Milo

Milo is gone.

Milo is/was our cat. Those of you who have no patience with people who grieve the loss of an animal can stop reading here—no doubt you have other, more productive ways to spend your time.

But those of you who have loved and/or now love an animal, understand completely why I’m writing this. It is to you these remarks are addressed—to you and to the memory of the departed spirit my family and I were fortunate enough to know and share life with for a while. I think that’s what our days in this world finally come down to—who we spend our time with.

Some cats have what veterinarians call the “dog gene.” That means a cat who behaves much like a dog—Milo  had the dog gene.

He’d follow us around the house and on our walks. He would usually—not always mind you—but usually—come when called. He knew his name. And he loved more than anything else to sit on our laps in the evening when we watched TV. If he were still with us he’d be laying right now on this desk—to my left as I type—either dozing or looking out the window behind the monitor. Often I’d have papers or a book in the space he liked to occupy that I needed to see and I’d gently lift him off the desk and set him on a small bench that’s nearby or on the floor. He always seemed to understand and he’d go lay on the couch but always came back later.

It was my son—about 13 years ago—when he was about 8 or 9 I think—who found Milo and his mother and litter-mates where they had been abandoned in a shed down the road from our house. Our family—as it was then composed—was living in the country.

Milo was instantly my son’s favorite out of the 6 or 8 cats. He called him “The Golden Kitty,” because of his beautiful orange and white coat. As a family we discussed which cats we would keep and which we’d find homes for—my son was adamant—we had to keep the “Golden Kitty”—he was Milo’s advocate and he would not be denied.

We also kept mom and a few of the other kittens and found homes for the rest.

He wasn’t a perfect cat—perfect in human terms I mean. He was very territorial and would not tolerate other cats in the household once he reached full maturity.

I remember on more than a few occasions another cat would be way across the room—minding its own business—not even looking at Milo—and he’d run across the room and jump all over the poor cat. There’d be the proverbial cat-fight—screeching, shrieking, yowling, hissing, growling, fur literally flying everywhere.

He either drove away or we found homes for, the other cats. He eventually got what he wanted—the place to himself. He became top cat—the only cat. We knew better than to try to introduce another cat into the family. He got along fine with dogs.

There was another cat—a black cat that lived a few houses down—I think he still lives there—who would come down here to Milo’s turf. And sometimes Milo  would go up there to his turf. And of course there’d be a fight. Sometimes we’d know about it—sometimes we didn’t. But it seems like 2 or 3 times a year Milo’s face would swell up where he’d sustained a bite—a deep puncture wound that had gotten infected. We’d have to take him to the vet and get an anti-biotic then struggle with him every day for a few weeks making him take his medicine.

Milo—this cat that drove away all other cats and routinely got into fights—was with his family—the sweetest, most accommodating, gentle animal I’ve ever known. You could pick him up when he was sound asleep and he’d usually just hang there like a rag and let out a soft, little moan.

We have raccoons that live in the creek at the back of our property, below the house. We were always afraid Milo would get tangled up with a coon. When that happens—assuming it’s a grown animal—the cat usually does not fare well and is often killed. But so far as we know he never did take on a coon. I guess we don’t have to worry about that any more.

Several years ago Milo discovered the wonderful people next door. Like us they’re a retired couple. Over time our neighbor’s home became Milo’s other home. They adored and spoiled him—brushing him, entertaining him and always trying different fancy cat foods to see which he liked best. When my wife and I were away for more than a day they would look after him—I guess he pretty much just moved in next door until we came back. I doubt he really missed us very much when we were gone. He was certainly loved and cared for just as well over there as here.

A few years ago Milo stopped eating and was losing weight. We took him to the vet and it turned out he had some bad teeth that needed to come out. Once that was taken care of he bounced back to normal. About a month ago he again stopped eating. It was the same problem—it took two surgical procedures to get things right and he seemed to be doing better. He would be doing pretty good, even a bit frisky, jumping around and gaining some weight back, then he’d have lethargic days and eat poorly—generally just lapping up gruel my wife fixed for him.

People who know me know I never use phrases like this but it’s the only one that really seems to fit—“God bless her—God bless my wife.” I am absolutely convinced no companion animal ever had a better care-taker than my incredible, beautiful wife. I cannot conceive of any way Milo could have been better cared for. She was forever buying new products, trying new approaches, whipping up various sorts of nutritious concoctions in the blender—always exhorting and coaxing him to eat, loving him, looking out for him—making sure he wasn’t out in the heat too long—going to find him and bringing him into the house—cleaning up after him if he had an “accident” in the house, fixing him nice beds in the pantry—making sure he had a nightlight on at night after we went to bed.

God bless her—God bless my beautiful, loving incredible wife.

A few days ago he was again looking lethargic. He had stopped going very far from home—no further than next door.

Yesterday morning he wanted to go out—my wife let him out—the weather was much cooler. She was busy with her grandchildren who are visiting but she went to look for him an hour or so after he left the house. She couldn’t see him. She checked all the places he liked to go—the culvert pipe under the neighbor’s drive way, the cool shady area in the planters behind the cedars, under the steps and porch, over at the neighbors.

No Milo.

In the early evening she organized a neighborhood and property search. Her grand kids, one of their friends, me, her—we all looked and poked around the house, property, neighbor’s houses and properties—all of us roaming around the neighborhood calling his name.

No Milo.

After I typed those last two words, “No Milo” above this paragraph, I stopped work on this piece and went outside—carefully re-searching the woods in back of the house, looking into hollow logs and stumps then wandered all around the neighborhood looking in culvert pipes under people’s driveways, telling the neighbors I met what I was doing.

As I type this I guess it’s been about a day and a half since he was last seen. In the last few years he’s never been gone more than five or six hours and during the last month never more than an hour or two.

Once it was apparent something was wrong—last night was the worst. Every 10 or fifteen minutes I’d look or go out on the front porch—calling his name into the dark. I went on line and read about other people’s experiences with a cat “going off to die.” Apparently it’s quite common.

Sometime after midnight I went out and stayed—I sat on the steps next to his water bowl—still three-quarters full—just watching, occasionally calling. No movement or sound except crickets and cicadas in the still night air. About 2:30 I went in, sat down on the bed—my wife woke up. We talked, grieved, shared our pain. In situations like this it always comes down to just those things—talking, grieving, suffering. There’s no way around, under or over it—you just have to suffer. Acceptance comes after awhile I know—but it’s not here for me yet.

The people you love, the animals you love—you want them to go on forever—or at least not to die before you.

But then it happens.

Death happens—and there’s that aching space inside where your heart used to be. Part of you has died and it seems darkness, stillness and cold have won. Warmth, love and light seem like self-delusion—infantile wishful thinking.

But I look around at the people I am privileged to have in my life—people like my beautiful wife who endures an endless succession of crushing disappointments and frustrations from some members of her family but will not stop loving them and doing all she can to help them. And there is my beautiful daughter who struggles courageously and stubbornly with the challenges of adolescence and who is becoming a wonderful—and I think—very creative young woman. I love them and am inspired by their example—they have given me more than they know—and more than I can easily express.

The love and strength I see in these and other people I admire make it very clear—whether you believe in an afterlife, reincarnation or something else—love is stronger than death. It takes away voice, flesh and loving presence from those of us who remain but it cannot take transcendent spirit, memories that define our passage through this world or the promise I have made to my own children—whether I am in this world or that which follows—my love will always be with them.

“One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!” (John Donne)

And there is my son—who has become the young man I admire most in all the world—the smartest, most focused young man I know. I am grateful to him for all he has taught me in the course of his own struggles and journey. And it occurs to me, at this moment in my life, I am indebted to him for something else—for his industry and advocacy in bringing one of the sweetest animals I’ve ever known into my life.

Thank you son—for the gift of the  “Golden Kitty.”

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