When my Grandfather died, way back in the early 80s, my Grandmother spent the better part of a year continuing to make his tea every day, laying out his work uniform, and even calling to him from another room. We thought for a time that she was losing it, or just wasn’t coming to terms with the fact that he was gone, but in reality, she was just having trouble changing her routine. She knew he wouldn’t be sitting in his chair when she walked into the room, that the tea would go cold, that the fireman’s shirt and pants would get placed back in the closet when she went to bed. But she couldn’t stop herself from doing all the things she had always done, or of expecting to see him in his usual spots.
A few years ago, we had to put down one of the cats Greg had brought with him when he moved in many years before. She had been very sick for a long time, and it was a decision for the best. Despite my not being especially close to this particular cat, I continued to “see” her as I went about my day, especially in one spot on the stairs where she would sit and look at us in the living room, but was able to get away from the dogs if they gave chase. I continued to see her there in that spot until the day we moved out, where she appeared, round-eyed and bewildered as I was leaving with the remaining two cats in carriers, as if to say, “Hey, you’re not leaving me here, are you?” I’ve been tempted to drop by and ask the current tenants of that place if they ever happen to see a grey cat, sitting on the stairs.
Routines and favourite cat spots have been on my mind a great deal these past days, as the recent loss of Spook, one of our other cats, now has me expecting to see her in all of her usual haunts. The spot on my bed where she curled up with the teddy bears, now is home only to the bears, no pink-nosed calico is buried underneath. The bedroom window, where she would wedge herself between the two sets of glass and do a crazy circus-performance backflip to get out, is empty, with only a collection of soft white hairs left behind on the frame to reveal that she was ever there. The spot on the bureau that caught the mid-morning sun, the dog blanket that was folded and left at the foot of the bed after vacuuming – she’s not there, or there, or there.
There is no little white paw, tap-tap-tapping my shoulder as I sit in the reading chair in the living room. No soft brush of flank and flip of mottled tail in my face as I do sit-ups on the bedroom floor. The distinctive two-syllable meow she used to say hello to me (as opposed to the one-syllable meow she had for Greg) will never be heard again. The one thing that broke my heart during the far-too-quick week when we watched her health go rapidly downhill, knowing that the cancer had taken up residence in her lungs and that nothing could be done, was that I’d never hear her meow at me again.
Eventually I’ll stop looking. I’ll stop filling two dishes of wet cat food, I’ll stop walking through the apartment making that trilling noise meant to lure her out for treats. I’ll stop expecting her to be at the front door when we open it, I’ll stop looking up from the breakfast table expecting to see her waiting for a chunk of her beloved smoked salmon. Like my Grandmother, I will get on with life.
Despite the fact that I can’t stop looking for my sweet white cat, that I come upon the places she loved and realize she’s not there and won’t be again, she hasn’t felt the need to appear as the old grey cat used to. Maybe I’m looking too hard, missing her too much. Maybe she doesn’t need to remind us that we should continue to miss her.