We’ve had two beloved pets expire in the past year. First the cat died — twice. Then later, my daughter Sylvia’s fish died. He also passed twice. Cooper’s fish has been grieved once, although he is still, as of this date, swimming in his tank.
No, we haven’t found Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” where dead pets can be buried, to return later as off-kilter, slightly evil renditions of themselves. The true answer is that we’ve jumped the gun, grieving our little friends before their bodies were cold. Ailing pets, we’ve learned, sometimes rally and join us for a while longer after we’ve begun to say goodbye.
Our cat was perhaps the most complicated case of dual deaths. I’ve actually given him up for dead four times. Two times, he disappeared for weeks. After checking repeatedly with animal controls of Overland Park, Leawood AND Prairie Village, all of whom were quite helpful, I might add, I surmised that he had died. That is, until I checked with a neighbor who reported that he’d moved in with a family on the other side of the block.
The other family’s kids were teenagers, their front porch covered, and they adored him. He became a time-share cat, spending cold nights in our house, fair days at theirs. He disliked our dogs, and he was not fond of wearing tutus, which he was forced to do more than once at the hands of my daughter. The thing about cats is, if they become dissatisfied, they let you know. Before long, he would demand to leave, and if I failed to open the door for him, he’d go pee on something. He was elderly, set in his ways and knew how to get what he wanted.
I readily agreed when the neighbors asked if he could permanently stay with their elderly mother who lived on the same block. He was happier with the arrangement, as she had no desire to dress him in doll clothes.
His health deteriorated, and one day they called us to ask if we wanted to say goodbye. We went over, and tearfully hugged and petted him. He was miserable, had become arthritic, and it was clearly his time. My kids took it hard, crying for hours after we got home.
I dismissed their claims of seeing his ghost. I told them it was probably another cat. Yet a couple months later, I received a second phone call, from yet another friend and neighbor.
“The neighbors are burying your cat,” she said, perplexed.
“Oh,” I said, adding to my friend’s befuddlement when I added, “I thought he died a few weeks ago, I guess not. …”
I went to talk to them, and the mom explained. “I didn’t know if I should call you or not, since you’d already grieved him once,” my neighbor said. I saw the wisdom in this and took her cue. I did not tell my kids he’d hung on a while longer.
This past month, it happened again. With our fish. This time, I was the one doling out premature death certificates.
I changed my daughter’s fish’s water, and he started swimming sideways — always a bad sign.
“Honey, Buddy might not make it much longer,” I told her. She was heartbroken. For days, she worried, waiting for him to die. He continued to swim sideways in short spurts, spending nearly all his time off-kilter at the bottom of his bowl. She made a brightly decorated coffin for him out of a cardboard box. And waited.
Finally, one day, I changed his water again. That was the end. As careful as I was to get the temperature and water right, he ended up flat on the bottom, quickly fading from beautiful blues to a dull gray color.
I picked the kids up from school. “I have bad news. Buddy died.”
They blinked. I waited for the floods of tears. For the mourning rerun. For the grief.
“I’m kind of glad. I’ve been so worried about him. I think he’s better off.”
I know, this next part sounds nuts. As we drove down the road, we saw a bright light up in the afternoon sky. I watched it, waiting to see if it was a glare off a helicopter? A plane?
“It’s Buddy on his way to heaven!” the kids exclaimed. All at once, the light vanished, leaving no trace of its source. “He made it, mom, he’s finally in heaven.”
I do hate the sadness of losing a beloved pet. But I do admit, it’s much easier the second time they die.