Olivia went to sleep for her last time last night after suffering an acute infection following a string of other ailments in her very old age. It still caught me a bit off guard because she had weathered those ailments well and always seemed to emerge from them unflappably. When her recent symptoms started last week, I just assumed that this would be another bout she would find her way through.
She was more than just a cat. She was born on my birthday in 1995. Her long 18 years of life basically coincided with the children Isley and Chase growing up. She was ‘childhood’ for our family. Her seniority had earned her the esteemed title of “The Cat”. My wife Lori did occasionally call her “Nuisance Cat” because she pestered you for affection at the most importune times (another thing I shared with Olivia). One of the cardinal rules of the household was “Don’t disturb the cat” (if she crawled up onto you for a cuddle, you were compelled by house protocol to not make her stir…you could move, but only if you did it delicately enough, like defusing a bomb, to keep her unruffled).
In my characteristically deconstructionist way of trying to make sense of life, I’ve managed the mourning with reflection and analysis. I miss her dearly already and I’ve tried to figure out exactly what it is that I miss…
- Affection – Soft cuddles sleeping on our chest. Pets are creatures of love. Aside from eating, sleeping and pooing, their primary purpose is to give and receive affection. It is a very pure and innocent calling.
- Ritual – Greeting us at the bedroom door every morning and front door every evening. These rituals give rhythm and tidbits of constancy to our lives.
- Presence – Sleeping in the corner or perched on the landing surveying the comings and goings of the household. Tufts of black hair on the carpet. All persistent reminders of this precious part of the family sharing our space, our energy and our lives.
I found it curious that these were the near identical feelings and the same things I missed when our children left home (though with our daughter Isley, the hair was red).
The loss reinforces my biggest piece of parental advice that I share regularly – “Capture the Ordinary”. Lori and I have piles of pictures of all sorts of special occasions – birthdays, holidays, performances. But what my wife and I reminisce about most are the simple, mundane, every day memories. “Do you remember how Chase always used to do…?” So the photographic advice is to ‘capture the everyday’. And the corollary to that rule is ‘capture affection’. Much as the special occasions were important at the time, what we miss most, and hence what images we savour and like to recall most in our years of the empty nest, are those weekend morning cuddles, those welcome-home-Daddy wild abandon hugs, and holding joy in your arms on a quiet morning.
We have lots of images of just those sort of pictures of Affection and Presence for Olivia, Realising that these were likely Olivia’s final hours, Lori and I took a few final photos and videos before leaving for the vet. But in retrospect, there is one video I neglected to get. A sequence of shots of her clockwork daily routine. The greetings, the cheek scratches, jumping on the bed, the hallway sleeping and surveying. All of the smallest things…that we will miss the most.
‘Loss’ is a very unforgiving form of ‘failure’. It is ‘failure’ without redemption. Without lessons, without morals, without silver linings. It is pure downside. And I am very sad to lose her.