Not one person here reading this now (is anyone out there?) would be unfamiliar with the Wizard of Oz. Or indeed it’s headline musical number ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. That most wistful of songs which conveys a deep yearning to be somewhere that we just can’t be. This post, however, is not about that rainbow or that song.
And so here I find myself as a result of a funny thing happening this morning. I really didn’t sleep well. So when Marco got up at 5am, I decided to just get up and get on with it. Sometimes when my mind races at night or I get an idea in my head I can’t shake it or relax enough to go back to sleep. My cats happen to love it when this occurs. I don’t have anywhere to go, anywhere to be, or a time to be on a Zoom anytime today. But here I am on my laptop. I had a topic in mind for my blog today that arrived in my brain at 4am and I didn’t want to forget anything.
Rainbows figure in a lot of symbolism, metaphors and figures of speech. It’s the flagship symbol for the LGBTQ community. They are also associated with hope and peace in social movements. Currently they are representative of thanking our NHS healthcare system here in the UK too. A cursory search on lyrics.com revealed around 9,835 lyrics, 30 artists, and 50 albums with the word rainbow in it. So they do inspire.
There is another term which is commonly used for when someone loses a beloved pet; loses their furry, feathered or scaly companion. And for some reason it really makes me wince to say out loud – ‘rainbow bridge’ – there I said it. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment involved. It’s more the poetic imagery that always seems to accompany it when people post and use the term. Accompanied by a fully animated and twinkling GIF, sometimes with an added cheesy instrumental overlay to really get my goat.
Because it works for dogs, don’t get me wrong. If there is a place where pets cross over for dogs in particular, it should be a bridge to the world’s best dog park and dog beach. Every dog having it’s day, nary a collar or leash in sight. Dogs bounding around in a happy place. Giant tennis balls, unlimited frisbees, and Kongs on demand.
What doesn’t sit well for me, is I just can’t see cats in that place. Maybe instead there is a rainbow cat tree all felines get to climb, everyone with their ideal bed on their very own perch. Fishing rods with their favourite attachments drifting tantalisingly in the warm breeze. An all hours feeding station to suit their very individual hunger pang schedules.
When we had our first pair of Tonkinese cats, Mika and Tilo, we were beyond smitten with them. As they got older, I would well up just thinking about the day when some turning point would happen and we would have to address the elephant in the room.
As it happened, I was wholly unprepared for the loss of Tilo in our brother and sister pair back in September 2013. He just suddenly began gasping for air on a Sunday morning, while in his customary position of sleeping above my head on my pillow (at considerable cost to my surface area to sleep on…Tilo was a massive cat). It woke me up and I shook Marco awake while I panicked about what to do and called our vet to get the emergency out of hours referral number. By the time I had written the number down, he was already gone. We think he suffered a heart attack or an aneurysm. Something sudden that we were powerless to do anything about. I’m only glad it was over quickly. That was the only silver lining for our silver panther.
It was completely opposite with his sister Mika. She lived another three years accompanied by our current pair of hooligans Luther and Pelayo. They kept her company when they joined us two months after losing Tilo. It only took her about 48 hours to accept that they weren’t going anywhere so she gave in and got some much needed feline love and companionship.
Mika was an under the covers sleeper. While her brother monopolised my pillow, she would paw and dig to go under the duvet, and would lie right alongside me, with her back to my chest as I slept on my side, her head always on my arm or a little higher on my pillow. You might say she cat-spooned me! No matter how much I tossed and turned she would crawl over and reposition herself throughout the night. She was like Velcro and was never deterred.
It was in 2016 that her health declined. She would get sick fairly often and was diagnosed with pancreatitis. She got weaker and wobbled a little when she walked. The turning point I referred to earlier was when after three days of eating almost nothing and having already been to the vet to try special food to entice her to eat, she still refused food. She was also getting dehydrated. The evening before the day that we decided it was right to let her go, I remember her looking at me with her little crossed eyes. And I knew she was telling me that it was okay with that look. She assumer her usual position when we went to bed and I held her tightly.
I left work early the next day as did Marco. I steeled myself for what was to come. We had to bring her to the vet in their last hour of opening.
On the train home I was flabbergasted when a woman sat next to me with her cat in a carrier. In all the years I have taken the train or bus, that had never happened. I thought the powers that be were having a laugh and I was distraught.
When we got to the vets a woman sat close next to me on our bench with a rabbit in a hutch. The reception was packed with people and I had no clue how I was going to hold myself together. Mika was so weak we didn’t even bring her in a crate, she just curled up in a fluffy blanket on my lap and didn’t make a peep despite the chaos and the myriad of dogs nearby.
The woman then started to talk to me. I thought, ‘I’ll be damned. This is the last thing I need, someone making small talk when I have a lump in my throat and on the verge of bawling in public.’
She said ‘What a beautiful cat you have. What is she here for?’
That was all it took for the tears to start streaming silently down my face and I managed to mumble back that this was her last trip here. She could see my face and immediately understood. But she didn’t stop talking! She asked me 20 questions. I politely answered. Her husband was Canadian. The rabbit belonged to her daughter, and it had pancreatitis too. I kept thinking to myself, is this woman crazy? Doesn’t she see that we’re here for the worst?
When I look back, I actually think she saved me in that moment. Marco was doing no better than I. We ended up having to wait in reception for nearly 45 minutes and it was unbearable. She kept me talking and somehow occupied my mind for that duration and by the time we were called in, I felt calm. She had somehow managed to help me keep my shit together.
I’m not sure either of the ways we lost our cats was better than the other. Being unprepared was a shock. But the choice of when was taken away from us, it was out of our hands. Having to choose to bring Mika in and then go through the motions of that process was horrific, but I was able to prepare and say goodbye.
So I picture them together, somewhere over that rainbow. Doing whatever cats do until we meet again.
I distinctly recall going to bed that night after we took her in that day. Pelayo is an over the duvet sleeper bang down the middle. Luther is under the duvet, but always behind my knees. Neither one of them have ever slept against me the way Mika did, not once. Maybe they knew it was her spot.
I just remember weeping a little trying to get to sleep night.
Wondering how I was going to manage to do that without my second little heartbeat against my chest.