Ashes to Ashes
I had a jolt today when my colleague April said my vet was on hold. For a moment I forgot Lancie was gone. Then I realized she was calling to tell me I could pick up his ashes.
After I learned Lancelot was terminally ill, I struggled for weeks over whether to keep his ashes. I didn't like the idea of his spirit being trapped in a box. How would he feel, I wondered, if I stuck his box in a closet or under the bed? Should his ashes be placed high on the bookshelf, so he could spend eternity looking down upon lesser souls, as most cats prefer? I considered spreading his ashes in Rockport, but that wouldn't work: cats don't like water. And he never spent time outside, so releasing his ashes in a park or athletic field didn't make sense either.
I'm thinking I will put his ashes on a bookshelf near where his litter box used to be and hang some pictures above it. My friend John Maki, who runs a wonderful graphic design firm called Acquire, blew up Lancelot's photograph for me. Michael also sketched Lancelot just a few nights before his death. You can see how well Michael knew him by the way he captured Lancelot's features.
In the days and weeks before his death, Lancelot no longer looked like himself. Once a gut-busting 25 pounds, he had lost nearly 75 percent of his body weight. Still, he continued to do the things that gave him pleasure: curling up on my periwinkle chair, sneaking into the bathroom (he was never allowed there before—I called it my "cat-free zone"), sitting next to me in the kitchen while I paid my bills or talked on the phone. I filled his cat scratcher with fresh catnip, hoping to numb his pain with the feline equivalent of medical marijuana.
Lancelot became so small that I could put him on my shoulder and carry him around the apartment. In those last few weeks, I'd scoop him up and hold him like a baby, then put him on my shoulder while I went about my business. He purred when I rubbed his chin, even during those last days when he could barely move. When I took him to the vet for the last time, I wrapped him in a pink blanket and held his face close to mine. I told him I loved him and asked him for a "cat kiss." He made an attempt but was too weak.
There's something peaceful about the moment a soul passes from the world, whether human or animal. There is a sense of relief, an inaudible sigh; then they're gone, and the anguish begins for those left behind.
If Heaven exists, I imagine my Grandfather and his dog, Musetta, are up there hanging out with Lancelot. I imagine them with all the other loved ones we've lost—grandparents, uncles, friends, and many, many animals. They probably look down at us and think we're fools for spending time grieving when we should be living. But I think grief is a part of life, and we miss out if we don't experience that pain too.