I hope you all will excuse me if I indulge in a remembrance of my little cat Tara who passed away yesterday. She was 13 years old. That’s the equivalent of 68 human years.
I got Tara when was she was 6 months old. We had an infestation of mice in my apartment building at the time. I had always heard that if you have a cat, mice won’t come around. That sounded good to me, ‘cause I hate those meeces to pieces. I named her after Tara the bodhisattva of peace and protection. She did a pretty good job of protecting me from the mice. Nary a one set foot inside our apartment after she arrived.
She was very sweet, gentle cat. But you know cats are strange creatures. The love you share with them is definitely on their terms. Tara had a way of looking at me sometimes that seemed to suggest she was in possession of some profound wisdom and I was merely some fool she tolerated. Then there were those other times, like just before lights out when she’d hop up on the bed and want to lick my face. It was her way of saying, hey, you’re not so bad after all.
My step-mother, Hazel, sent me a nice note describing a rose and two blue and white iris she put in a vase the other day and how beautiful they were to admire, but then yesterday morning “each flower seemed to say ‘thank you for appreciating my beauty while it lasted but it’s time for me to fade away.’”
Flowers, animals, people, planets, stars – they come into existence, they get old, sick, and then they fade away. “Sabbe sankhara anicca,” the Buddha said. All things are impermanent.
While I understand that intellectually, right now, emotionally, it’s a different story. I miss Tara. I grieve at her passing. And I can’t help but wonder if I was a good bodhisattva for her. She had been losing weight for some time – in spite of how she would have done nothing but eat all day long if I had let her – and that concerned me. Yet, I knew that some cats lose weight as they get older. Sometimes, she’d throw up at night. I chalked that up to eating too much to fast. Which she did and then at some ungodly early hour of the morning she’d be pawing at me wanting to be fed again.
About two weeks ago, I had a strong feeling that things weren’t right. I considered taking her to the vet, but held off. Perhaps I was overreacting. I thought I’d change her diet and make one last attempt to fatten her up. I shouldn’t have waited. All day Sunday, she was lethargic and when she did get up and walk, she could not lift her head as she normally would. I knew I couldn’t delay a visit to the vet any longer. I took Tara to the animal hospital first thing yesterday morning. They decided to keep her. They hydrated her, gave her tests, medicine. But, it was too late. She died overnight.
It turned out she had hyperthyroidism, a common problem in older cats that affects their kidneys and liver. I have no idea how much pain she was in or even if she was in pain, except for that last day. Then, it was obvious she was feeling pretty bad. Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference if I had acted sooner. Perhaps prolonging her life would have only prolonged her suffering. That’s the hardest part. The unknowing. However, like Tara’s death itself, what is unknown must be accepted because chances are it will remain unknown. Speculation around maybes and ifs are the same as the metaphysical speculations the Buddha advised against. It does not bring us closer to truth or to an end to suffering.
I think it’s better, as my step-mother suggested, to think of Tara as a beautiful flower, and to have some appreciation for the time I had to admire her beauty, and to remember all the things she taught me.
This poem by e.e. cummings says the rest of it:
where did you go?
like little kittens
are all the leaves
which open in the rain.
little kittens who
are called spring,
is what we stroke
do you know? or maybe did
something go away
ever so quietly
when we weren’t looking.
She had the cutest face . . .