By Barbara Trainin Blank
I visited Lily’s grave a few days ago. Surprisingly, I didn’t cry. I stood there awkwardly, wanting to get out pent-up feelings. But the tears didn’t come.
When I think of her now, under a mound of dirt, it seems I should have cried. But then I remembered, I hadn’t cried at my parents’ graves either.
It’s apparently not an uncommon reaction. When I think of my parents otherwise, it’s with sadness and longing but also happy memories. Somehow it doesn’t seem as if they’re “in there” any more than it seems Lily is. The only difference is that the joyful memories haven’t surfaced yet.
Mementoes are painful. I feel Lily’s presence when I see the many “souvenirs” she left on the mauve fabric chair in the living room. Being a long-haired (Persian) cat, she shed a lot. Sometimes I still find little knots of hair clinging to one of my sweaters, as if she wants to hold onto to life or is sending me a message.
There are dozens of photos of Lily on my cell phone and laptop. It might seem eerie, but as she lay probably dying I took more pictures, thinking there could never be enough. I put one on Facebook, of the two of us--Lily sitting on a milk crate and my reaching out to her. That should have brought comfort or induced tears. But I look at it and just feel empty.
Some day, these photos—capturing her orange-colored fur, huge eyes, pug nose, and plumed tail--may be comforting, But right now, none of them can erase the memory of the once-beautiful animal, whose facial musculature was becoming distorted. Who had lost so much weight and in the end couldn’t walk, despite her drive to make it to the litter box. Who tried to climb into sinks and bathtubs, because something told her she should be drinking, but was unable to from her regular bowl.
I put away her water and food bowls, high up on the shelf of a closet so I won’t have to see them. Even if we get another cat—in addition to the one we already have, Emmy—I’ll probably buy brand-new bowls.
Even with the bowls hidden away, I feel Lily’s presence. Sometimes I “hear” her swish by me. I used to almost step on her sometimes, because she walked so close to me. Sometimes I hear the moaning she took up after we returned from a 10-day trip (alleviated by night lights). Sometimes I hear her melodious meow, and sometimes call Emmy by her “sister’s” name.
I’m coming around to playing with Emmy and encouraging her to wedge herself next to me in a big chair. But for two weeks or so after Lily passed on, I would avoid her. Guiltily I resented her for being there, while my beloved Lily was gone. Emmy and I were both depressed.
For the first few days I couldn’t enter the bedroom where Lily spent her final hours, under a blanket, next to me, while I tried to decide what to do. Should I keep the appointment to put her down, or let her die at home? She seemed comforted by being near me, but unable to respond in the end to what had been her favorite thing: having her chin rubbed. Most of the time she sought shelter. It broke my heart when Lily had passed on and Emmy climbed into one those boxes and sniffed around, as if she was missing something.
So through all this, why didn’t I cry?
Maybe I was just cried out. From the moment I could see it was likely we were losing Lily, I was drowning in tears. I cried at home alone, and at the vet’s. I cried with my pet sitter and pet groomer. I cried while working and before bed.
I cried when I noticed Lily wasn’t eating or drinking. When I realized the almost imperceptible limp she had developed might have meant something, and I hadn’t taken it seriously enough. I cried when it was clear no one knew why she was dying, except from old age or maybe a tumor no one had found. I cried when it turned out all the efforts I had put in to giving Lily medicine once a day, then twice a day, for her hyperthyroidism, had prolonged her life but not saved it. Why is it so hard to understand that those we love are not immortal?
The intensity of grief is magnified with Lily, who, as my daughter Cynthia said, was “special.” (Cynthia urged me not to rush in to getting another cat.) Even if we adopt again, Lily will be irreplaceable—the way people are. The way pets are.
I feel deeply for my human losses—for my parents, and for many friends who died too young. A pet is not a human being. But I feel deeply for Lily, even if no tears flow. It was Lily who brought me comfort when I lost—not to death—a human friend I cared for greatly. It was Lily who made me laugh and about whom I talked incessantly—probably annoying a lot of humans.
They say one never forgets a first love. That is certainly true. Even with a pet.