of our lives so that we can keep on growing.
Maybe Bagha’s biggest gift to me, beyond the ten years of precious companionship he gave me, is in his death. I got to say good-bye. Not at the moment of my choosing, of course — death rarely gives us that — but did get to say good-bye properly. I am saying good-bye.
So here’s the meaning I choose and which makes perfect sense for my life, almost as if it were provided by some intention bigger than and beyond me:
Bagha let me love him for a long time and with all my heart, so that I could learn to love and grieve properly.
Amongst all this, I wonder, what is just the pain of finding myself “alone”, or catless? What does it mean to me to have a cat? I’ve tried to break it down into “plus side” and “minus side”, because part of the grieving process is also greeting the new good things in my life brought about by this loss (I have a blog post draft sitting in WordPress titled “The Bittersweet Freedom of Catlessness” — I will write it someday).
Having a cat means:
- having company to sleep with me at night
- having somebody to care for
- having somebody waiting for me to come home
- having somebody to communicate with and keep me company
- having cuddles and affection handy when needed
- having an attraction for visitors and a topic of conversation to make friends amongst cat-lovers
But it also means:
- giving up some freedom (no unplanned trips)
- expenses (food, vet, etc)
- having to cat-proof the home
- having to get up to let the cat out, or change the litter
- worrying that it didn’t come home (or might not)
- negotiations with neighbours/concierge if it causes any trouble
The pain of losing Bagha is still very present, nearly five months after his death. There is still a terrible pit of sadness in my heart, but it doesn’t overflow with tears anymore when I don’t want it to.
I sometimes try to imagine my future cats, who are maybe not even born yet — I fear that I will not love them as much as I loved Bagha, or that they will not be quite so extraordinary, and I know that I still need to spend some time walking down that road.