Remembering, and reconciling, a pet’s passing

Posted 7/24/20

I don’t remember the year Stormy died, but I remember the day.

It was summer, and it was hot, and I had some kind of meeting to go to that night. We had an in-ground pool in our backyard and …

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Remembering, and reconciling, a pet’s passing

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I don’t remember the year Stormy died, but I remember the day.

It was summer, and it was hot, and I had some kind of meeting to go to that night. We had an in-ground pool in our backyard and before I left the house, I’d gone down for one reason or another — maybe to turn off the water for the water slide, which the kids often forgot to do? — and saw our cat, on his side, lying motionless on the stamped concrete area around the pool.

Stormy was a tabby who’d shown up unannounced at our previous house one night eight or nine years before during a nasty storm. When the rain and thunder abated, we began hearing his meows — they were coming from under the house — and the next morning we easily coaxed him out and began making a home for him. We learned quickly that he was smart and affectionate, and in short order he endeared himself to us. He loved us as much as we loved him.

He wasn’t temperamental or moody or fickle. Kindness and affection were his traits, and his favorite thing in the world — at least it seemed to me — was to jump up in my lap whenever I got into my recliner. Once we added the pool out back, I’d sometimes go down before sundown on hot summer days with some music and a book or a magazine to just read and decompress. On every one of those occasions, Stormy would accompany me, hop up on the lounger and nestle between my feet for some relaxation of his own.

In our family, we all adored him, but as the years passed it was unquestionable that Stormy was my cat and I was his human. Whenever and wherever I sat in the house, he would either be tethered to me or close by.

So on that awful early evening when I went down and saw him on the ground, in the direct heat of the sun — his little mouth trying to make a “meow” sound, his eyes frantically imploring me to help — I knew something was terribly wrong.

I did something then I’ll always regret: instead of going to him — I was positive he’d suffered some kind of stroke, and I think I just panicked as I foresaw his loss — I ran into the house and called out for Lee Ann. My wife is always calm and measured when I’m frantic, and she hurried down with a towel and carefully wrapped Stormy inside it. He was alive, but couldn’t move. Once I knew he was safe in her arms, I scurried off to my car with tears in my eyes, off to that now-forgotten meeting.

I never said a proper goodbye.

After my meeting ended, I called Lee Ann from the car. She’d taken Stormy to our vet, who confirmed my diagnosis. Dr. Myers had already put Stormy down. A few days later, Lee Ann went to pick up his ashes, bringing them home inside a purple velvet drawstring bag. When I opened it and pulled out the box and held the urn — it was in the shape of an elegant white ceramic cat — I cried. Just like I’d done each night since his passing, devastated by the loss, but also throttled by the memory of the sight of him at the pool and knowing that he’d suffered, that’d he’d likely been scared and miserable in the heat of that day, wondering where I was and confused about was happening to him.

The next few days were hard, as they are for any pet owner who suffers loss.

Over the years Stormy’s ashes stayed sealed inside the urn, inside the box, inside the bag. I’m not sure where Lee Ann kept it — the bag wasn’t in plain sight, which was probably my doing — but it has moved twice with us. Last week, in our new home, as Lee Ann continued to unpack and put things in their proper places, the purple drawstring bag suddenly showed up again, this time atop the dresser in our bedroom.

I did a good job of ignoring it for a day until Lee Ann and I found ourselves together in the bedroom. She pointed it out to me.

Of course I knew what it was.

There was one thing inside the box, though, I didn’t know about. Lee Ann opened the bag and removed something small, then showed me what was encased inside.

Stormy’s paw print, memorialized in clay.

“Isn’t it precious,” she said.

It wasn’t a question; it was an affirmative declaration.

I had no words. Tears? Yes. Then, and now, as I write this.

We’ve had other cats and dogs come and go since then, but Stormy remains singular in my mind and in our lives. His urn is now out of the box, on the dresser, where it’ll stay.

And his paw print? Close by. Just like Stormy always was.


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