day of the dead cats

Since today is the final day of El Dia de los Muertos, I thought it fitting to not only share the altar I made here but also, because this shrine celebrates feline companions who are gone, provide an update on my cat status since my last, incredibly sad post a little over one year ago.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. About six months after Sophie died, we had to say goodbye to Xander, too. He was fairly out of sorts for awhile when Sophie never returned home, but he settled into his new, solo cat routine eventually and - if there's any silver lining from losing Sophie - enjoyed lots of extra love and attention in his final months. In the end, I guess you could say he died of old age. He was about 18, after all, and seemed to suffer from mysterious, hard-to-treat ailments, like steady weight loss despite a hearty appetite and chronic congestion. Up until a day or two before he died, however, he was still very social, still eating, and still (mostly) making it to the litterbox (one normalizes a lot of less than ideal behavior with an aging pet). But one evening he was having a hard time standing up and walking without falling over. We knew it was time. We spent our last morning with him, after taking the kids to school, in our daughter's room, which gets the best morning sunlight. I brushed him a bit (he always loved being brushed), we basked in the sun, and he alternated between mine and my husband's laps. Around 11 a.m. on February 22, 2017 we took him to the vet. I had mixed feelings about whether to do this at home or at the vet's office but in the end I feel comfortable with our choice. It was in every way the total opposite of how we lost Sophie. We were able to say goodbye, for starters, we were both with him, holding him the entire time, and it was, thankfully, very peaceful (at least what we observed). He purred until he was sedated (step one) and we stayed with him for a long while after the second shot. It was so hard to leave his body behind, but I knew he was gone.

For a few months after Xander died, I thought I might be done with pets altogether. I wasn't sure I could handle that kind of heartbreak ever again. But the desire to have cats is, apparently, pretty resilient, and around May I started visiting Cat Town cafe in Oakland, an organization I'd been following for a few years. I visited with one or both kids 4 or 5 times throughout the summer and, as my final day at my day job approached, decided to begin the process to become a volunteer.

Through that process, we also began fostering Penelope, a sweet 2-3 year old white/tabby mix who'd been pretty stressed out after a six-week stay at the city shelter following a guardian surrender. Somewhat by accident, I also began the volunteer process at Oakland Animals Services (I was under the impression I was to take the volunteer orientation there as part of my volunteer training at Cat Town). The last time I'd been to OAS was during my search for Sophie, which, if you've read the heartbreaking post in the link above, didn't end well. It was extremely difficult to walk in to that space, but I also felt a sense of relief, once my volunteer orientation was done. Adding to this, I eventually ran into the very volunteer who, along with the vet, delivered the news that Sophie was dead. I didn't recognize her at first (that day is understandably a bit of a blur now) but eventually connected the dots and shared with her why I looked so familiar, which was really difficult to do. I did my first cat training with her a few weeks ago and the entire process, though difficult at first and not at all what I was intending when I got involved with Cat Town, has been extremely healing. There is something liberating about coming full-circle to interact with the people who were with you on one of your darkest days and understand better than most what you've been through.

Phew, we made it. Are you ready for the good news now? I'm a full-fledged volunteer at Cat Town, popping in a couple times a month to hang out with the cats in the "downtown" cat zone. I'm not yet trained to work with socializing the "forgotten kittens" in the cat zone two "studios" but I hope to do so in the future. I'm nearly done with the process at OAS and at some point may need to focus on one or the other due to schedule and time constraints (as much as I'd sometimes like to, I didn't quit my job to hang out with cats full-time and unpaid), but I'm hoping to remain involved in both in some way since witnessing the partnership between the two is what has been an educational and rewarding experience. Additionally, after a couple of months fostering Penelope, we decided to make it official and permanent with an adoption! I will always miss Sophie & Xander, and all the cats I've had in my life, but I am really enjoying having Penelope around the house.

Finally, speaking of past cats, and in honor of this final day of the dead, here is the altar I made using a box of holiday chocolates from last year. Before:

(I mean, I had to make something out of this amazing box, right?!) And after:

I knew I wanted to use the box for a day of the dead altar but I wasn't sure whose life (or lives) to celebrate.

I'd recently come across this picture of my Mom with the two cats we had in Virginia (Bogie and Bacall), when I was in 2nd and 3rd grades (when we moved to Germany they went to live with one of my aunts), and that gave me the idea to dedicate this altar to my dead cats.

It's not exactly traditional (no marigolds, etc.) but it does the trick. Catharsis via cats and crafts!

No comments: