Looking out the window, my eyes fall on Mr. Darling's grave up under the trees on the far side of the drive way. My son, Walker, buried him there and marked his grave with a small garden statue of a kitten. Walker, now twenty, got Mr. Darling when he was in nursery school.
Mr. Darling had several names over the years, but I was always partial to his first name, Mr. Darling. Walker changed his name several times when he was little. Mr. Darling, on the other hand, thought his name was simply "Kitty."
He was an outside cat. As the life of a cat goes, I think his must have been nearly perfect. He enjoyed the freedom of roaming and hunting in the woods, but also the security of two meals a day, a bed in the garage, and four indulgent humans whom he had trained to come to the front door when called.
Mr. Darling was affectionate, but not a lap sitter. He only tolerated being held for a very few minutes at a time before he'd had enough.
Over the years, I worried considerably about keeping his rabies vaccination current. He was impossible to catch and stuff in a cat carrier. Fortunately, I have an understanding vet who let me take the rabies vaccine home. The last shot only took me three attempts, as most of the first two ended up on the sidewalk rather than in Mr. Darling, who seemed to be eerily psychic (or paranoid.) Every time I tried to lure him in for a shot with canned mackerel and cream he suspiciously slunk off into the woods.
I think I'm psychic too. On the day Mr. Darling died, as I was walking that morning, I thought to myself, "Mr. Darling's old and liable to die any time. But I think we gave him a good life."
Later that afternoon, when my husband and I stepped out the front door to take a walk, we heard Mr. Darling meowing loudly in the woods. I think he started calling for help when he heard us outside.
We found him, eyes dilated and glazed like saucers, his body twisted and limp, under the abandoned tree house in the woods. As soon as we got to him, though obviously distressed and in pain, he began purring in thanks.
We took him to the Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Knoxville. After many tests, the vet told us that Mr. Darling, if she could pull him through the night, would not ever be himself again: he would never be able to live outside and would likely be paralyzed. My husband, Walker and I made a decision: it was time to let Mr. Darling go.
As the vet gave him his final shot, we held him and he never stopped purring…purring so very loudly. And as best he could, he rubbed his face on our hands and kissed us affectionately. He knew he was saying goodbye. He was also saying thank you.
Mr. Darling, at the end, showed such bravery and nobility of spirit. I told my husband that Mr. Darling had given me one last gift, a lesson in how to die.
I remember reading a quote once from one of the ancient Stoics, and I cannot even remember which one at the moment. But, paraphrasing him loosely, he opined that simply living was no great accomplishment, that living was, in fact, something even one's animals and slaves did. It was his opinion that what made a life truly great was not as much how one lived as how one met Death.
Applying that standard to Mr. Darling, I'd say he had a great life. He met Death well.
I wrote a song, "The Big Cat In the Sky," the day after Mr. Darling died. Is it possible to channel the voice of a cat? I don't know, but I felt like I was channeling Mr. Darling when I wrote and recorded this song. It's more likely, however, that I was simply delusional. It wouldn't be the first time.
I'm posting the song under "Writing From Life" in the Listening Room. I'm also making it a free download.
Be Well and Good Luck, and Happy Thanksgiving to all.