It Was An Honor To Watch The Beautiful, Transcendent Death Of My Cat

Photo: Courtesy of the Author
The Death Of My Cat Was A Beautiful, Spiritual Experience

Two days ago my 13-year-old cat, Sugar, died in my arms, and there is no way on earth that I could have predicted the experience that followed. It was transcendent. This is not a story about memories, good times and cute cat anecdotes; it's a story about duality, doorways and the beauty of death at the moment life leaves it.

Three days prior to Sugar's death, I predicted she would be leaving. It's just the way it's always been with my cats. If they take a turn for the worse in a really obvious and sad way, I give them three days to live, and so far the three-day rule seems to apply every time.

The three days also includes me watching, waiting and comforting. With no taste for food or water, my cat would slowly but surely take herself out, and I would be there to observe.

I was on the phone with my best friend, Gail, while it happened. Sugar, who was laying paralyzed on her super-soft blanket, kicked a few times, took a couple of deep breaths, and then let it all go. I was petting her while it was happening and I felt the life leave her.

I hung up with Gail and that's when things veered into uncharted territory.

My cat was dead.

There were suddenly no memories or good times or cute cat anecdotes. There was only this extremely present moment, and in that moment all I knew was that I had just witnessed the supernatural act of life leaving a body.

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And I was humbled, in awe and unable to shake the feeling that I had just come into full contact with the most obvious and most taken advantage of fact: life is indeed a miracle.

I picked her up and got my confirmation as her head fell abnormally to the side. Yes, she was really dead. And yet, there she was  soft, warm, her eyes shining, her fur just as comforting and inviting as it ever was. I tried to close her lids, but they wouldn't close.

It was a privilege to watch her die. It was as if I was given a rare glimpse into the mysteries of the universe. Everything that ever existed, existed in the moment of her death. It was an honor to be her handmaiden.

I held her on my lap for a while, staring. Death works very quickly to remove the soul, but it seems the body retains some semblance of life for a while longer. The cells are still imbued with life, but the force is no longer there.

Dead on my lap, my cat was radiant. Free from pain, free from the anxiety of dying, she was no longer obligated to the illness that took her. Her death removed her problems and with that out of the way, the only thing left of Sugar the cat was radiant beauty. She was no longer vulnerable; she had become a goddess.

The day before, Gail offered to bury Sugar in her garden, if I wanted. Yes, I wanted very badly I wanted, especially because I'm at Gail's house every day and will be living there next year. Yes, I wanted. And so, I went over and we dug up a nice little hole for the cat that I knew would die within a day.

I knew that the beauty of Sugar in death would not last. I knew I'd be putting her in that hole within an hour of her death, and so I prepared her clean, white linen burial cloth and wrapped her up in it. She would go like Bastet, the lioness goddess. She would be placed in the earth where her cells would transmute and she would become soil, grass, flowers, trees and fresh air.

Holding her in my arms, I looked at her one last time wrapped in her soft shroud, and I had a silly idea: Maybe Sugar wants to be buried with something, like a sock or a goofy toy, something she liked in life. So, I asked her, "What do you want to go in the ground with you, beloved? What can I give you to take with you, my sweet familiar, my precious baby girl?"

Closing my eyes to see if I could "receive" some psychic message from her, I suddenly felt the blood vessels in my nose rupture. Seriously? All of a sudden, I was in the middle of a monstrous nosebleed, something I have very infrequently. The blood started to gush out of my nose and all over the dead cat in her fresh white linen wrap. I looked at my blood on her fur and I thought, "This is a horror story." It's not often you get to cover your dead cat in your own blood, minutes before you put them in their grave.

Seems she didn't want a toy or a sock. She wanted me. She wanted a part of me to come along for the ride.

We buried her in the garden, and I placed a pot full of beautiful yellow blooms by her grave. Immediately, I knew she was free, home and happy. Her ending released me from the burden of her illness. Her death was an extension of her immense generosity, and Sugar was a very generous, very loving animal.

She helped me survive empty nest syndrome, as I've only just separated from my human daughter, Alex, within the last two months. She stuck around just long enough to help me make the transition, and when she couldn't fight to accompany me any longer, she took her leave.

And then there was one. Me. All alone. No companion, no kid, no cat... just me. I went home, got into my bed and snuggled up with a really nice velvety blanket that I had folded into a Sugar shape.

Oddly, I took great comfort in this Sugar-shaped blanket, which made me wonder what a stuffed animal might do. Me, with a stuffed animal? That was an absolutely absurd consideration. I'm not the stuffed animal type. I'm way too much of a badass to be caught snuggling a goofy ol' teddy bear. I mean, come on.

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The next morning, I drove over to Toys R Us and found myself the softest, most ridiculously adorable, perfectly sized stuffed animal. I couldn't wait to test him out. I even had a name for him: Softy. Badass, eh?

Alone, sad, and missing my cat, I picked up Softy with the intentions of finding out if I could truly find the comfort I was looking for. I don't know what it's like to be totally alone, and I've always had a cat around to talk to and play with. Would Softy do the trick?

Curled up on my couch, watching Mr. Robot, I picked up Softy and held him like I'd hold Sugar. His head was the perfect size, his little cloth body was the perfect size. Would this work? Did I stand even a slight chance of finding comfort in this man-made, inanimate toy?

As soon as I cupped the head in my hands, I started to weep. There was comfort after all. There was joy like I'd never known. As pathetic as it may sound, I was comforted by this stuffed animal yes, a silly white teddy and for the first time, I allowed myself to cry big ugly tears.

Humans are amazing; we need to love something, someone. We need to kiss heads. We need to nurture. And when there's no one around to love, we give that love to objects. Sugar's not alive inside Softy, no she's playing with her buds over by the Rainbow Bridge at Gail's garden. But Softy is Sugar's little gift to me, in death. I guess Softy became my "Wilson."

It's hard to be alone, without an animal, a partner or a child. It's hard to be alone, crushingly hard. But we survivors find ways to cope. 

And Sugar, you were my number one, baby. I've had a lot of cats in my life, but you were the Queen.

The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

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Dori Hartley is primarily a portrait artist. As an essayist and a journalist, she can be read in The Huffington Post, ParentDish, YourTango, The Daily Beast, Psychology Today, More Magazine, XOJane, MyDaily and The Stir. Her art books ‘Beauty’, ‘Antler Velvet’, and 'Mads Mikkelsen: Portraits of the Actor' are all available on Amazon.