From the vault: How to grieve a cat

In three parts (the story, not the cat)

How to grieve a cat, in three parts.

How to grieve a cat, part 1: Find her curled up on the pavers in her favourite spot, peaceful. Shock to realise she's not breathing; her body, empty but still warm. She just went. She's not there. That's not her. After seventeen years of wielding that tiny orange body, she dies in her sleep.

Cry a lot. Hysterically, at first. Your insides twist, ache. Your heart, your heart. Try to remember how it felt to snorg her belly as she purred. Remember how she came inside for a treat and a kiss just before she died. The last time she rubbed her face against yours. Fuck, try not to remember all the last times.

Seek out the firsts in your memory, the way they plonked her, unceremoniously, into your arms at the RSPCA in Yagoona all the way back in 2001. A spindly ginger teen, she clung to you for dear life, literally, and yelled and rubbed her face against yours. You cried with shock and love and joy, and took her home in a blue plastic box on the train. She got along well with the dog and never really played with anything. She preferred to sit on the front porch rail and watch the world go by. When you approached the house, she'd pop out of the open front window and yell her greetings.

She was something to come home to, who loved you, almost too much. She just fucking loved you, and wanted to be near you. To the point of annoyance. Remember how you sometimes got irritated by her need, and feel so ashamed. Try not to think of it.

Laugh when you think of all the silly things she did. The first time you saw her tuck her head underneath her body, and sleep, faceplanted into the floor. Remember how you thought it wasn’t real for a second, like, ‘hey my cat is broken!’

How to grieve a cat, part 2: Take her body to a man who will preserve her skeleton for you and return it in a beautiful wooden box to keep forever. That ants will eat her body does not trouble you any more than the idea of a cremation, or a burial. It actually feels more right. Cry some more.

Rub the tattoo you got of her, imagining you can feel the lines raised up on your skin, like they are imbued with her. Please have something of her in them. Remember how she scratched the tattoo the afternoon it was done, tearing one of the lines in half and how perfect it felt that she would do that. She was a part of it too.

Feel the absence of her in your quiet house. Remember how she used to roll around on the concrete in the sun, meowing to herself. Remember how much she hated when you did yoga, or had too many people laughing in the house. She hated joy, unless it was her own.

She was a bit of a walking disaster, like yourself, always getting into fights and scrapes. Once she got stuck in the roof for a week and you could hear her sad, lost meows echo through the walls. You had to bash a hole in the ceiling of your rental property to get to her. She came out, skinny and sad, dusty and sorry. You hugged her fierce. You didn’t know what you’d do if you lost her.

She moved with you fifteen times, a pawn in your Sydney-rental turmoil. But, plonk down her litter tray and scratcher, and she knew the house was hers. She had many territories, many yards marked with the scent of her chin and the scratch of her claws.

Cry less now. You just miss your girl.

How to grieve a cat, part 3:

She was not just a cat. She was your familiar, like a sister. And she’d been just there, for as long as you’ve been an adult. You knew she’d die one day but could not not not imagine what that would be like, life after a sweet orange curl who responded to your every question with a yowl, like she cared, and had the answers.

You took care of her. She took care of you. She gave you an excuse to keep living, sometimes. Those times are gone, but when you had no friends besides a needle and a razor blade, she was there. She kept you waking up in the morning, prodding your eyelid with a gentle paw, becoming enraged by your tears when you sobbed for whatever reason or no reason.

Think about how many years you got to live with her. Seventeen. That number rings around your head. It was so long. It was not enough.

You think you hear her, expect to see her poke her little head through the banister as you come up the stairs. The bed feels empty without a cat taking up most of the space with her tiny body.

There's a cat-shaped hole in your life, so two new cats arrive into your home and they are different but lovely in their own special ways. When you leave them to go to work, remember orange fur and face kisses and cry because they can't replace your girl, and you miss her. You'll do your best to love these new ones as much as you loved her. Make them a home with food and love.

Wear an old cable-knit jumper you haven’t worn since she died. Brush away the fur still woven in between the knit without thinking of what that means.