My parents’ cat was put to sleep the other day. And it was left to me to tell my children. Jake the cat was 18 years old, which means he was around before my kids were born. Which means they were attached to him. More than I realized.
I told my 9 year-old daughter first, when she got home from school on Thursday. I spared her some of the details my mother shared with me. That my stepfather didn’t hold Jake on his lap and croon to him while the vet euthanized him. Poppi had to go to work and save lives. Or that my parents opted for the group cremation, not the private one, because they didn’t want to spread his ashes over the backyard. And the group cremation was less expensive. Reasonable details to a grown-up. Not to be understood by a child.
I did tell her that Jake hadn’t eaten in a few days, that he couldn’t walk anymore and that when my mom picked him up he was in obvious pain. He had lived a nice long life. And he was now in a better place, with no pain, and frolicking with his sister cat Boo and brother cat Atticus.
What I wasn’t prepared for was my daughter’s reaction, a cry that sounded like someone had just told her that she couldn’t watch the season finale of American Idol. Or that Adam Lambert had lost. That I would have understood. And this here is why I am a bad mother. Her wailing cry, fit for a banshee, set off an uncontrollable giggling fit in me, so much so that I had to hold her tightly to my body so that she couldn’t see my tears of laughter. I laughed at my daughter being upset because Jake had died. What kind of mother am I?
My laughter was brought on by the fact that I wasn’t prepared for her intense reaction. He was a cat. But sometimes I forget she is only 9. And I should be happy that she has the ability to feel so strongly about a living thing, that she can then feel the sense of loss that comes when a living thing dies. I am not raising a sociopath.
But is there something wrong with me?
Because this was not a first for me. Years ago, when I was in California visiting my brother, my mom, who was visiting him as well, got a call from her neighbor that Atticus the cat had died. Atticus had lived with me in NYC but became a Miami cat when I could no longer deal with him scratching up the furniture in my studio apartment and shredding the toilet paper in my bathroom. The neighbor told her that Atticus had been found in the swimming pool of another neighbor and that he must have drowned. I was sad and a little teary. But then my brother did his imitation of what it must have sounded like when Atticus was drowning. Meow, gurgle gurgle, meow, gurgle, meowgle. It made me laugh until there were tears coming out of my eyes. Something that could have been caused by the fact that I had smoked pot out of a hollowed-out apple earlier in the evening. I’ll never know. But that was the last time I smoked pot. And for those who care, that was in 2002.
I guess everybody mourns differently. One person’s extreme loss is another’s simple sadness. To me, Jake was a cat. A nice one. But he was old and lived a good life. So his death, though upsetting, was not earth shattering. To a 9 year-old, who luckily has not known much of death, it was losing an old friend who had always been a part of your life.
And I know I’m not really a bad mother, fruit abuse not withstanding, just an imperfect one. But I try really, really hard.