Goodbye, The Guest Cat

A more fundamental reason why humans accepted cats in their homes is that cats taught humans to love them.

– Feline Philosophy by John Gray

We grieve in our own ways — I am writing this blog, Amma is chopping vegetables while listening to a religious melody on YouTube, and Appa is lying on the divan with his eyes closed. Today, we are all islands. Grief is the bridge; we can cross it to acknowledge the hurt, tend to each other’s wounds, but for now, the islands we have built around ourselves feel safe to mourn. The Guest Cat, whom I named after Takeshi Hiraide’s book, was found lifeless at our door this morning. There must have been a street-fight, the injuries on his body told us, and he chose our home, like every other time, to rest and recuperate. This time, though, his body couldn’t wait for the healing process to run its course. Appa shook The Guest Cat’s body, moved his tail, in the hope he would take another breath, in the hope he would wake up, shake it all off, and demand a bowl of Whiskas. There was only a mop of white fur and silence.

Appa will leave for work in a couple of hours; when the pain is unbearable, that is what he does — he goes to work. Amma will discuss with our neighbours the graphic details about The Guest Cat’s demise, and I will start work as well as though we hadn’t just lost the first feline friend of our lives, as though this sentient being who dropped by every day for several years would arrive again while sending a stream of mellifluous meows first to announce his regal arrival. We aren’t pausing, creating a moment to declare that The Guest Cat will not visit again; we will not open the door again to find him leaving his paw through the gate to gently touch our clothes; we will not be ambushed by his shocking beauty again. Today, grief is like a ball of cotton, like his white fur. It’s light but in time it will drown in our memories, regrets, and guilt. It’s going to be so heavy.

I named him The Guest Cat because I always knew that he didn’t belong to anyone; he belonged to himself. He sashayed into our building and our lives with an air of cockiness, grace, and dignity. Loving strays also means losing them every time they don’t choose to pay a visit. We wait with a bowlful of food, a heartful of anxiety, and they walk in again without a hint of remorse, soundlessly laughing at our vulnerability and love that is achingly beautiful. I wanted to tell The Guest Cat, ‘Laugh. Laugh at me. But keep returning. I am a fool to keep loving, but what will I do with my intelligence? Laugh, my friend!’ My family’s first response to losing non-human friends is taking an oath to not love them again. Death has a different effect on me — it throws spotlight on things which I failed to do, of course, but it makes me braver, it gives me the strength to start again and continue, and if death doesn’t remind us to practise love more often, what else will?

Today, as The Guest Cat begins his journey of returning to star stuff, I will learn to sit with the paradoxes in my life — I didn’t love him enough and I loved him with all I had; I didn’t protect him enough and I nourished his body in little, possible ways; I wish I showed up more and I am grateful for the times I could; he was my first cat and he wouldn’t be the last. I send him an infinite sky of gratitude for retraining my brain that was lazy in its love for effusive dogs and for making more room in my heart to accept love in its innumerable forms.

(Thanks for the trust, thanks for the friendship. Go well, The Guest Cat!) ❤

Unlike dogs, cats have not become part-human. They interact with us and may in their own way come to love us, but they are other than us in the deepest levels of their being. Having entered the human world, they allow us to look beyond it. No longer trapped within our own thoughts, we can learn from them why our nervous pursuit of happiness is bound to fail.

– Feline Philosophy by John Gray