Grieving the loss of a pet: Remembering Henry
I often take the “ostrich approach” to fear and grief. Sometimes, burying my head in the sand and pretending nothing is wrong makes me feel better. This isn’t one of my best traits.
I was cleaning out a drawer the other day and came across my Zumba skirt. If you’re not hip on urban Latin dance a Zumba skirt is a scarf with bells sewn on it that knots around your hips. Your booty makes happy, jingly noises when you shake it to the beat during Zumba class.
My Zumba skirt made a cheerful tinkling sound as I tossed it in the “keeper” pile (because really, who gets rid of a Zumba skirt) and this thought popped in to my head:
“Well, that’s going to make Henry come running”.
Henry was my Bengal cat. He lived to be almost 14 years old and remained playful until the end of his life (psycho but still playful). Truth be told, that Zumba skirt got more of a workout as a kitty toy than tied to my butt.
Henry and I have lived in 4 countries together. He’s traveled more extensively than most humans I know. He saw me through moves across oceans, career highs and lows, motherhood, and two husbands (one which I still have and yes, I mean the husband).
I made the difficult decision to have Henry put to sleep after watching his health go downhill over the past year. I’ll spare the dirty details but he was deteriorating. He’d give us the “talk to the paw” when offered kitty cuisine but he was super into non-food items. Textiles were a favorite. Not exactly kitty digestive system friendly and yeah, things just went south.
I have been a pet owner all my life and this was the first time I ever had to make a decision like this. We tried every other approach and remedy. I am trying to be at peace with my decision. “Head in the sand” has been my way of coping.
I would like to say Henry was a loveable bundle of fluff that rubbed against my ankles when I walked in the door. The truth? Henry was an asshole. Really, he was. People who’ve spent time at our house will tell you “yeah, I hated that cat”. Some will tell stories about biting and blood.
For the first eleven years of his life Henry displayed something toward me that was a couple of notches above tolerance. I was the food lady. Interaction with me was strictly on his terms. If he wanted to be scratched he’d let me know about it by sitting on my chest and poking me with his paw (usually at 2AM). I’d oblige him until he decided he was over me and then he’d give me a dirty look and saunter off. Okay, sometimes I would push him off the bed. I still got the dirty look, though.
No cuddling allowed. Picking Henry up was an open invite for him to pee on you. He liked to sleep at my feet. If I moved, he’d bite me.
Sooo…he was sorta nice when he wanted something, didn’t like cuddling, glared at me when I didn’t do what he wanted and bugged me for affection while I was trying to sleep. Kinda resembles some of my past relationships. I wonder if there’s a pattern…
A few years ago Henry decided Hubs was his BFF and I was suddenly persona non grata. He would stroll past me with his little cat nose in the air and settle on Hubs’ lap and give me this smug little stare. I was relegated to scooper of poop, because even though Hubs thought it was funny that the cat suddenly liked him better, Henry was still “my cat” when it came to cleaning up crap with a little shovel.
Although Henry showed random affection for a few people here and there, he seemed to loathe most people outside our immediate family. It was usually mutual. His signature move was to meow invitingly, flop down on the floor and show you his belly. The unsuspecting target of his attention would ooh and ahh and try to pet the pretty kitty. You see where I am going with this. Henry would spit, hiss, and run away in indignation. Sometimes he’d bite. That was always a fun way to entertain guests.
In spite of all these things, I loved Henry. He wasn’t particularly loveable, but I loved him anyway.
Making the decision to euthanize Henry was agonizing. I don’t talk about it.
I took Henry to his appointment alone. It felt exactly like taking someone to the executioner. I mean, I’ve never taken anyone to the executioner so I don’t really know that for sure, but you get the idea.
Hubs backed out of going at the last minute (not something he could control), so I had to make the choice on whether to reschedule or fly solo. We’d just said our goodbyes and were about to get in the car. I didn’t think I could put myself through that again. Watching my daughter give Henry a last little kiss and putting him in that cat carrier was painful in a way I can’t describe. It might sound selfish but I couldn’t have done that again. If Hubs had been there I would have had the freedom to be a blubbering mess, but since I was alone, I felt I had to be stoic.
I don’t think I’ve fully grieved the loss of Henry. If I think of him and our last day together, I lose it. I don’t think of it too much because I can’t handle it. But just because I haven’t let it go, it doesn’t mean I don’t remember. Henry pops in to my head in many ways whether I like it or not. Okay, off topic but who can read the words “let it go” and not picture Queen Elsa in rocking it out in her ice castle? Not me.
I think of Henry every time I open a can. We stopped doing canned kitty food years ago, but Henry was no dummy. He knew cans contained yummy stuff so every time I opened one, he was right there, demanding a piece of the action. A can was a can and he saw no difference between tuna and garbanzo beans. If he heard the can opener, he wanted it. To this day, I can’t open a can without expecting him to come running.
I think of Henry every time I go to the grocery store. I push my cart past the pet stuff and think “do I have coupons for cat litter?” And then I remember I don’t have a cat.
I think of Henry every time I put food on a plate. If I turned my back on him for a second, he’d be on the table sniffing the corn or licking the salad. He was always most interested in checking out stuff cats don’t like. He wouldn’t actually eat off the plates but who wants kitty slobbered on tomatoes?
I think of Henry every time I find cat stuff in my house. I thought I was thorough with “operation post cat cleanout” but I find stuff here and there. A brush in a drawer I don’t open very often. A jar of treats shoved in the back of the shelf. A squeak mouse surfacing from the kids’ toy box (probably because they stole it).
I think of Henry every time someone leaves the front door open. “Don’t let the cat out” has almost come out of my mouth a few times since he’s been gone. He loved to dash for the door but he’d never go far. He’d sit on the sidewalk and cry piteously until we directed him back to the house. He always seemed relieved in a “oh, there’s where I live” kind of way.
I think of Henry if I wake up during the middle of the night. I’m still mindful of kicking the sleeping cat and having a sharp little tooth sink in to my big toe.
Making the decision to end Henry’s life was so gut wrenchingly hard that I took my emotions out of it while we were in the moment. I always thought the grief would come later, on my terms, when I was ready. And maybe it will.
Or maybe it won’t. In writing about something I can’t talk about, I have taken a nice little trip down the memory lane of my crazy cat who was by far the most interesting animal I’ve ever met. I’ve thought about the time I had to tear apart my bedroom because Henry got inside the box springs minutes before he had to go to the kennel. I thought about the cat sitters that called me while I was out of town and told me “I can’t take this cat anymore”. If you are reading this and thought you were the only one…you weren’t. Those things seem funny now and while they were annoying at the time, that was all part of loving Henry.
Then I think about the time where I was having my worst day and everything seemed to be going wrong. Henry crawled in to my lap, put his motor on and rubbed his face against mine. Maybe his body was temporarily possessed by the spirit of a nice kitty cat, but I think pets are in tune to our emotions. Most of the time, they probably don’t care, but they know.
Asshole or not, I miss that cat.