Some days, you just have to do the thing you don’t want to do.
Death makes you face things and do things that you just don’t want to. You can’t leave it until later. You can’t deny it. You just have to find some strength within — and you always do — to be able to do what you must. And in my case, that was wrap up our sweet, fluffy barn kitty who passed away unexpectedly.
Her name was Stella. I just gave her that name one day last fall. After living at the farm for a week or so, I felt our cute, skittish barn kitty should have a name, and Stella is the name that came to me. She was a little black-and-white cat who lived in the hayloft of the barn. We’d see her sitting out on the edge, catching some sun on a cool October day, but if we even approached the barn too purposefully, she’d be off like a flash, into a hidden part of the hayloft.
We would climb the ladder to fed her every day, and each time, she’d be barely visible, hiding from us. Before too long, though, she became a little more exposed, a little closer, and one of my favourite memories of her was the time she came to the food bowl before I had even gone down two rungs of the ladder — I got to see her up close for once! She was so sweet! Most of the time, though, she would sit on a nearby disintegrating bale of straw and look at us. The look on her face said, “you’re going to feed me again? Why are you being so nice to me?” In a way, it broke my heart that she was so baffled by our care and interest in her. For the last couple of months, however, she just looked at us with caution — as she approached so much of her life, I suppose — instead of confusion. She understood that we would bring her food every day and that we loved her. At least I hope she understood that last part.
A few days ago, Darren found her unmoving in the hayloft. He had gone to give her fresh water, and he didn’t see her at first. Then, suddenly, he saw her, laying with her chin on the straw. When I got home, and he told me that we’d lost her, I went to the barn. I saw her immediately from my spot on the ladder. How strange, since she was never in that part of the hayloft, that I knew. But we knew her so little! We only saw her for a few minutes a day. What was her life really like? We have no way of knowing. We only know that she had lost about half of her ears in harsh winters of the past. We know she had at least one litter of kittens — my mom had told us that, and that’s the only way they’d known she was a she. You just couldn’t get close enough to her.
Was she ever mistreated? I don’t think so. She is — ahem, was — a barn cat. She caught mice, and maybe birds, as her diet. Yet her look improved greatly once we started feeding her regularly. Her coat got fluffier, she seemed to put on some weight, and she looked less scared. But I don’t think she was ever mistreated before. It’s just the way of a barn kitty. She got table scraps once in a while, and other than that, she was independent. She lived out there, all the time, and we live in here, and we just didn’t know her very well.
The first time I got to pet her was after she’d died. Despite all I just said about barn cats, I feel it is such a shame I never got to connect with her, pet her and show her more affection while she was alive. She was so soft, and so sweet, and still warm! It seemed like she had just stopped breathing, and she might start up again any second. What would she do? Would she try to bolt away, suddenly aware that she had let her guard down too much? Or would she sigh and purr and then die again, but this time, knowing for sure that she was loved?
It broke my heart, petting her in the barn that night. But my heart will mend.
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I chose a bright yellow piece of cloth to wrap her in. It seemed the most appropriate for her, but my mood was anything but sunny. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to have to take care of her body. I wanted her to be alive; I didn’t want to be in this situation. Then, quite out of the blue, I thought, “every day, we have new opportunities. And today, this is my opportunity.” What a strange thought to have… and it changes everything. It’s my opportunity to take care of the body of my sweet kitty. Not an obligation, or unpleasant task. It’s my chance, and it only comes once.
I cried quite a bit, still caught up in the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” But, like so many facing death, I consoled myself with “we did our bests” and “I think she loved us.” It’s all we can do, with so many unknowns.
One thing I know about myself, though: I am enough of a realist, or scientist, that it’s okay to console myself whenever I need it. There’s no worry that I’ll fall into a trap of unreasonable excuse-making, although there’s always a hazard of wanting to live in the past and/or feeling sorry for myself. But if I focus on the good bits, I can avoid that.
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So let this be my tribute to you, dear Stella. I have the feeling you enjoyed your time on this earth! I hope you know how much you meant to us. This isn’t the last time we’ll think of you! We’ll miss seeing you in the hayloft every day. Although you are gone, in spring, we’ll bury your body at the top of the garden. We won’t forget you.