Just over a week ago today, my beloved cat, whose name was Theo, but whom we always called “Baby”, died from a sudden and very aggressive onset of feline lymphoma. With his passing, something inside me died.
For as long as this very blog has existed, Baby has been in our lives. We found him, off the streets in Singapore, some ten years ago. He literally sauntered right into the cat-carrier bag a friend of ours who lived nearby had lent us, and sat himself down, refusing to move.
Just like that, he chose us as his forever humans. And it was good he did, because a week later – so our friend told us – Baby’s close cat-pal, a ginger cat we decided not to bring home, had been crushed by a car.
When we moved from Singapore to New York in 2010, Baby came along. I personally checked him into the flight and at JFK Airport, where he did not appear on the odd-sized baggage carousel, we had to hail a cab and search all over JFK’s enormous cargo area. We finally found him, cringing with fear at the Singapore Airlines and Emirates offices.
In New York City, he experienced snow for the first time, and stood at our basement patio, peering quizzically at the two inch pile of white stuff that had magically appeared overnight. I’m not sure he liked snow very much. I’m not sure he liked New York very much.
When we returned from New York in late 2012, he came with us again, this time in the cabin, under the seat before me, at my feet, where, in a black cat-carrier bag, he would make barely a sound at all throughout the 24-hour flight via Tokyo Narita to Singapore. And then he had to be quarantined for 10 days – the only time he had ever been apart from either of us. When he returned to us, to our new home in Singapore, he was overjoyed, and took to the verdant surroundings with glee.
In the early days of this blog, I once wrote a post entitled “Home is the Cat (or Dog)”, where I argued – partly serious and partly tongue-in-cheek – that the cat (or dog) is part of the very fabric and personality of the Home itself; or to put it another way, home is the extension of the Cat (or Dog). I include the link here:
Certainly, I have never so strongly felt the truth in this statement of mine than during this past week, in the aftermath of Baby’s passing.
To say that Baby has been Home for me, is to grossly understate.
Whenever I return home from work or travel, I anticipate hearing that excited mewing behind the door I am about to open, and when the door is opened, my heart would leap upon seeing the familiar presence of Baby – all tabby-and-white joy, indignation and infinite cuteness – welcoming me home and “scolding” me for leaving him alone all day (or all week – or even weeks – if I had been travelling).
If he wasn’t at the door, I would call out his name in my usual high-pitched “cat-voice” – “Baby! Where’s Baby?!” – and there he would come, scurrying towards me in haste. He always came when I called him, and only when I called him. He was an affectionate – some said needy – kitty. But that was part of his charm, and people loved that about him.
This past week, it has been difficult coming home. I keep wanting to call out his name when I open the door; and I keep expecting him to come running towards me from his little blue-blanket-bed on my writing desk, or from my own bed, where he would have been napping, waiting for me to get home.
My daily routine has been thrown awry. I no longer have to feed him or clear his litter in the mornings, I no longer have to feed him dinner or cuddle him a little at night. His empty litter tray, food dishes and final scratching pole are still there – I cannot bear to throw them out… just yet. To make things worse, just before he went to hospital, from which he would never return, I had bought great amounts of new wet and dry food and litter – these now sit useless and accusatory in the kitchen.
It’s been difficult to get over his passing because there is a nagging feeling inside of me that it was entirely my fault. I had been too busy at work, and in the two weeks before his passing, I had been made even more busy by additional commitments that I’d been forced to take on. And so I didn’t get him into hospital until it was too late; until he had lost so much weight, and the cancer had advanced to a close-to-final stage.
Perhaps if I had noticed earlier, and brought him in earlier, I could have extended his life and his well-being, for just a little bit.
My friends and family have advised that it’s not healthy to think this way; that I did what I could have, given the circumstances.
I don’t know.
For the time being, I’m grieving. I’m overcome by grief and by guilt. And so to seek solace, I write and I write and I write. Because that’s all I can do. Until the grief and the guilt pass.
I’m taking things a day at a time, because there are certain obligations that, despite my best efforts, I cannot get myself out of. I have to keep smiling and pretending that everything is ok, even though I’m heartbroken.
Singapore is a cruel place to be in when one is grieving.
Just before his heart stopped, he said goodbye to me by moaning loudly, twice. He had already gone into a vegetative state – in fact, I feel, on hindsight, that I should’ve taken him back home so he could’ve died in less painful and ignominious a circumstance; or perhaps I should’ve pulled the plug. But then, everything always seems clear only on hindsight.
I took him into the hospital in the very same black cat-carrier bag he had come home in when we returned from New York. This past Monday, I collected his ashes from the hospital, together with the black cat-carrier, symbolically bringing him home with me, where a part of him will remain always.
This post is my memorial to Baby at his handsome, curious, energetic, intelligent, playful, comic, free-spirited, manja (affectionate), charismatic best, from some of the earliest days with us, to the last time he was seen healthy.
Goodbye Baby. Rest in peace.
I love you and I will remember you always.
[Most of the recent photographs of Baby were taken by my cat-sitters, who took care of him during the many, many times I was absent due to a work-trip. I thank them both, from the bottom of my heart, not only for taking such great care of him while I was away, for coming to see him while he was in hospital, and also – very importantly – for leaving me a large and invaluable visual and video record of his last year with us.]