Our cat, Mocha, has bone cancer. It’s an aggressive form of cancer for animals with a poor prognosis, except with very early detection. We discovered the cancer about five weeks ago. She probably has a few more days – maybe a couple of weeks – to live.
I love this cat. I love all cats, really, but this one has a special place in my heart. She found us when I was pregnant with my firstborn, Everest. I had lost my beloved childhood cat, Spunky, when I was three months pregnant. Spunky had been with me for eighteen years and she was truly one of my best friends. She had been by my side for more transitions, challenges, and changes that I can recall, and when she died I grieved hard.
A couple of weeks after her death, I was lying in bed looking out the window when I saw a beautiful Siamese mix prowling around the garden. I said to myself, “Wow, that’s a beautiful cat. Someone is very lucky to have her.” The next day I saw her again, and again a few days later. I finally decided to make friends and went outside to try to pet her. She hissed and ran away. For three weeks she repeated this pattern every time I attempted to pet her. Finally, and very slowly, she allowed me to touch her, and eventually we fell in love with each other.
The story of how she came to live with us permanently is too long for this post, but suffice to say she inched her way into our home and our hearts. When Everest was born, she kept her distance, but after five and half years together, Everest and Mocha have become the best of friends. She’s an unusually sweet cat. She kisses us every night before we go to sleep. She jumps up on the bed for reading hour. If I’m up too late, she comes downstairs to fetch me and nudges me to get upstairs. (My husband and I have named her “Nana Cat” because she takes such good care of me.) She’s one of those pure love-cats, a real gift of a creature.
And now she’s leaving. My heart break for her: to witness her beautiful body slowly break down. My heart breaks for myself: What will I do without Mocha in my life? But mostly, my heart breaks for Everest. It’s one thing to lose an animal; it’s quite another to have to explain this loss to a child and help him navigate the almost unspeakable pain of losing a beloved friend.
When we first told him that Mocha is getting ready to “go to cat heaven”, he ran into his safe space (a little Harry Potter closet under the stairs) and wouldn’t come out. Tears fell down my cheeks (as they do now as I write this) as I tried my best to explain death to him. With me crouched outside the door of his hole, the conversation went something like this:
“Losing someone we love is one of the hardest things we have to go through on this earth. But everyone has to go through it sometime.”
“Well, that’s just the way it is. It’s how nature works. There are so many beautiful things on this earth and so many wonderful things that happen – like when Asher was born last spring. But then there are hard things, like getting hurt and losing a loved one. It’s not fair and it’s always hard. But one of the things that helps is to hold each other and talk about it.”
“Why does that help?”
“Because we can comfort each other when we feel sad about it. We can hold each other as we tell stories about Mocha and try to understand what will happen when she goes to cat heaven.”
He finally came out, but he didn’t want to talk about it anymore and he didn’t want me to hold him. In fact, that was the last conversation he’s allowed us to have about the topic of Mocha’s death. My inclination, as evidenced by my life’s work, is to address as much of a transition as possible before the actual event occurs. So the time to deal with the feelings about being married are during the engagement and the time to address the fears of becoming a mother are during pregnancy. Obviously, it’s impossible to prepare completely for certain transitions – like becoming a parent and losing a loved one – but the more conscious conversation someone has during the separation phase, the more gracefully he or she can let go and embrace the challenges and joys of the new life. But despite the lovely books and brilliant conversation starters I’ve attempted to share with Everest, he simply refuses.
So we take care of her as best we can. We help her die gracefully and with as little pain and suffering. Everest wants to tell a lot of stories about Mocha – and about Spunky as well – as stories seem to be his way of processing many aspects of life. So we tell stories. Everest has also decided that after Mocha goes to cat heaven, she’ll find a new body and come back to us as a kitten. So we talk about this next incarnation of Mocha. This, too, is an important aspect of transition: remembering that, even when we’re in the grief and loss stage of letting go, there’s a new life that will be born on the other side of the transition. The bride/groom-to-be lets go of his or her singlehood and has glimpses of the joy and stability of married life. The pregnant woman, of course, dreams of her new baby. And we laugh about the inevitable antics of a kitten – or, as Everest would say, Mocha in her next body.