06 September 2010

Last days


It's been a rough month. Ming slept all day on the verandah seats, curled or crouched on the old folded sheet I'd arranged as a nest for him; something more comfortable than the vinyl upholstery. He kept half-standing, turning slowly and settling down, constantly searching for a better position. I put a bowl of biscuits and another of water near him; he ate a few biscuits and lapped a little water then curled up again.

I sat next to him several times during the day when the sun broke through. I sipped tea and tried to understand what it meant to sit next to Ming during what might be the last hours of his life, what it would mean to sit there in the days that followed, looking at the world, the lambs lying on green grass, white clouds in a blue sky, plum blossoms profuse on the tree next to the dog kennels, tui fighting in the poplars, a korimako calling from the Grevillea next door — looking at the world and knowing Ming was no longer part of it. Yeah, sure, he'll still be here, re-entering it in a different form, as diffuse processes, as memory — but all that wise, enlightened bullshit can't compensate for his actual absence, the joy of hearing rustling in the kitchen and finding him with his head shoved in the rubbish, trying to hook out some morsel; can't compensate for the yowls of protest when I took his dead rat from him (in case it had a sublethal dose of poison); can't compensate for his selective deafness when told off. We know the world mostly through our senses — even our ability to imagine arises from what we've learned from our senses — and the loss of something, or someone, we can see and hear and touch is bearable only insofar as we can rationalise the loss. For those we love, this seems impossible. I have no idea how we manage it.

I sit next to him in the Spring sun, sipping tea and gazing out over the paddock, sensing his slow breathing. A kahu circles, calling. It's been a rough month, and it's a long way from over. Every time I blink the world seems to go slightly blurry. 


Photo: Ming in better times

Update (12 September 2010): Ming has not been seen since early last week. The conclusion is inevitable.

Photos and original text © 2010 Pete McGregor

40 comments:

Relatively Retiring said...

A beautiful lament for so much.
The blurring is important, too.

What a privileged life and death for Ming.

Lydia said...

I have no idea how we manage it, either, Pete. I have no idea how you have pieced together the perfect words describing this perfectly surreal time for you and Ming. But that is what you have done, and in so doing you have immortalized Ming who won your heart so long ago, and you have taken a piece of my heart.

Peace to you both.

leonie said...

Reading this stirs up some of my own memories of farewells to a furry companion of ours. Three years on, I still feel the physical absence of him like a hole in my body that will never be filled.

I feel for you Pete. And don't have any sage advice from the post-cat world.

My thoughts are with you both

the watercats said...

It is the best we can do for each other... be near and remember... and let the blurring commence..
peace.

jacqueline b said...

Hi Pete,

Good to catch up with where you are at. This reminds me of when my dog Conor died. I hope one day to own another dog, and a cat.

best wishes,

jacq

Bob McKerrow said...

Pete, what a loss! Condolences friend.

When I was a kid of about 5, Peter, my neighbours dog died. We were close and it was a huge loss. Fifty years later the huge cabbage tree stands proud under which we buried Peter. It is the most fitting memorial for a loved one. Len Siddell was Peter's master, and he was a retired Jackaroo and shearer from Australia, who loved dogs. Len never got over it.

Tred quitely Pete.

Barbara said...

Condolences, Pete. It is never easy, dealing with that hole beloved ones leave behind ... but perhaps you;ll find comfort in knowing Ming's pain is gone as well. Our Boxer passed away from cancer and I like to think of him whole and happy and chasing rabbits ... take care.

Emma said...

xoxo.

Zhoen said...

And grief will enter
break over us like a wave
change us forever

Clare said...

As usual, you manage to find words to convey which that which most of us can only feel. It is indeed a wonderful threnody for what must be a trying time.

Anne-Marie said...

I cannot imagine the farm without Ming prowling about some where. Stay well xx

Ruahines said...

Kia ora pete,
My sincere condolences. There are still times I come home half expecting to see Morrison lying about. Kia kaha.
Robb

beadbabe49 said...

((((pete and ming))))

(and the word verification is "sadde"...how appropriate...)

pohanginapete said...

Thank you all for the support, the thoughts, the empathy. Ming is astonishingly tenacious and with typical contrariness has been refusing to concede — I keep expecting to find a small, black-caped figure with a scythe on the doormat, Ming standing over it, looking up at me saying "Look what I killed last night."

He's been hiding next door recently, but was outside last night. No sign of him so far today. I'll let you know of developments. It can't be far off, but I was convinced of that several days ago.

Thanks again. I appreciate your thoughts.

Avus said...

The old boy is hanging on, then. Loved your image of a small "Death", dominated by Ming - which is just what he is doing at present. A strong, tenacious cat and a difficult time for you, Pete. I know what it is like to see a long-loved animal drift away. May it come peacefully and quick.+

herhimnbryn said...

Pete. My thoughts are with you and Ming. Spending time with him is right for both of you.

My hound has had us worried for a few days now, but is rallying and we hope will be fine...so I know.

Take care. HHB

Beth said...

Ach. A hard but precious time, Pete. I'm sorry -- looking into Ming's eyes, in your wonderful portrait, there is so much life and so much cat-ness. I'm reminded of our own losses, and send you both love as you travel toward this transition.

pohanginapete said...

Avus, HHnB, Beth — thank you for the thoughts and understanding.

robin andrea said...

Such a beautiful kitty cat Ming is. It's easy to see how loved this creature is. He invites it with those eyes. So deep and beautiful, like he knows the secrets of the universe.

I hope his time is full and rich for as long as he is still here. Please give that boy a little tender scratch behind the ears from me.

And yes, all that wise enlightened bullshit can't compensate for the real absence.

pohanginapete said...

Robin, I'll certainly give him that head scratch if I see him, but I don't think I'll get that opportunity. He's been gone for a couple of days now; neither I nor his staff next door have seen him.

I don't know what's harder — knowing or not knowing.

Michael said...

Sorry for this my friend. Hang in there. M

Relatively Retiring said...

The not-knowing is really hard.
My dear old dog is making the same journey this morning, but the end is chemically induced and from her own favourite place.
Is this kindness? I wish I could be sure

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Michael. Appreciated.

RR, I think it is. Love to you both.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Y'know i was thinking the other day how incredibly random and fragile all of THIS is - our individual lives are so unique and it seems almost impossible to understand exactly how we came to exist at this particular time in history and not at any other - nor to fathom the world before or after.

But each of us, and the lives that surround us like Ming, do make an impact and change the world however subtle. As a cat owner myself i can totally associate with that feeling - the empty space on the settee never quite feels the same: but nor should it - and the memories can bring joy as well as pain

my thoughts are with you - and i think it's appropriate to tell you that the verification word is lifering.

Avus said...

It's harder not knowing, Pete. I hope you manage to resolve his absence one way or another. Whilst dogs seem to need companionship as they drift towards death, cats often seem to seek their own space. I suppose it goes with the character of each.

pohanginapete said...

Hungry Pixies, I can't make sense of it, either — rationality seems to have no place in understanding these things. I agree with you, too, that the empty space shouldn't feel the same. If the choice was to have shared time or to have avoided the loss, I'd choose the former every time.

Avus, thank you. Your observation about cats and dogs seems very accurate. I admire the apparent willingness of cats to face difficulties as if they're their responsibility alone. Dogs offer different lessons, different consolations.

Anonymous said...

Pete, I am so sorry. There really are no words of comfort... only shared blurryness. Maureen

pohanginapete said...

Thank you, Maureen.

Peregrina said...

Pete, I'm sorry he didn't suddenly turn up again, as I know you hoped but didn't really expect. I only saw him once from a distance as he prowled along the hedge line, shy of casual visitors though so at ease with you.

I love the image of him which your allusion conjures up. I hear him surprising that small, black-caped figure with a "MIAOW! MIAOW!"

Anne-Marie said...

Oh, I'm so sad to hear Ming hasn't turned up. There's still hope, I guess, but it seems unlike him to not be spotted for such a long time. I do hope you find him, what ever has happened. Twenty-four is a pretty good innings for a cat!

I have two particularly fond memories of Ming. One was a couple of springs ago when two lively lambs decided he'd be fun to chase and he had to make a quick escape through the fence. When he spotted us watching he immediately set about gathering his dignity, sitting himself down and washing his paws, as if to say, "I was heading this way any way."

The other one was more recent, when I lay on the verandah in a patch of mild winter sun. Ming came and lay down right next to me, one paw resting against my arm. I was very touched he'd do this, especially from such a self-sufficient cat.

He was a special cat.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Hi there regular readers

I’m really sorry to have to tell you that due to circumstances beyond my control Don’t Feed The Pixies has had to be deleted and will probably be gone by the time you read this.

I had gone to pains to keep my name off the web and had changed the names and places of those involved where speaking about someone or something – but it seems that I have not been careful enough and so to protect myself from any future problems I have had to quit the site.

Thank you for providing light in a tunnel of dullness. I came to the blog world in hope of finding others out there who I might have something in common with, or were just other lost souls looking for new ideas and new thoughts – I have enjoyed meeting you all.

I am not sure whether this blog will continue in any other form. Thank you for visiting

Of all the blogs i will miss commenting on yours is right up there at the top - your writing is fantastic and i hope to find some way to keep in touch

pohanginapete said...

Peregrina, thank you. I like to think Death has a few wounds to show for his encounter with Ming.

Anne-Marie, those memories will stay with me, too — particularly the second. You were very privileged.

Hungry Pixies — that's awful news. I'm deeply dismayed; although I've been remiss in my commenting lately, I loved reading your posts — you have a distinctive voice and a great humour. I do hope you'll find a way to resume blogging, and I'd love to hear from you (use the link under the profile photo, or my obvious i.d. at yahoo.co.nz

robin andrea said...

I just checked back to see if there had been any sightings of Ming. I am sorry that he has disappeared, and I think you are probably right that the conclusion is inevitable. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to know when the time has come to take this journey, to head out to some quiet place, lie down, and call it a day.

pohanginapete said...

Robin, there's no doubt now. I still don't know whether it was harder this way, and I doubt I'll ever know. But I do like the thought of choosing the place to go. Whether I'd ever have Ming's kind of self-sufficiency and intuition, though... well, that's another matter.

Avus said...

He had a good and very long life, Pete, and chose his place and time for his death. How wonderful if we could do the same.

pohanginapete said...

Avus, thank you.

vegetablej said...

I'm so sorry for your pain, but happy for your joy in knowing Ming.

Take care.

pohanginapete said...

Thank you, VJ. I did love the time I had with Ming.

isabelita said...

Just had to have our almost 17 year old cat, Rico Suave, put to sleep. He got very sick very suddenly. It isn't any better seeing the dear creatures fade before your eyes...
A character in one of Ursula K. Le Guin's novels observed that it's hard to name cats, their lives are as brief as candle flames; yet I would say they live with us and share joy.
Peace.

pohanginapete said...

Isabelita, I agree it's hard to name cats — no name seems able to capture the essential quality of a particular cat. Instead, I think what generally happens is that the cat confers a quality on the name. They seem to have that power.
   I'm sorry to hear about Rico Suave, but glad you had so long with him. I hope the memories are some comfort. They are for me.