Elegy For A Black Cat

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In the fall of 2002, my then-boss took in a stray, pregnant cat. When the four kittens were born, she offered one to me and Kathy, my roommate of five years. I’d never had a cat before, or any pet larger than a rabbit, but Kathy and I talked about it and decided we liked the idea. My boss told me the kittens were dark gray. Kathy and I, fresh off our first reading of Lord of the Rings, decided a cat named Gandalf the Gray would be the coolest thing ever. By the time we went over to choose a kitten and saw that they were actually black, it was too late. His name was already Gandalf.

I brought Gandalf home to the apartment on a pleasant October evening. He was old enough to leave his mother, but still tiny enough to hold in my palm. I had to do laundry that night, and worried about leaving him alone even long enough to run to the washing machine. But he adjusted quickly. By the end of the week, he was wrestling with us and acting like he owned the place. (Later, when his propensity to bite became a problem, we learned you’re not supposed to use your hand as a kitten toy. What did we know?)

pious cat

pious cat

I was surprised at how much joy a cat brought to my life. He wasn’t super affectionate in his early years, but he was hilarious. He loved to stand to the side of the doorway that connected the bedrooms with the main living area, pounce on us when we walked through, wave his paws, then trot off clearly pleased with himself. He also perched on the high bathroom window while I showered, right where the steam leaked out around the curtain. When I turned the water off, his purring was deafening.

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Kathy and I both got married in 2004. We’d long had a deal that whoever married first forfeited the cat. She beat me by five months, and her now-husband was weary of cats anyway, so everything worked out. I kept the apartment and Gandalf, who was friendlier by now, but still had a low tolerance for togetherness. So in 2006, my ex and I decided we needed a very affectionate second cat to socialize him. Enter Peach.

collage-gandalfpeach

At first I was afraid I had ruined Gandalf’s life, but in time he and Peach grew to tolerate and even enjoy each other. More importantly, the plan worked, and continued to work after we moved to my current house in 2006. Gandalf remained skittish around strangers, but became much more affectionate with me, more tolerant of friends and family who were at the house a lot. Everyone but me had to present their hands, palm turned in, for him to smell. If he bowed his head after smelling, they were permitted to pet him (briefly). If not, they had to back off. Because of this ritual, my sister called him “Sultan” (although “Buckbeak” would have been more appropriate.)

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As Gandalf got older, he became a wonderful companion. He followed me around the house, slept next to me every night, loved to “help” with house projects and craft projects, and kept me company while I wrote. At mealtimes, he often sat at the table like a person.

collage-gandalfxmas

When I got divorced, Gandalf was one of the few steady bright spots in my life. His comforting presence in the house, and his excited greetings when I got home each day, helped me adjust to living alone. I also appreciated his meowy “talkativeness” on a new level. Maybe it sounds crazy, but when I talked to him, I usually felt like he got the gist of what I was saying. Anyone who knew him will attest that you could have a conversation with him. When my dad and handyman replaced my oven, Gandalf famously hopped up onto the counter to supervise their work and stayed there the whole time, meowing his commentary. He also had a repertoire of un-catlike noises – he could sound like a goat or a pigeon or even a sheep.

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Of my two cats, Gandalf has always been the healthy (if anxious) one. Peach has a chronic disease, so I’ve been prepared for the possibility of losing her for a long time. But I fully believed Gandalf would live to be twenty years old. So when he had a distressing vomiting episode at the beginning of August, and the vet said he was fine and probably ate something bad, I didn’t question it. Nor did I get extremely concerned when he started losing weight and having what seemed like mini-asthma attacks. I suspected a hairball blockage, something possibly serious but fixable. When I got back from Miami two weeks ago and he was no better, I took him back to the vet. Before the exam, I said blithely, “I think it’s a bad hairball, or maybe something wrong with his teeth, you might want to check them.” But the vet returned with a drawn face and took me to see the X-rays that showed a lung full of fluid. Heart disease, he said, or cancer. (The tests confirmed cancer days later.) Either way, unless I wanted to take Gandalf to a specialist (which I didn’t, for many reasons), he would probably only last a few more weeks. He was about to have his twelfth birthday.

To make everything worse, I couldn’t just let this take its course. I had a personal deadline by which I had to make a decision about his life. He perked up slightly after his lung was drained, but I knew it was only temporary, he was still in pain and not tempted by any of his favorite foods, he was not going to get better. So after his diagnosis, I spent as much time as I possibly could at home with him, for a week and a half. Then yesterday, September 15, a mobile vet service came to the house, and I said goodbye to the best feline friend I will ever have.

I’m seriously overwhelmed by the love and support of my friends. Yesterday I received condolences of one kind or another from probably a hundred people. There are so many “it’s just a cat” people in this world, but most of my friends are not part of that number. They understand what he meant to me and that I’ve lost a member of my family. For years, I prayed regularly that I would at least be in a relationship whenever I lost Gandalf. It seemed unimaginably hard to handle that loss all alone. Well, I’m still as single as the day is long. The thing I specifically asked not to happen, happened. But I am not alone. The gift of this situation is the bone-deep knowledge of how not alone I am, and that means more than I can say.

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Two of my wisest friends, independently of one another, told me they believe Gandalf was a cat of purpose. Like his namesake, he was sent into my life for comfort and guidance in times of need, and God took him sooner than expected because his purpose was complete. That gives me a weird sense of hope. Regardless, my Gandalf was without a doubt a “soulish creature.” If there are any animals in the next life or the new earth, I am absolutely sure that he’ll be among them. I believe I will see him again.

About Brenda W.

Christian. Memphian. Reader. Writer. True blue Tiger fan. Lover of shoes, the ocean, adventure, and McAlister's iced tea. View all posts by Brenda W. →
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16 Responses to Elegy For A Black Cat

  1. *hugs* I’m really sorry for your loss. Beautiful tribute to a beautiful cat.

  2. Ruth says:

    Oh this is a beautiful, beautiful post! And the tears I’m trying to hold back — gah!! Thank you for sharing your heart. I have a black cat myself (named Pepper) who is so near and dear to me too, and while I am tremendously thankful for all of the years we’ve had, I never ever want to face the ending. And I believe with all my heart that when his time comes, I will see him on the other side…and I don’t doubt that Gandalf will be in that number. These animals are such precious gifts I can’t think otherwise. Prayers going up for you in this difficult time! (Referred here by Rachel McMillan…I think we have another mutual friend on FB, Esther Joy.)

  3. Kathy Russell says:

    He was an adorable feisty kitten and a wonderfully companionable cat. We really should have consulted Google before letting him teeth on our fingers! Prayers for you and eager to see what good things fill your life next!

  4. Maria says:

    This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Huge hugs.

  5. Amy says:

    i don’t know you. But I do know and understand the love from and for a cat. Mine was given the name Molly Grace once I adopted her (unintentionally…and with major reservation…long story) Grace is her middle name bc 1. because I got her from a place that has Grace in its’ name and 2. it sounds cute with “Molly” .

    Despite my initial feelings of really not even wanting a pet at the time, she has turned into a living, breathing symbol of her namesake. She is a gracious gift from God. God knew I needed her and she me. We are a team; she’s my constant companion; she’s my feline daughter whom I love like a child; she sees me at my saddest moments and comforts me in a way no Human can; I truly believe our bond and our relationship was set up through God’s divine intervention.

    I agree with your friends. Some pets are given to us to serve a purpose. Gandolf had one and had a wonderful mommy for whom to serve. I, too, believe that we will see our pets one day. We had to put down my family dog, who was also another child to us (my mom received flowers, sympathy cards, the whole deal) 2 years ago. The vet who did it is a christian and prayed with us beforehand. She also said that, although there is no biblical backing to if animals/pets go to heaven, God does say he restores all of His creation to Himself. She takes that to mean His animals on earth. I believe Max is in heaven. I believe Gandolf is as well. Pets are one of God’s greatest gifts to humans on earth; I’m not sure why He wouldn’t let us see them again if we believe in His Son.
    Thanks for sharing your story. I’ll keep you in my prayers. Gandolf couldn’t have asked for a better mom.

  6. There are no words…I am so sorry for your loss. Thinking of you.

  7. What wonderful stories! I’m glad you wrote down all of his little quirks; I feel like I almost know him. What a wonderful celebration of his life. (Also, whenever you end up getting another cat, you should consider a Maine Coon. They have enormous personalities, just like Gandalf. But they demand a lot of attention, so there’s that to consider.)

  8. Suzanne says:

    I love the part about Gandalf being a cat of purpose– he most certainly was! I think you made the best decision and gave him the fullest life a kitty could have right until the very end. I’m so sorry about your loss. Thank you so much for opening up about it. I’ve been thinking about you and praying for you all week!

  9. Katharine says:

    Awww, wonderful memories. I am 100% convinced that if God created animals capable of such relationships with humans, it was not in vain and we will not lose such loving companionship forever. I am praying for your comfort. Love you.

  10. Jessica says:

    Great post, with a good refresher on your life with Gandalf. I remember when you got him! It’s still weird to think that era of your life is over for now.

  11. Wendy7291 says:

    I am to SO a cat person. I had 3 but my boy cat died 2/13 of cancer as well. It was so very hard. I still have 2 and I am thankful for them everyday. I am so sorry for your loss. I wish you peace and pray that someone special will come into your life and treat you just as special. Hang in there….everyday will get easier. Think good thoughts….he is playing and having the time of his life in the “cat section” of heaven. You will see him again one day.

  12. Ow. My heart.
    *sniffles*
    As a pet person (we currently have two dogs and a cat), I understand completely how devastating it is to lose a beloved companion.

    More love and hugs from Kentucky.

  13. I am so sorry. It’s never easy to say good bye to a pet. They really do become part of the family.

  14. Carol says:

    I haven’t been able to read this because I knew I’d cry, but I’m so glad you wrote it out. He was a beautiful cat, inside and out, and I’m glad he was yours for so many years. *hugs*

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