“Mom, mom, mom, mom,” says Eli. “Not-Koi is in front of our house and he’s not moving.”
Not-Koi is a neighbor, a yellow tabby cat, a long-time friend of our yellow tabby Koi. The two cats look so much alike, that we simply call them Koi and Not-Koi.
“He’s really elderly,” I say. “He’s really deaf. You can walk right by him and he won’t move.”
“Mom, I think this is different. He’s, like, really not moving.”
I come outside to see Not-Koi lying peacefully on his side, eyes open. He is not moving at all, not even breathing.
He’s wearing his signature light fabric collar. Gently I remove it, hoping to find a phone number. There it is, barely legible, in fading permanent marker.
The number rings ten times. No answer. I phone again. Straight to voice mail. I phone again. This time, a sleepy voice answers. “Hello?”
“Are you the owner of an elderly yellow tabby?” I ask.
“Yellow taxi?” He sounds confused.
“He appears to have passed away peacefully in our yard.”
“I’ll be over in about an hour.”
Leave a corpse lying for an hour in the hot summer sun?
“I’m going to wrap him in a towel and bring him inside. There are lots of bugs out here.”
“What is your address? Will someone be home?”
“Sophia Street. Yes, we’ll be home.”
Not-Koi’s rigid body and heavy weight surprise me. I wrap him in a white towel; lay him in white laundry basket; place his collar carefully on top.
A text message arrives: I’m heading over now. Be there in 5 minutes or less — Marc.
A young man stands at the door, cat carrier in hand. “I’m Marc.”
“I’m Laura. I’m so sorry. His name is Auto?”
“He’s been coming to our yard for about two years. He’s friends with our cats.”
“Yeah, he got sick about a year ago.”
“Thyroid condition?” I’d noticed his weight loss; fed his hunger.
“He’s not been hearing so well, either.”
“We noticed that,” Marc says.
He reaches for the tiny cat carrier, but I stop him. “It’s pretty recent, so he’s still stiff. Take our laundry basket. It’s just from the dollar store.”
“We just live over on Walden,” he replies.
We want to make conversation, but no words come. Marc takes Auto and goes.
Two hours later, I text a year-old photo of Auto (aka Not-Koi) and Koi.
— Marc, thought you might appreciate this photo of feline friends relaxing together – Laura & family
— Aww. Thanks for that. Sometimes when we saw your cat over here we would call for Auto and realize: oh, that’s ‘Auto-alike’.
— We called Auto “Not-Koi.”
Two hours later, Marc texts again.
— A token of thanks on your front steps
It’s a huge bouquet of marigolds with a note: Thank you for befriending Auto over the last few years of his life. Thank you for taking such good care of him at his passing. – M. and N.
We don’t have clear rituals for saying goodbye to companion animals, but Marc and I did the best we could. Emergency response. White shroud. Photo swap. Story sharing. Flowers. Condolences.
My friend Heidi, a specialist in geriatric health care, commented on Auto’s passing. I remember Not-Koi, she texted. I’m sure he knew what he was doing.
Join us November 2-3 2016 for a conference called “The End of Life: Dying, Suicide, Death” at the Simon Fraser University Institute for the Humanities, Vancouver.