Saturday, November 20, 2010

At the end of Nine Lives

As promised a post of eulogy

18 years is along time to love a pet. Zipper came to live with us that long ago after a long heated debate over the merits of pet ownership. It was the first real marital compromise Michael and I faced. It took some time but eventually I was standing at the pet store scooping up the tiny black and white bundle who had stepped on every furry face and arse in the cage to get to me. It immediately became clear that my pet ownership share was wrapped up in those 20 minutes at the pet store, after that everything else was Michael. He named the cat, made him a bed, took care of the litter and spoiled him rotten. In return Zipper followed him around the house, slept beside him, on him or under his side of the bed. I was the facilitator of a beautiful friendship. Eventually one cat gets lonely so we got Zipper a brother; Pepper. Pepper slept under a laundry basket for the first week because Zipper was not prepared to let another cat take over his claim. Eventually they worked things out and life became interesting. Zipper was like the older more responsible brother keeping Pepper in line with a swat or a squawk when needed. Pepper was the rebel, sneaking drinks of our rye and coke and sniffling candles. They were inseparable. They trashed, not once but twice, our family Christmas tree that first year knocking it to the floor and smashing every single ornament.

Pepper left our family early under unclear circumstances. One day the two went outside and 2 weeks later Zipper returned alone with streaks of dry blood on his fur. One can only imagine that something untoward happened to Pepper and Zipper stayed by his side comforting him in his last days. That's what I like to imagine anyway because that's how Zipper was. He would alert me to crying babies in the middle of the night, curl up with the ill in our home and stand by the emotionally distressed. When the kids were really small he would sleep on the floor outside their bedroom door while they napped. When they grew bigger he moved to their beds moving from Lula's to KJ's and eventually E-man's as their legs grew longer and the space grew shorter. Unless they were sick. When E-man had H1N1 last year that cat took up vigil on the bed and did not leave. Lula wrote about Zipper as her keeper of secrets for a school assignment that left us all damp eyed. To each of our children Zipper was fury sibling complete with the occasional spat and rivalry.

In 18 years there are moments that stand out. The $500 health spa vacation Zipper took by faking Feline Leukemia. The spectacle our champion mouser created when he brought a mouse INTO the house and how he sat back and laughed as Michael and I tried to get rid of it. I swear he was laughing! The smell from his encounter with a skunk and so many more.

Those memories of his last days are most revealing. He was not in any pain just simply old and at the end of his nine lives. We decided to allow him the dignity of passing at home. It was painful and heart-wrenching but he deserved our strength, having been ours for so many years. In those moments when you think no one is watching I witnessed each of our children seeking him out, checking on him, comforting him with words and touch. There were so many tears. The day before he passed a tiny meow sounded from the laundry room where he had chosen for his last days. Lula went to check and found him struggling out to the hallway and towards the living room. She propped him up and guided his walk. He moved into the living room. clearly he wanted to be with his family. It was his way of saying goodbye.

They following evening he passed. As I removed his collar and wrapped him in a blanket I uttered my final words of gratitude. When E-man helped Michael prepare his grave they uttered theirs. When the girls prepare a memorial shadow box they will utter their own.

Its all about how you choose to say good bye and honour his life. It's about being grateful for what he brought to ours.