Tue 15 Aug 2006
After putting in a lot of hope and a lot of sleepless nights, we said goodbye to Weasel last Thursday, August 10, 2006. I wanted to write about Weasel that same night, but just couldn’t. Instead of the words in my mind, all I had were emotions in my chest – and a load of confusion about how to grieve for a pet that we loved so much, though he was with us so briefly.
It’s been a few days now, and I’ve found that Weasel’s absence is constant in our home; from the moment we walk in the door, to the moment that I check behind the curtain at night – to make sure he’s not there when I close the window. We know that freeing him from cancer was the right thing to do for him – and as we looked at pictures of him in his prime, it was obvious how much his illness had turned him into a shadow of himself.
My son cried himself to sleep on Thursday night, my wife still cries when she looks for his fur on her shirts, and it’s not there, and my eyes tremble as I type words like these. It’s not easy to lose a member of the family – one that doesn’t tell you what hurts, what feels good, what tastes right. It’s not easy to talk to a nine-year-old about why a beloved pet dies. Still, there are moments of surprise when you share the sad news with different people. My father, a very intense, serious man, responded by telling me about a pet cat he had while a child in Peru.
When my father was a child, streets in Peru were mostly dusty roads. Cars didn’t travel quickly on these roads, and children would play right on the street in front of their homes. My father was playing like that one day, his cat beside him as he sat on the curb of a dusty road in Chimbote, when out of the corner of his eye he saw his cat flash by and out into the street. At that same instant, one of those rare cars in Chimbote drove by, and my father, no, not my father, the child that would become my father watched as his little cat was taken from him. He had a funeral for his cat, inviting all his friends, and reading a poem that he had written. He paused a lot as he told me this story, and I could hear him searching his memory for all the details, and I could hear his voice strain just a touch when he said that he never wanted to have another cat after that.
Of course, not everyone responds with a surprising amount of compassion. There are always those people that respond with ugly, cold comments like, “it was just a cat,” or telling my pregnant wife that “you should get rid of that cat anyway.” There’s a lot of someone’s own history in words like that – that measure of, or rather, that lack of compassion. Is it resentment that an animal could be loved more than a person? Or is it anger toward something innocent and dying that draws attention away from someone that always wants to have that attention (that pity) for herself? You would probably have to step not just into a person’s mind, but into their memories to know for certain, but what’s clear in the present of the moment that it’s said is that some people don’t value the concept of compassion or empathy, they value, instead, their mistaken impression that for them to feel “up” someone else must feel “down.”
Perhaps that’s why a beautiful creature like Weasel can touch one so deeply. He doesn’t – or rather – he never acted human in the worst ways that human beings distinguish themselves as a species. While he might be – goodness it’s hard to write about him in the past tense – while he might have been greedy and eager to steal the other cat’s food, and even a glutton for attention, he was never harsh or mean or angry. He was a gentle, loving cat who never hissed and always kept his claws withdrawn when playing with us – no matter how crazy he would get.
My wife has different memories of Weasel than I do. She remembers how he would always sit near her when she was making a costume or working on a drawing – always there as the “helper cat” as she would call him. He would greet her at the door when she came home from work, and he would visit her in the bathroom when she got ready in the morning. When she made the bed, he would sit and watch her, always wanting to play their special game of having him hide under the waves of sheets.
As I’m writing, I hear the news of a family killed in Lebanon followed closely by news of a soldier killed in Israel. The report pinches at my thoughts, makes me wonder about the sorrow of a family member dying in war compared to the mourning for a pet that passed away peacefully in an animal hospital. It’s not a fair comparison – the worlds are so separate, the requirements of love so disparate – and yet it hangs in the air above me now, complicating the feelings of loss, distorting the simplicity of sorrow….No…we loved our cat…we’re fortunate enough to live in a place, in a time, in a home where our sadness can be directed toward the other lives that share space with our own. In Lebanon and Israel I am certain there are people who mourn for the loss of a pet, just as I am certain that there are families that mourn so deeply for the untimely loss of a child or a parent.
The complicated feelings above my thoughts seem to emphasize something that’s fascinated me and limited my thoughts for many years – reason relies on words which rely on reality. Reason demands concrete things to make conclusions, or consistent algorithms to devise theories. Emotion, however, is at a loss with words – faith fills it in to some extent, and so too does the feeling of love – but emotions just don’t fall well into the confines and strictures of reason and reason’s tools (words) – rather emotions challenge the assumptions of reason and don’t always settle themselves by finding an apparent balance between one type of death and another.162d