You Probably Need a Will, So Here's How to Have That Potentially Awkward Conversation with Your Family
Remember, if you die without a will, the state will determine who inherits
I had to say goodbye to my beloved fur-baby (a term I’ve often snickered at, but now own without abandon) Daredevil a few weeks ago and I’m only now starting to come out of the fog.
The grief I felt at his passing left me with a complete disinterest in grooming and a grotesque obsession with every single thing that beautiful cat ever touched.
Daredevil, an orange ball of fluffy, warm, purr-prone love, was completely misnamed. I adopted the little fleabag 12-and-a-half years ago from the Burbank animal shelter, and my live-in boyfriend at the time, who loved comic books, decided to name the timid and wide-eyed little fuzzball after his favorite superhero.
It was immediately apparent that this kitten was not daring, nor a devil. If anything, he was an angel from kitty heaven, completely content to snuggle, have his belly rubbed, and spend his days in the sun. But no matter. The name was ironic, and it stuck, and so Daredevil he was.
Daredevil and I spent many a day together — many a heartbreak, many a celebration, many a binge-watch. This soft and sweet-souled cat brought me so much comfort and serenity I almost don’t even know how to mourn his loss. He had been, for the past 12 years, one of the first things I'd see every morning, and the last thing I'd see before nodding off at night, lulled to sleep by his soft kitty purrs, my hand massaging his belly like the well-trained kitty-servant I am.
That’s a really solid routine to suddenly be without. Only, mercifully, it didn’t come out of the blue.
Daredevil went into heart failure this summer, which we were able to treat with a chest tap (to drain the fluid) and a variety of human heart medicines given to him daily in little kitty doses. The vet told us that it was only a matter of time.
And so, even though my heart wanted to march onward, oblivious to the passage of time, my brain knew that those precious Daredevil snuggles and purrs were numbered. It knew that I should embrace every paw raised for attention, enjoy every chin-scratch, and not take for granted any of his 2 a.m. yowling sessions that used to drive me crazy. I even looked sweetly upon his stinky kitty breath when he leaned over my face in the morning and demanded I drag my sorry ass out of bed because there was tuna in the fridge, goddamnit, and he needed some now!
I was almost painfully aware that these were his final months, and so I tried to remain mentally and emotionally present for those final afternoons of writing in which I would suddenly find myself typing with one hand because this little Houdini had somehow crept onto my lap and stolen five of my fingers for a belly-rubbing cuddle-fest — deadlines be damned!
And I hoped that our moments together would keep stretching, while simultaneously praying that when his time did come, Daredevil would pass gently in his sleep — surrounded by comfortable and familiar surroundings so that his soul could float away with only the happiest of pictures behind it.
Instead, we had to take him to the vet because he was drowning from the fluid that was filling his lungs. He was no longer able to sleep in any of his upside down origami positions the way he liked to, or to enjoy a good belly rub the way he always had, or to even eat more than a few bites of beloved tuna because his stomach was being squashed by his ever-filling lungs.
I wasn’t prepared for the absolute body-numbing heartbreak that comes with knowingly taking your cat to the vet in order to say goodbye. “Your” cat, who has really owned you all these years, who looks up at you with trusting, loving eyes, and who appreciates all the extra attention that is suddenly being showered upon him, but “can you really just give me so room because I’m having a hard time breathing here, and your hugs and kisses are distracting me from my number one task at moment: to breathe. Just breathe. In and out. In and out . . .”
My husband and I cried so much, I thought the universe might actually allow our handsome kitty to live a few months longer just to get us to shut up, but no dice. We kissed him and whispered sweet things to him as the vet administered the drugs that would free him, and I felt my heart break as his body let go of his soul. It’s impossible, really, to convey how we felt without getting a little melodramatic about it.
We brought his body home, and because I was afraid of my need to keep holding him, set to creating the perfect little nest for his final resting place: a sturdy box, soft blanket, his favorite toys, a can of tuna, and a bag of his favorite treaties. It was all there, tucked in beside him, as I arranged his body in his most favored of positions: the nose-to-tail “O.”
We kissed his head, his belly, his ears, and tried to get our other cat Midnite to say goodbye as well, to see that he was gone, because we knew she’d be missing him soon and how on earth do you convey “Your life-partner and kitty co-habitator has died and we are all going to be sad together for a while,” to a cat?
We buried Daredevil in my parent’s backyard because we were home for the holidays, and if you’ve never dug a grave in January earth before, I pray you don’t have to. I watched as my husband dug and sweat and swung at the ground with the pick, and I realized that, contrary to past promises and pacts, I would most certainly not ever be able to help any of my friends bury a body. I simply don’t have the muscle mass to dig a hole deep enough to get away with it. Coyotes would find the body for sure, and then we’d be sunk.
After we’d reached an acceptable depth — my husband loosening and digging the earth, and me helping to scoop up what was loosened — we lowered the box into the ground, placed some roses and catnip on top, and wept as we covered him with earth. After, I was unable to walk away from the blanket he’d died in, as though his soul’s passing left some residual Daredevilian essence that I could absorb and keep and be soothed by.
Which brought me to the realization that I feel completely shaken by the unknowability of what comes “after.”
These past weeks I’ve been awash in contradictory negotiations, praying to God that if indeed there is a heaven, please let Daredevil be welcomed and loved by the angels, while also asking the Universe to make sure Daredevil’s little kitty soul be allowed to bring along all the love we shared with him on his reabsorption into the cosmos.
It’s like some weird game of faith roulette . . . . I don’t know what to believe, nor which belief actually makes me feel any better, so I just try to check all the boxes, hoping that if there is any higher power out there, it will be able to decipher my grief and deliver Daredevil’s soul to some kind of happy place.
Meanwhile, amidst my muttering, I found myself inventing excuses to walk past the litter box so that I could stare forlornly at Daredevil’s last, anemic, little kitty turd — the final vestige of his waning digestive abilities bringing me an embarrassing amount of comfort, as though proving that he wasn’t completely gone yet.
A few days later, however, and it had vanished, scooped out and flushed along with all the rest. I cried both at its departure and at how terribly sad it was to be sad about missing poop. I filled the void of walking past the cat box with searching for his hairs amidst the sheets, collecting cat-claws from his carrier, and clinging to his death-blanket like a lunatic.
Finally, mercifully, it was time to leave my parents’ home and return to our apartment in Texas — a blessing and a curse, as the moment we opened the door I was awash in tears at all the places he should be sleeping or sitting or playing and is not.
On the other hand, the entire place is so full of cat hair and dander, it is as though I have crawled inside a large warm cat-nest of Daredevil’s making, and no longer feel the need to comb through the carpet for whiskers or forgotten hair balls. I shudder to think how badly we need to vacuum.
But I’m not ready to part with the fur, as though each and every little orange clump floating by on a sun-beam is some kind of visit from beyond the grave.
What is it about clinging to physical remembrances that makes us feel better? It’s as though I need the physical world to hold some sort of power over the metaphysical one, so that I can find comfort in a cosmic echo of the cat I’m still not ready to part with. Surely I’m not alone in this desperate clinging.
I mean, it’s not that totally weird that I’m obsessed with my dead cat’s fur hiding in the corners of the living room and therefore refuse to vacuum, right?
Or maybe I’m entirely too sensitive to know how to do this grief thing, leaving me this totally crazy bereaved cat lady on her way to an asthma diagnosis.
But while I may not be ready to vacuum Daredevil’s precious fur away yet, I am at least bathing and brushing my teeth again and doing all those other things that remind us that we may not be dead yet. And that’s got to be a step in the right direction, yeah?