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Saying Goodbye to Gari

December 23, 2015

By Jacinta Hin

My eldest cat Gari is a beautiful, yellow-orange Japanese tomcat. He is sweet and feisty; he purrs and cuddles like no other. Most of the time he is kind and affectionate, but when he is moody, oh my, you’d better get out of his way.

I always want to write about him in the present tense. However, as much as it pains me, I must learn to honor him in the past tense. You see, he recently died. Two weeks ago he stopped eating; cancer. He lasted one more week.

Saying goodbye to Gari has been incredibly hard. It still is. Writing about him hurts as much as it gives me comfort. He has been in my life for a long time. One night, 20 years ago, my husband brought him home from the bar where he’d been drinking. That morning, the bar-owner had found a nest of kittens in front of his shop. They were barely four weeks old, sick, most likely abandoned by their mother because she could not care for them.

Gari was our first cat. Over the years, we adopted two more. I love all my cats, but Gari has always been special to me. He was pure love and joy and sweetness.

Twenty years of cat life is 97 years of human life so I knew he was living on somewhat borrowed time. Nevertheless, his illness was sudden, his death a shock. I was not prepared. Perhaps naively, I had counted on a few more years.

Time stood temporarily still during his last days in this life. Was he getting ready for the inevitable, or was I? Was he caring for me, or was I caring for him? I dropped everything, retreating into our little world at home. Nothing and nobody but Gari mattered. My grief was overwhelming. I was able to care for my cat, but barely able to take care of me. I cried so much that I was afraid I would dry out and die myself.

We made a bed for him on the couch, his favorite spot. Soon he could no longer move his body, only tilt his head. We quickly learned to recognize his subtle signals asking for a sip of water —food no longer pleased him— or to be turned onto his other side. We made our bed next to his. Each morning, I woke up hoping, expecting even, that he would have miraculously recovered. That he would be standing firmly on all four legs, hitting my head, shouting in my ear to get him his breakfast, as had been his habit for so many years. But no, his appetite never returned. Neither did his voice, or his ability to walk.

Gari had been a sound sleeper for most of his life, even more so in his senior days. But now he no longer seemed to sleep at all. His eyes were always open, staring, barely moving; deep black at night, bright yellow in the daytime. What was on the other side of those eyes, I wondered. Was he awake and aware? Or was he in a different state, half here, half there, or somewhere in-between? Was he scared and confused, or comfortable and at peace? Not knowing was hard. I felt so helpless. I wished he could have talked and let me know how he felt and what he wanted.

At best, we were amateurs when it came to caring for him. Every other day we brought him to the pet hospital where he was given a drip that contained fluid, nutrients and pain medication. The doctor was kind and gave us good guidance, but could not answer all our questions. We searched the internet for information, picking up useful tips that were helpful but also general. We improvised and did our best, but were lost for definite answers.

We struggled to be in the position where we would have to make a decision for him. As much as I hoped each day for a miracle, I also hoped he would die naturally in his sleep. In the meantime, we were waiting for the final results of his cancer test. Although the chances were slim, his cancer could be treatable with chemotherapy. Why, you ask, would you want to put a 20-year old cat through chemotherapy? Well, I would answer, because we can. We had a bit of a crash course in chemo for pets and cats, it turns out, handle chemo much better than human beings. Doses are smaller, the effects more gentle. Chemo for cats is focused on the quality of their remaining life, not curing the cancer. We were not convinced this was the way the go, but we needed time to catch up with reality; time to process our options.

Oh, how desperate I was for more time. I could not bear the thought of losing him. How could I ever be ready to let go of this cat who I loved so dearly and who had been my companion for so long?

But then, one evening, quietly sitting beside him, I found my moment of acceptance. I looked into his eyes, black as the universe itself, and gently held his little paw. Together we slipped into a different dimension. For the first time in days, I was at peace. I sensed his acceptance too. I sensed him sensing me accepting his imminent passing. It’s okay, I tell him. It’s okay, he tells me.

In the end, Gari had the last word. He closed his eyes for good, while we were asleep.

A few days before his death, my husband comforted me with a story. He’d spent the evening with friends, among them the wife of a close friend of ours, Nobu, the owner of a fish store, who recently died, also of cancer. In fact, the evening was in Nobu’s honour. They had talked about how, in heaven, Gari would be stealing fish from Nobu’s shop. Because their stories continue, and through us, intertwine.

Every time I think of this image of Gari stealing Nobu’s fish, I smile. I see how he waits for his chance, swiftly and elegantly jumping on the table where Nobu cleans his fish, then running away with his catch while Nobu half-heartedly chases him. I imagine how Nobu cleans a little extra fish for Gari each day, enjoying the little game between the two of them. I imagine them being playful, enjoying each other’s company, free and jolly, happy and cancer-free.

Gari lives on in our hearts, in Heaven with Nobu, and in our memory of him.

Thank you, Gari, for your boundless love and beautiful spirit, and bringing us so much joy. Rest in peace.

LABELS:   Cat   Death   Family   Grief   Heaven   Illness   Jacinta Hin  
About the author: Jacinta Hin was born in the Netherlands and has been living in Tokyo, Japan, since 1989. Her professional background is in human resources, career management and coaching. She is passionate about helping people, herself included, discover new perspectives of possibility, move to embracing and working with their transitions, and designing and realizing changes aligned with who they truly are and what they truly want from their lives.
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