A life well lived
Yesterday was not an easy one, we had to face that moment that all pet owners dread. Phoebe’s health had plummeted over the weekend and she was found to have an aggressive Pancreatic cancer. She was in terrible pain and very depressed so there was no choice in my mind, we had to say goodbye. I would not normally post such a personal blog but I have been thinking a lot about what she taught us and indeed what we might learn from her loss. It is also in some way comforting to capture her essence here and recognise all she brought us.
Phoebe was discovered amongst a bundle of other kittens in a local pet shop. She was a big, black, long-haired kitten, a bit like a four legged Tarantula! I was not in the shop to buy a kitten and passed the pen to pick up the food I needed. Half way past I felt a small tug at my jeans. I looked down and there was this little creature with paw fully outstretched through the cage bars grabbing at me. We were instantly connected, but I did not melt immediately, at that point we already had five other cats. I left the shop to discuss whether we could have yet another cat and my partner in his wisdom said he trusted me to do the right thing.
The next day Phoebe launched herself fearlessly into the midst of the five resident cats apparently completely oblivious as to why they might not welcome her arrival. The Princess had arrived. I was to learn later from my partner that this was not the decision he had trusted me to make!
She was a great chatterer and although you might not always get the complete gist of what was being communicated there was no question that some sort of message was being delivered, it was usually a matter of working through a set of possible alternatives. I think she knew Bateson’s levels of learning more intuitively than I did!
In her younger days she was an accomplished mouser and general bringer of gifts, even producing the head of a Pampass grass on one bizarre occasion. She was always a big cat and not the most agile or graceful of movers, but what she lacked in grace she more than made up for in strength and speed. My apologies go out to the budgerigar owner if the smattering of bright blue and green feathers I found one day in the dining room were not from a wild bird!
Over the last few years there is no doubt that life had slowed down for her, (she would have been 17 this year) she still adored lying in the sun on the deck or by the bamboo. Although she was never a lap cat, physical contact became increasingly important and she would demand it in no uncertain terms – stroking, brushing, just a general recognition of her presence. You were allowed to stroke or brush her until she deemed she had had enough and then she would find a favourite haunt, usually in the upturned cardboard lid from a printer paper box by the radiator. To say she was a snug fit would not quite describe the curious sight of her rolling over the top of it. We often joked about, ‘does my bum look big in this!’
Likes and dislikes
She really liked:
The sunshine and sitting in front of the bamboo
Roast chicken, pretty much fresh from the oven
Food generally, up until her Pancreas caused her problems
Sitting full length on the outstretched recliner chair
The lids of printer paper boxes
Tigger and the orange blanket on the futon
She really disliked:
Darcey, the neighbour’s cat – he is a bit of a bruiser
Having her claws trimmed
Being in the basket to go to the vet
Being ignored when she wanted something
One of our other cats being where she wanted to be
Learning from connections and loss
Her life taught us the value of stopping sometimes. Of seeing through different eyes and in doing so being able to reflect on Bateson’s question:
What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all the four of them to me? And me to you?… what is the pattern which connects all the living creatures?
Gregory Bateson, (2002 Ed), Mind and Nature: A necessary unity.
Bateson tried to point out the shortcomings of the purposeful rational mind – for him dreams, religious experience, art and love were the phenomena that still had power. I believe Phoebe’s death teaches me to reconnect with my emotions, not those neatly managed emotions of the everyday, but the deep senses that remind me of my connectedness to a wider system. Such emotions that are often put aside as we dash from e-mail to text to meeting and back again.
It reminds me that control is an illusion and that loss is hard and creates a significant change in our lives. I remain convinced it is better to have those connections and learn from my sense of loss than not to have them for fear of the pain they might bring.
Phoebe is survived by Benson, Spike and Jinx who are 18, 17 and 17 respectively. She will leave a huge gap in the household but we know from experience that over time the raw pain fades and memories of this big character, who chose to live with us for so long, will make us smile again. We will come to know anew the things she connected us to.