I would expect Sam Leith to say goodbye to his cat in a special way, eloquently and with passion and feeling. And he does. His words brought a tear to my eye because I know exactly what he felt and is probably continuing to feel. His children also felt the grief of the passing of Henry, a female cat who we lived with for 17 years. He named Henry before he realised that he was female. She was a standard, tuxedo, random bred cat – “She was a standard cat”. Nothing special in the grand scheme of things but very special to Sam Leith’s family and himself.
He writes that his grief is a grief for part of his own life. He is grieving for the loss of that part of his life which was filled with love for Henry. When Sam came back from the vet’s with his empty cat carrier he burst into tears with his children. It brought the moment home to them. It’s like the moment when you bury your loved one. It is a final recognition that your beloved has departed and you won’t see her again. That hurts.
Infection or marking territory?
In his The Spectator article he hinted at a problem with Henry’s health and I think I know what it was. He says that he got through three sofas during Henry’s lifetime because she had peed on them to the extent where it was impossible to remove the urine from them, forcing him to buy replacements. His wife was upset and I can understand that too. Sam said he prioritised his cat over his wife on that occasion. First in first out! It appears that his cat might have been suffering from a urinary infection called cystitis or she was marking territory because of anxiety. These are common domestic cat issues. Anyway, it’s all over now.
When she was alive, Henry displayed all the usual feline activities which charm and occasionally anger us. We are, after all, living with another species of animal and there is a culture clash sometimes. Despite the trials and tribulations – “She was also a colossal pain” – between Sam and Henry, he loved her. I can sense that it was a true, unconditional kind of love which you rarely see in human-to human relationships. It was stronger, more stable, more permanent and more enduring than the average marriage of about 10 years.
Sam buried Henry in his garden. It is an unusual thing to do. He’d better make sure he stays at his current home for a long time. He also made sure that he dug Henry’s grave 3 feet deep to avoid foxes digging it up. That is a very easy trap to fall into: to bury your cat in a shallow grave. Foxes have an inordinately capable ability to sniff out buried cats!
I buried a female cat more than 25 years ago. She was killed on the road. It was my fault. I grieved for her then, I grieved for her five and 10 and 20 years later and I still do so. I lost a bit of myself that day. As Sam so eloquently and elegantly wrote, “it’s also grief for a part of your own life”.
Henry has “slipped through the cat door into the dark”. Those are also Sam’s words and he’s a damn good writer. Click this to read Sam’s article.
- After our Cats Cross the Feline Rainbow Bridge: One Day we will be reunited
- Animal care workers at animal shelters need support to deal with grief due to their losses
- You want to share your grief on the loss of your beloved cat companion but can’t on social media for fear of ridicule