If I were to pick a word for 2019 it would be LOSS. I was prepared for the loss of my mother because her decade long decline had made it possible to prepare myself in many ways. Even then I was bowled over by the reality of the feeling. Days when I thought I was okay were days when I was just better at masking the feelings from myself. There’s a feeling that runs deeper than a mind’s desire for everything to be okay. Grief that feels as though it flows through you and floods you like torrential rains. It is the feeling of waiting for your heart to break completely but waking up to a world that is normal but feels alien.
My first cat was a calico cat who got ill suddenly and passed away when she was not even a year old. I was five or six and I remember her more from pictures than from actual memories but I do remember how she stopped eating and how it all seemed so sudden. Over the years I read a variety of books that centered on calico cats and held a special place in my heart for the breed. Although I had a few cats over the years I did not have another calico until Kioko. In my early twenties I was ready for another cat and so I looked online for one through Petfinder. And there I found “Trouble” but I didn’t notice her name, I just saw how beautiful she was and I immediately knew she was the one. She was about an hour away but I knew she was the one. The woman I got her from had found Kioko’s mother, a pregnant stray, and brought her inside in order to have the kittens and find homes for them.
She was quiet and slept through the ride home but once she was there she was in fact a precocious creature. She nipped sleeping toes, bonded with her teddy and just had to have things her way on her terms. Prior to finding her I had been coping with depression and a host of issues that I was managing poorly. Her entry into my life changed everything. It didn’t happen all at once but the daily need and love from her gave me a focal purpose in my life. She was never an overly friendly cat but she bonded to me for reasons other than food–she sought me out and spent time near me when she was in the mood.
Her beauty was something I cannot overstate. The supple designs in her fur and her patterning were so elegantly placed that she looked lovely no matter what she was doing. But she was often a more serious cat, uninterested in play and curious in ways that were more theoretical than applied. I will argue that her beauty emanated from within. If she loved you she brought a warmth and acceptance that innervated. And her daily presence helped to heal me in the way that unconditional, unearned love can do.
Over the years she would join me while I wrote. Sometimes she would groom my hair or hop onto me while I slept and begin kneading and purring. She was very into the bathroom follow for reasons that became clearer toward the end of her life. Before bedtime especially, she would wait for me outside the shower and then head into the bedroom and lay beside where she expected me to lay. Over the last month I have considered the question: did I take her for granted? The answer is no. Any decision that would effect her I considered carefully and shaped my life in a way that would suit as much of her temperament as I could. Some choices had to be made which I thought she couldn’t handle but she was so resilient. But, I never considered a day in which she no longer was. As strange as that sentence sounds it feels worse to say–I didn’t think she would ever die.
I felt this desire to overturn time and space just to have her back. It came from deep within me. The rules of existence should be altered just for her. Just to spend another day working to make her happy.
The day to day is where I notice it. I still look for her. Still feel the places she would inhabit. I notice where she is missing, which is everywhere. Every day she was wholly herself and she was perfectly pleased with herself. I loved her and I loved this because it was who she was. In her absence I cannot split the parts of her that were frustrating from the parts that were beautiful. I miss her going after the one piece of plastic that somehow escaped my notice. Cleaning up after her was something that became a big part of the last month or so of her life and I found depths of patience I had never had before. It was important to me that she had the dignity that she so fiercely guarded and so I was glad if I could make her more comfortable. The love I felt for her was something I took for granted. I knew I loved her. Of course. But, after she died it was so strange how fully I felt this desire to overturn time and space just to have her back. It came from deep within me. The rules of existence should be altered just for her. Just to spend another day working to make her happy.
The first two weeks were filled with that feeling. The next two weeks have been full of finding ways to keep the sense of her in the mundane–on my phone, on my wallpaper, in a picture frame my husband and I move around so that she’s always just hanging out around us. Although she wasn’t an overly friendly cat she loved being nearby and became more overtly friendly in her last couple of years. Often I have felt guilty for having an unconventional working situation which allows me to spend more time at home but I took comfort in the knowledge that it enabled me to give her the care she’d given me so many years before when she helped me to feel excited about waking up the next day. There’s less pep in my step because I no longer have to wake up to feed her and give her attention when all I want is more sleep. She was a one of a kind individual. There will never be another.
“There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.” ~ Oliver Sacks
Before she died I had been reading Oliver Sacks’ Uncle Tungsten and following her death I reread some of the final articles and sentiments on death that he passed on to the world. His writing brought me enormous comfort even as it brought me to tears. The thing I think about the most with Kioko was her beauty, it emanated from within her because she was so wholly herself apart from anything and anyone. It is a given that her passing brings me more sorrow than I ever considered I could feel but the competing feeling is one of gratitude for her sharing her life with me.