A Small, Quiet Ending

Tigger and WinnieWinnie (right in photo) started her life with us as Winnie-the-Pooh, a round, fuzzy ball of black fluff who grew up to be glossy, elegant, and self-admiring—the sort of cat who posed in front of every shiny surface to admire herself. She came home from the shelter with Tigger (left in photo), ever after to be her close friend and begging buddy. We first shortened Winnie’s name to Pooh, but changed to Winnie after about six months, when we noticed that she never, ever responded to us when we called her Pooh. With her name switched to Winnie, she came when called. I suppose Pooh wasn’t elegant enough for her.

From the very beginning, she took to my older son more than the rest of us, following him around, playing with him and willingly learning the stupid tricks he taught her, including the one where she would put her head into his open mouth in a reverse of the lion tamer stunt. This trick had a huge, if awful, payoff for my son when a friend of ours, staying with us for a few days before heading home, fell asleep on the couch. We discovered that he was the sort of sleeper whose mouth dropped open while asleep, and we found it out at about the same time Winnie did. She thought he was presenting her with an opportunity to show off her trick. He woke up with a mouth full of cat. What followed included screaming from both parties, and then hurt feelings on one side, and vigorous and panicked teeth-brushing with a lot of loud spitting on the other.

Winnie was a one-person cat. She appreciated the attention from the rest of us, but when Mark left for the Air Force, she became a planet without a sun. She did well enough, I suppose. She hung out with the other cats, glommed tuna treats, took her turns in my office window. She spent time with my younger son, sometimes following him around. But she was not the same. Most of the time we made a point of paying attention to her, because she did not seek attention from us.

These last few days, that changed. She started being wherever one of us was. She came up to us to be petted. She also went off her food, and we switched to a soft food with gravy, and then to canned tuna, just to keep her eating. Eventually, even hand-fed, she refused more than a lick of the things she liked.

Her passing was hard. Not on her, but certainly on us. We kept her at home—she exhibited no signs of pain, had no palpable tender areas, no lumps, nothing. We had no excuse but our own discomfort to put her to sleep, so we didn’t. Had Mark been with us, we might have chosen differently, but there was always hope, however increasingly faint, that she might pull around and he might still have his cat when he came home. We kept her with us, and I fed her by hand and made sure she was hydrated, eventually giving her water through an eyedropper. Up until the end, she purred when petted, and spoke when we said her name.

She died last night, and my younger son had his first in-person experience with death. That was as hard as all the rest of this combined. How we deal with death is as much a part of being human as how we deal with life, and the stark finality of it is something that can’t be danced around or prettied up. We let him see, we let him help, and as best we could, we tried to make him understand.

We put Winnie in a book box, wrapped one of my older son’s childhood toys and a cat toy my younger son bought for Winnie into the box with her, and buried her in the garden. Then we called the older son and talked through the whole thing. Today we’ll make a marker for the grave.

This morning three cats were waiting for me when I came out the bedroom door to go to work, and I did not stop to look under the kitchen table for the fourth. A small life ended in a small, quiet death. The world did not change, but spaces in a few hearts echoed with hollow places that were not there before.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

15 comments… add one
  • learn chinese fast Sep 18, 2010 @ 7:57

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  • JM Jul 17, 2006 @ 1:30

    I’ve shot a pet because I couldn’t get the wild out of it. Another pet I gave to a rancher because he blonged out there rather than in my house. My father has made the same decisions. But there are a few pets that just broke my heart when they died.

    My first was Doc. He was a mutt that, when I was seven, he was smaller than the palm of my hand. When life became too painful and we put him down, I cried dearly over the loss.

    The second was Furlie. She was a calico that preceeded Doc in life and far outlasted him in death. She was a city cat that had to become accostomed to swamp life and about midway through her life, she had to re-accostom herself to life in the desert. She lived to be twenty-three human years old. My dad finally had to put her down. She had been a part of my life since I was two. Her death was truly the hardest to handle.

    The third was a perfect little chihuahua that I had only had for five months. I was against getting the little dog, but Diego was smart and he knew how to win my heart. When another dog attacked him, it was the God-damnedest hardest thing I ever had to do to bury that dog.

    Pets touch us in the weirdest ways. I don’t have a qualm about killing Cuddles. I’m not sorry about giving away Tigger. Other pets are gone, but not forgotten. But these three are the ones that truly touched my heart. I know the names and faces of the others, but some pets are irreplaceable.

    May your memories of Winnie be fond and my your thoughts linger frequently of the good times.

  • Krista Jul 7, 2006 @ 9:16

    I’m so sorry to hear about Winnie. Losing a pet is difficult. Hugs to you and yours.

  • Jim Jul 6, 2006 @ 23:35

    Holly, I apologize that your story brought back memories. Please suffice it to say I understand your pain, and griee with you and your family, and hope Winnie is playing in pleasant fields of catnip.

  • Jim Jul 6, 2006 @ 23:20

    Ah yes.
    Our beloved canine companion never fully recovered after Jann passed away, though it took four years for her to finally go into a difficult decline. We gave her her final friend last year, and it was very hard on us, and we haven’t yet considered replacing her.
    We had her cremated, and our plans to spread some of her ashes in the back yard and the rest on Jann’s grave were somewhat thwarted when she was returned in a sealed box. I guess plan B is that, when the time comes, she’ll go in the box with me, unless one of the kids bespeak the priviledge.

  • shawna Jul 6, 2006 @ 20:53

    Oh, I’m so sorry. My first years in my own home were petless, because I simply wasn’t ready to deal with potential loss. I gave in three years ago, and brought home KiKi (Kitty, shortened). She’s very definitely my oldest son’s, and he’s already informed me that he’s taking her with him someday when he moves out. I haven’t had the heart to suggest that, since he’s now ten, that may not happen.

    I think when we have kids, and they’re attached to the pets, the grief hits us parents twice… once for ourselves, and once for our child(ren).

  • Chassit Jul 6, 2006 @ 19:07

    I’m sorry. I know how it feels to lose a pet. I’ve lost two dogs over the past two years, one was my chihuahua names Sugar. She was paralyzed and wouldn’t eat, drink…all she did was sit and yelp. My other was a terrier mix named Smudge. He was a great dog, friendly and playful. He just got sick one day. I came home from school and he was dead, lying under his side, and his brother was trying to bury him.

    Be strong. I’ll send you prayers.

  • PolarBear Jul 6, 2006 @ 19:06

    I agree with Rick. The world changes in many ways — this is but one of them, and, perhaps, one of the more important ones.

    Hugs.

  • Rick Jul 6, 2006 @ 16:55

    I’m so sorry for your loss – but this was beautifully written, and brought tears to my eyes.

    The world did not change

    This isn’t true, though – the people who remember her now always will, and will think, reflect, and act accordingly. That’s change.

  • arrvee Jul 6, 2006 @ 15:38

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Pets really are a part of the family, and losing one is hard. I’m sending thoughts of comfort and strength your way.

    And a beautiful eulogy, too.

  • Angelique Jul 6, 2006 @ 15:12

    I’m so sorry about the kitty 🙁 Losing a pet carries the same weight as losing a person, in my book. The cat-head-in-mouth
    story made me smile, though 🙂 Reminds me of one of my own, Sadie, except her trick is fetching hair ties, it began as a harmless funny when she was a kitten and now I can’t take my ponytail down without the cat at my feet yelling at me to hand over the elastic.
    My heart is with you and both of your sons

  • rixshep Jul 6, 2006 @ 14:59

    My condolences, Ms. Lisle. We have a black and white cat who is 16 years old, and beginning to exhibit some of the same behaviors, so we are anxiously expecting a similar outcome soon.

    My thoughts go out to you.

    Rick (new user to your group)

  • PJ Jul 6, 2006 @ 14:15

    I’ve never lost a pet, but I have more experience than I’d like with losing loved ones. Here’s hoping Winnie has all the sun-warmed carpet she needs and all the cat treats she can eat.

    I will be thinking of you and yours….

  • Miss Nienke Jul 6, 2006 @ 10:45

    I’m sorry about your loss, Holly. One of my girls (Feline) passed almost 10 years ago, the other (Billy) three years ago, and they still occupy a big soft part of my heart. I still miss them every day, although it doesn’t hurt so much any more.
    In fact, I was just discussing this with my DH last night, and he said they’re up in heaven with an endless supply of catnip.
    I’m sure Winnie has found the perfect window and people who let her put her head in their mouth!
    Strength to you.

  • TinaK Jul 6, 2006 @ 10:31

    I’m so sorry about Winnie’s passing Holly. Two years ago this month my precious Nikki, a siamese, passed away because of kidney failure. We also hand fed and watered him. Yet the day after my husband came home from the hospital after being in a major car accident, Nikki passed away in my lap. We’re sure he waited until the entire family was present. His loss left a hole that will never be filled.

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