Monday, 30 July 2012

Viva Fluffy

My phone rings.

It's my brother.

My spidey-sense immediately tells me this means trouble.

"Hi Weez. How are you? Good. Right, listen. Last night, I had to sleep downstairs on the sofa because Mia wasn't feeling well and she got into bed with Deb. Fluffy was outside the French doors asking to be let in, which is not like him at all. I told him in no uncertain terms to go and use his cat flap. I even put my hand through it to see if it was working. But he was still outside when I went to sleep. Then in the morning, he was lying down just inside the back door..."

He falters, takes a breath, continues.

I listen to his hurried, throat-constricted outpouring with a sinking heart. There are no prizes for guessing where this is heading.

Yes, the king of beasts, Fluffy the Great, Fluffy the Terrible, is no more. Sleek and beautiful and blessed with a monstrous personality disorder that could whisk him from tender and loving to A&E dangerous in under a second, he in came through his cat flap while my brother slept, lay down, and died.

"Not a mark on him," my brother says. "He'd been fine that afternoon, watching me build a fence. He looked so peaceful lying there in the morning with his little paws crossed - I didn't realise. I thought he was sleeping. He always slept like that. He wasn't even that old..." His voice cracks. "I need your advice, Weez. How do we tell Mia?"

Why he is asking his childless younger sister how to break the news of a bereavement to his 5-year-old, I don't know, but I am deeply touched.

"I mean, do we just bury him and tell her later, or do we do a little ceremony with her there? Would that upset her more? Fluff was her absolute favourite person in the world."

I think back to when my childhood pets died. I didn't witness any of the garden burials, but Dad meticulously carved gravestones out of breezeblocks - "Blackie 1957-75", "Tigger 1976-93", "Billie 1981-91". It was one of the nicest things he ever did.

"I think it's good to have some sort of ceremony," I say. "She's old enough to understand about death, right? I mean, she lost her grandad last year, so she knows what it's about - that that person's never coming back? So a proper send off's a nice idea, and I can't see any harm in including her in it - in fact she'd probably feel a lot worse for being left out now. This is what rituals are for - to help you deal with the big stuff that happens. It's a good way of saying goodbye. You can make it really lovely. It's also a great way of showing her it's ok to be sad about sad stuff."

(This is a lesson I'm only just starting to learn.)

"Yes, yes, you're right. Good, that's what I thought," says my brother. "Ceremony it is then."

"I'm really sad about Fluffy," I say. "He was awesome. I'm so sorry."

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I email a few days later to ask how it went.

He replies:

We had a lovely thank you ceremony for him and put him to rest in a lovely white casket tied with white ribbon and decorated with pictures and words from Mia and all of us.  He never like to be far from us, so we chose a quiet corner of the wild field near our house where the dog walkers never go, and laid him to rest in a very deep grave which took me several hours to dig (thick hay grass & roots, stones, clay etc).  Very sweaty work.  I will try to make a stone for him like Dad used to, but am suffering from cat grave digging exhaustion. 

He had a good life, he was loved, despite viciously scratching the kids for no reason and pooing on the lawn (not to mention the fleas).  Maybe having such a long tail makes you have a short life?  Who knows?  My cynical side says him going this way saved us a lot on vet bills.  But we miss him and things feel a bit empty and lonely around here without his funny character.

Mia was sad for her Fluff, despite his faults, despite being directly on the receiving end of Fluff’s issues.  He seemed like one of those odd gifted people who have no common sense, but are highly intelligent.  He really seemed to love us all and bond with us in a way unusual for a cat.  He never lost his inner kitten.  She would play with him with string and would collapse with laughter.  She also thinks cats come to the shops with you, run around the block in a race against your scooter (always winning in the last furlong),  she thinks they always sit near you, but not on you, wherever you are inside or out.  

It was really right to do the ceremony.  She seemed to really respect this tribute and it eased her sadness, was a happy time, not sad.  We're all looking around the house, missing him being there and wishing we could have known, so as to not take him for granted, made more of a fuss of him, made him feel special, which he was.

Peebro X

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My brother's fantastic.

This is a tribute.


Elaine said...

When I lost my Allie (my Irish Setter), Kaylee was 5 yrs old or there abouts. She was so sweet and considerate during the whole process; asking me if I was sad; asking me if Allie is with Tootsie (black Lab that went before her) and finally asking me if I thought they would be living together in heaven because you know they didn't really like each other.
Sometimes I think young children handle death better than we do.
I still miss Allie and think of her often. Kaylee assures me (at 8 yrs old now)that she is doing just fine. :)

One Fine Weasel said...

That's so sweet. I think kids take their cues from adults on how to deal with this stuff.

When Billie (a Heinz 57 terrier) died in the early 1990s, my mum and dad couldn't or wouldn't speak about it. I got home to a peculiar atmosphere, and eventually noticed the dog wasn't there. When I asked where she was, a visiting aunt had to tell me she'd had a heart attack on a day trip and her body had been left at a vets. It wasn't mentioned again. I still miss her.

Elaine said...

How terrible that the adults in your life didn't handle that better! And still I'm left wondering why? Why was the death of the family dog such a taboo thing? It's very odd. Death is never easy to explain to a child but it does have to be faced by everyone at some point. So sad!