His Ninth Life – In Memoriam

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“What we have once enjoyed
and deeply loved we can never
lose, for all that we love deeply
becomes a part of us.”
Helen Keller

No sovereign instrument vibrant with sound
Could stronger in me sing
Than your voice, mysterious
Seraphic, blissful cat? in form an angel,
Strange cat? in which all is
As harmonious as it is subtle.
 – from The Cat (II) by Charles Baudelaire


We just lost our cat to cancer, and I am too scattered to post my usual collection of poets with birthdays this week, so I am telling his story instead.  But if you stick with me to the end, you’ll find May Sarton’s poem “Wilderness Lost” which says it all much better and with far fewer words than I ever could. And that’s why we need poetry just as much, and sometimes more, than storytelling.


His Ninth Life – In Memoriam

by Nona Blyth Cloud

We don’t know that much about his early lives – certainly he began life was as a feral cat in this neighborhood, where there are people who feed and care for them as best they can, and try to trap the mamas so they won’t keep having babies. Dave, our next door neighbor, must have won the cat’s trust because he was able to get him to the vet for shots and neutering. They spent time together, but it seemed more like the cat slept and ate on Dave’s back porch, and came in the house for the company or when it was really cold, than an owner-pet relationship.

Dave was our first friend when we moved into this house over thirty years ago. He told us about the best Chinese food restaurant, and the local hardware store where you could take a worn-out part from our hodgepodge 1950s-1970s-1980s plumbing and they’d have something in a bin in the back you could use to replace it. A very private person, Dave was always the first to arrive for our annual holiday open house in December – and quietly left after a few other people showed up.

He had other cats and dogs over the years – the dogs were almost invariably the homely ones that nobody else would bring home from the pound, but his cats were all local.

Dave began to have health problems about 15 years ago, and they grew slowly but fairly steadily worse. So this leanly elegant small gray tabby he named Flaco – “skinny” in Spanish – became his last cat.

As Dave started going into the hospital for longer and longer stays, my husband kept an eye on his house, and fed the animals. Toward the end, the cat started including our back yard – the neighborhood’s interconnecting back fences were his superhighway – in his daily patrols of his territory, and my husband was accepted as a friend. It took me a little longer to win him over.

Dave died in December 2020, and his old dog, who already had cancer, went a little later. The cat entered our house, purring loudly, on that very cold December night, his head poking out under my husband’s chin, and the rest of the cat zipped up in his jacket.

As near as we could figure, he was already at least 12 years old, and maybe a year or two older, but he was energetic and playful in between naps. Finding that he ignored being called “Flaco” and thinking it was a bit insulting anyway, we decided to call him “Smirr” – it’s a Scottish word for a very fine gray misty rain. The Scots have over 100 words for rain – more than Alaskan natives have for snow.

Of course he never answered to “Smirr” either, but it suited his good looks better.

Such a handsome boy – with a wedge-shaped head, beautiful large ears, and great widely spaced yellow-green eyes above a narrow sculpted jaw. Except for his many shades of gray-and-silver coat, he looked a lot like the sleek cats in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings. And oh he knew it too – no false modesty in his makeup.

There was a period of adjustment. We had to convince him that biting and hair chewing were not OK with us. At first, we left the cat flap we’d installed open and he came and went as he always had, until he came home from a fight with an ear bite that became infected. After an eye-popping vet bill to clear it up, we started keeping him in at night – another period of adjustment that he never entirely accepted.

On the plus side, with two humans, both retired from the work force, he had a very good chance of getting extra treats, and somebody to hang out with. One of his favorite spots was an old shawl on my desk next to my keyboard, where he could nap, or get petted, while I was working the keyboard. Of course, sometimes he walked over the keyboard, with interesting results.

He showed his appreciation for his new family by bringing home lizards as presents for us, which he let loose in the house or the garage. It often took us weeks to find where the lizards were hiding, catch them, and return them to the wild.

Smirr loved to sit on the couch between us as we watched stuff on TV or streaming, his eyes half-closed with a feline grin, and purring so loudly we sometimes had to up the volume.

Then this past December, he started sleeping even more, playing even less, and throwing up. We took him to the vet, who ran some tests, found some things that could be expected in an older cat, and a couple of possible causes for concern. He got a shot, and some medication, and seemed to be bouncing back, but then went rapidly back downhill in January. He wasn’t eating much, and was losing weight fast. More tests, removal of major fecal blockage in the intestines, a couple good days when he was more alert and was eating again, then a really scary convulsion, and a rush to emergency. A lot more tests, mostly inconclusive, but pointing toward cancer, and other problems probably triggered by it. We were force-feeding him and dosing him with multiple meds, traumatic for all of us. And he just kept losing weight, faster and faster.

Chemo gave him one good day last week. He ate a little on his own, and was moving better, so he even got a little walk outside in the sun. But the next day, he was right back down. Thursday, he stopping drinking water, and spent a lot of time in dark hidey holes.

As sick as he was, he still had a little purr for us when we held him– it broke our hearts.

So Friday, February 3, was his last day – my husband and I cried unashamedly, but then he took Smirr to the vet – a far kinder end than we humans allow for our own kind with late-stage terminal cancer.

The older I get, the less likely it seems that there’s something after death, especially for Homo sapiens, we who claim such specialness, but keep making the same mistakes over and over again, on ever grander scales, and now seem so intent on self-extinction, and taking a large part of the rest of the planet’s inhabitants with us.

The only thing I know for sure about the “after life” is that you live in the memories of the people who love you. So Smirr, here’s to your Ninth Life, and all the joy and love you brought into our lives. We were your family for a little over two years, but so many memories are crammed into that little space of time.


Wilderness Lost     

      (for Bramble, my cat)

by May Sarton


She was the wilderness in me
The secret solitary place
Where grow the healing herbs.
We had recognized each other
Years ago; the bond was deep.
Now since her death
Two seasons ago
The landscape is ghostly.
No small black and gold panther
Steals through the long grasses
And pounces on a mouse.
No one curls up on the terrace wall
Gathering the day together.
No round shadow sits on my sill
Late at night, waiting to be let in,
And then in one jump comes to lie beside me,
A long pillow of purrs along my back.


Distant, passionate one,
I miss you in my bones.
I miss you in my heartbeat.
I have mourned you for nine months.
What does not leave me
Is your great luminous eye
Open to its golden rim,
The darkness so dark, the deepness so deep there
I wanted to go with you to death
But in a few seconds
The needle did its good work.
You had gone-
And in a new time
I grow old without you.
It is all very still now,
The grief washed out.

”Wilderness Lost” from The Silence Now, © 1988 by May Sarton – W W Norton & Co



Photo of a tabby cat by carianoff

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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3 Responses to His Ninth Life – In Memoriam

  1. Irene Fowler says:

    Touching story, beautifully written.

  2. SW says:

    Re “Homo sapiens, we who claim such specialness, but keep making the same mistakes over and over again, on ever grander scales, and now seem so intent on self-extinction, and taking a large part of the rest of the planet’s inhabitants with us.”

    The glaring inconsistency in that equation is speaking the real truth about homo sapiens.

    At the core of homo sapiens is unwisdom (ie, madness) and so the human label of “wise” (ie, sapiens) is a complete collective self-delusion — study the free scholarly essay “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room” … https://www.rolf-hefti.com/covid-19-coronavirus.html

    Once you understand that humans are “invisibly” insane (pink elephant people, see cited essay) you’ll UNDERSTAND (well, perhaps) why they, especially their alleged experts, perpetually come up with myths and lies about everything … including about themselves (their nature, their intelligence, their origins, etc) and why they “keep making the same mistakes over and over again, on ever grander scales” …

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