As with any death the days seem to roll into one another with no real division between night and day. Meals are half-heartedly prepared, left, forgotten, uneaten, not wanted. Such is the indescribable feeling of terrible loss, a void so wide that nothing could ever span it; the deep ache in the pit of one’s stomach that renders the thought of food unpalatable.

You expect this when you lose a human companion. But a CAT??????? The look of incredulity when someone sees you who perhaps doesn’t know and they ask you what’s wrong.

With eyes filling with tears yet again you explain between sobs that your cat has just died. ‘But it’s only a ……………’ begins the unwise person, who, when seeing the murderous look on your face, decides now not to finish the sentence. The ‘friend’ scurries away quickly not comprehending while you are left feeling guilty for their incomprehension.

Why is it that non-owning pet people just can’t seem to get their tiny little minds around the concept that pets who live with us are part of our family, an integral part of our lives and that if anything happens to them we mourn their passing just as keenly and deeply as we would mourn any member of our human family?

If I wasn’t prepared for the depth of my sadness at losing Biggles, I hadn’t even thought about how his death would affect the others, Garfield, Charlie, Billy, Timmy and Joey.

Cats are very sensitive to change in the atmosphere. They can tell when there is going to be an earthquake or a storm for example. On a more basic level, they can tell by your behaviour if you’re happy or sad, and without our knowledge they spend hours watching us through half-closed eyes when we think they’re sleeping. Cats are experts at ‘reading’ people, our body language. That is why cats will always gravitate towards the only cat-hating person in a roomful of cat-loving people and jump up on their lap!

My cats had rarely seen me cry and now they saw me crying for twenty-four hours a day. Billy, Timmy and Joey, who were only about 10 months old, at times seemed not to notice, or take any notice of the sadness that pervaded the house. But Charlie, who hadn’t said goodbye, was the most affected.

I’d be sitting reading or staring into space when a little paw would tap my leg. I’d look down to see Charlie with a question on his face: ‘Got a minute?’ Patting my lap, he’d jump up and bury his head in the crook of my elbow. Stroking him and making soothing noises I’d wait until he composed himself. Then he would pat my face in muted thanks and jump down again.

Garfield spent the first few weeks after his brother’s death visiting each place in the house and garden where Biggles’ scent lingered and he would make a sound as if he were crying. His ears would go flat and he would howl. I often found him asleep in one of Biggles’ favourite snoozing spots, as if he could hold on to him for a bit longer.

Both he and Charlie stopped eating and I took them both to the vet who prescribed medicine to help them over their grief.

Joey, noticing my weight plummet, began to bring me bits of food he found on his travels. He knew that broccoli was my favourite vegetable and one morning I woke up to find an array of broccoli florets neatly arranged on the kitchen floor. I think they all came from the compost heap but I was grateful.

The following morning there was a small piece of cake where the broccoli had been placed. Another time he laid a wedge of pizza at my feet and said encouragingly; ‘go on, just try a little bit.’

But the ‘piece de resistance’ was a huge slice of ham. Where he found it I’ll never know but he struggled through the cat flap with it hanging down like a gigantic tongue. All I could see above it was a pair of ginger ears and amber eyes and as all my cats then were ginger, I didn’t know which cat was bringing me this plunder. 

Once the body followed the ham through the cat flap I knew it was Joey. His triumphant eyes smiled as he dragged the piece of ham over to where I was sitting, eyes newly red and swollen from a fresh bout of crying. He dropped it in a crumpled heap near my feet to a tumultuous cheer from Timmy and Billy who had followed him through the cat flap.

There must have been an eleven o‘clock raid involving the three of them gaining unlawful entry to some poor unsuspecting soul’s kitchen, who, having had their attention diverted momentarily by a knock on the door or the telephone ringing, came back to discover their prospective sandwich filling had been cat-napped! Meanwhile the three ‘bandoleros’ had stealthily slunk away with their prize each holding a corner while the fourth corner flapped in the breeze. It would not have surprised me to learn that one of them had knocked on the door in the first place – to cause the diversion – and run away – laughing his head off.

Sam came and went silently, occasionally offering me a toy to occupy myself. He accepted with good grace that I didn’t want to play and would give a shrug understandingly. But he never pushed himself on any of us, just staying quietly, unobtrusively, in the background, offering a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on should the need arise.

Slowly, gradually, life took on a semblance of normality. Garfield and Charlie overcame their grief. Days passed without tears and appetites returned, and we began to prepare the house for the Christmas festivities.

Then the unthinkable happened. Joey was run over and killed instantly on Christmas Eve at 9.30 in the morning, 7 months after Biggles had died. Only five minutes before he had been sitting on my lap for our regular early morning cuddle time. My little helper, who had thoughtfully brought me food, who had spent his mornings sitting on my lap giving me cuddles and wiping my tears, was now, himself, dead at 16 months old. 

It had taken us at least six months to get used to life without Biggles – now we had to go through it all again.

As I laid him in his sunbathing box, all the cats, including Charlie and Sam, who had popped in to say ‘happy Christmas’ filed round in respect. Each sniffed the still warm body of this beautiful cat with the caring touch. Even Sam, who was still only on the fringes of our family, seemed upset and at a loss as to how to behave. He kissed Joey, then kissed Billy and Timmy. He looked at me with sad eyes before returning to his own home.

Once again I made the journey to the pet crematorium in Cambridge, next door to R.A.F. Duxford. The funerals were on the same day of the week at the same time, but this time, there were no spitfires carrying out their aeronautical manoeuvres. Poor Joey didn’t have a fly-past. The grey sunless sky of a December day added to the sadness and solemnity of this occasion.

Two months later, just before his first birthday Sam walked in and stayed. Marmalade Mansions, once home to 6 gorgeous ginger cats, had now become in the space of 9 months LAZYPAWS GUEST HOUSE FOR DISCERNING FELINES, the residents being four beautiful ginger toms and one velvety black cat with attitude.

If you need help and advice dealing with your grief, then please read 'Dealing with Grief' which is in the Feline Fitness section.

You are most welcome to send an email to us at the office where we will be ready to offer advice and counselling and a friendly, listening ear, if you need it!


A Cats Purr

"Cats make one of the most satisfying sounds in the world: they purr ...

A purring cat is a form of high praise, like a gold star on a test paper. It is reinforcement of something we would all like to believe about ourselves - that we are nice."

Roger A Caras

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