Last Wednesday morning I was startled awake by my phone ringing. Barely conscious I frantically pawed at my side table, eyes closed, looking for my phone. Groggily I said hello. Apologetically my mother asked if she woke me. It was clear she did but I told her not to worry and asked what was the matter. She said, in a quiet voice, Pebbles had died.
My eyes were open now. All l said in response was, oh no. In a childlike way, grasping for but not finding the right words. My brother had sent a text which she just saw and called immediately.
Again, the only words I could say was, oh no. Sullen, small, whimpering.
I wasn’t saying anything and mother was going to call my brother to see what was going to happen. She would call me back and hung up the phone. I sat there a moment in a state of complete shock. Not moving, barely thinking, unable to grasp the news I just heard.
I looked at my phone and there was indeed a new message from my brother.
Pebbles died. Just found her in the tub not moving.
4:42 AM via SMS
The tears welled in my eyes and as I blinked collapsed into a waterfall of sadness.
I couldn’t breathe. My chest hurt. I thought I was prepared for this but I clearly wasn’t. She had been sick the last little while. There was a growth on her liver. She had been lethargic but been showing signs of improvement. She was getting up in age for a cat, almost 16, and until this point she had been in good health.
I had been kind of preoccupied with death the last little while, a couple years actually. I see death everywhere, in everything. When watching a movie, or listening to music, or reading a book, the first thing that comes to mind is who is dead. I think about the people around me, not just who I know but strangers too, and how their life has been and how it will end. How am I going to die, when, and am I going to be missed. I had been thinking about the age of my cats and how I should prepare for when they do go.
But this. I couldn’t take this. I sat and I cried. Missing my sweet girl. My heart broken.
I remembered her as a kitten. She would claw her way up my clothes and sit on my shoulder. I remember the year we brought home a real Christmas tree. She slept in there. Loving the smell of the pine. She would sit in there and just watch us. Every once in a while batting an ornament off a branch.
She hated stairs for some reason. She would run up and down them but many times she would suddenly stop and bite and claw at the steps. She would hiss, arch her back, and her tail would get all puffy.
She always knew when you were sick or sad. Jumping up on the bed and curling up next to you making sure her paw gently rested on your hand. She had beautiful green eyes with flecks of brown that stared into your soul. She had the softest paws, bright white fur with pink pads. And she was always a lady. She sat properly, elegantly most of the time. Every once in a while you would catch her in the midst of her ablutions and she did not like that.
All this was gone. I cried some more. I cried until I fell asleep.
When I woke up I readied myself and let my brother know I would be coming over to see her. As I stepped outside the sun was bright and the air crisp with a hint of warmth. I walked to his place. Only 10 minutes away but seeming so far. My heart pounding in my chest, wanting to be there already but never wanting to make it.
When I got there he buzzed me in and I trudged up the stairs even though the elevator was right there. I knocked and he yelled for me to come in. I walked in and took off my shoes. Wiley, the other cat, was sprawled on the carpet and I sat on the floor to play with him. He has always been an affectionate cat but at that point there was something more intense, more needy to his love. I didn’t care, that was what I needed at the moment.
My brother came into the room and I asked him how he was. He said he was doing ok but I could see the sadness in his eyes. She was really his cat. He got her when he wasn’t living at home. One day a guy in front of the Eaton Centre was giving away this litter of cats and he couldn’t resist. She was tiny and her fur crawled with fleas. He got her shampoo, some fancy sweet smelling oatmeal stuff, and some good food, took her home, washed her, and fed her. The tale I heard is that he got her for a girlfriend who couldn’t keep her but the girlfriend did name her (none of this has ever been verified, it didn’t really matter). Soon after he moved back home and Pebble was there to stay. He loved that cat, we all did.
He had lovingly wrapped her in a towel and laid her by the window, the sun streaming in. Pebbles had always loved the warmth of the sun. She would roll around in it soaking up the heat. He warned me that she had gotten stiff but I was still not prepared. I unwrapped her head and touched her. It isn’t the stillness that got me, or the stiffness, it was the cold. I didn’t think she would be that cold. Her fur still soft she could easily have been sleeping but the iciness reminded you that death had been there. The tears started again.
I sat for a while, my brother fed me, but the food was a bit salty as I freely let my tears season it. They refused to stop rolling down my cheek and off my chin. I had tissue but they were soaked through quickly. We talked for a bit and the tv was turned on to distract us from the moment. I had to calm down, I had to go to work and function that afternoon. It was my 4th day doing freelance work in office. I couldn’t not go in abruptly. I took some deep breaths, wiped my eyes, checked for puffiness, and headed out the door.
At work I was doing QA. Looking at the same thing over and over checking for errors and discrepancies. I was lucky that the sites had nothing to do with animals. One was a wedding site, which reminded me how alone I was, and the other was a financial site that reminded me how poor I was. This numbed the pain, like stubbing your toe when you have a headache. One pain suddenly supersedes the other and you forget all about it for a while.
That night I had plans to hang with friends and initially I cancelled. I didn’t say why, I just said I couldn’t make it. But then, as I made my way back home I decided sitting home and wallowing would not do me any good. I still went out, hung at my friends place, and played games. I tried to be my normal self, caring about the tabletop adventure unfolding before us, but I just couldn’t. I went through the motions, smiled or laughed when I noticed a cue. Spoke when I was spoken to but I was often curt or flippant in my responses. When I was not being directly interacted with my face would fall and I would stare off, my mind lost in sorrow. It was noticed.
I got a message from my brother, they had decided to bury Pebbles at a farm, the same place his wife buried her dog just over a year ago. We would have to be in Hamilton by 930am. Our mother would meet us there. I left my friend’s place early. I rode the bus then the subway in mournful silence. I walked the rest of the way home letting tears running down my face in the darkness.
I was so tired when I put myself to bed. It had felt like such a long day. One day without my sweet girl felt like an eternity. Woe weighs heavy not just on the heart but the mind and body as well. With tears soaking my pillow I cried myself to sleep.
When my alarm went off in the morning the gloom had returned. The sky was gray and overcast and remembering the events of the previous day made me frown. I got up and went through the actions of preparing for this final farewell efficiently and joylessly. I donned a pair of black pants, a black shirt and sweater, and a pair of leopard print booties. From all the shoes I own I had not solid black ones that would be appropriate in this weather, the booties were the most appropriate. I put on a scarf and coat and grabbed the biggest darkest pair of sunglasses and headed out the door.
I stood in front of my building taking deep breaths calming and preparing myself. I saw my brother’s car turn the corner and I became extremely anxious. I sat in the back seat and there beside me was a rolled towel laid neatly on the seat. I knew what was in there. I reached my hand out and laid it upon her. Her stillness. The tears began to roll once more.
The drive was long. The radio was low, my brother and his wife talked in the front seat, as we moved through the city, onto the highway, through suburbs, industrial, and rural areas. The tears did not stop. When they ebbed I thought I would stop but I would get a glimpse of what lay beside me or some memory would come back to me and they would flow again.
They suddenly pulled over on the dirt shoulder of a two lane highway in the middle of what I deemed to be nowhere. A surprising number of trucks and cars zoomed by. “Is that our mother?” Asked my sister-in-law, indicating to look behind us. Another car was pulled over to the side of the road. At that moment my phone began to ring. I cleared my throat and answered. It was my mother, and it was her behind us. I offered to drive as she was tired and little lost. We would follow them.
I hoped that having something to concentrate on would help with the crying. But it didn’t. I gripped the steering wheel tight and pulled out into traffic. We didn’t get very far and the tears began again. My vision was blurred by the dam of tears. I blinked often the clear my sight and I apologized profusely to my mother for my excessively emotional state.
As we followed they turned into a quiet side road. There were fields on either side, green and lush. I would have admired the view if I wasn’t so focused on the task at hand. They turned again onto a dirt road lined with evergreens that led to a small open area with a red building to one side.
My brother and his wife got out of the car. I sat for a moment with my mother taking a few deep breaths, trying to be as calm as possible. Just as we stepped out my brother carefully, lovingly, took Pebbles out of the car. The top of her head was exposed. Seeing that dark fur, her ears, I could not hold back. I had a handful of tissues that went straight to my face, trying their best to absorb my sadness.
We were greeted by a kind gentleman. I can’t tell you what he looked like as I could barely look at him. A combination of embarrassment and being partially blinded kept me from looking at his face. His voice though was deep, soft, and understanding. He asked us to follow him into the building to fill out some paperwork.
The entrance was dark but opened into a beautiful space filled with lights and decorations. It was a Christmas store. It smelled of cinnamon and cedar with a warm glow. It was comforting, like being wrapped in a hug but was also wondrous. This place was out of a dream or a movie; it looked unreal. He escorted us to a small office behind the cash desk. The guy talked us through the paperwork and payment. As this process was being completed he explained that this was a Christmas tree farm and they were starting their planting that day, that is why we had to be there so early. It is one of the 2 weekends a year where they would have this problem.
I walked away from them for a moment. I looked at the knickknacks thinking about was how much Pebbles would have loved this store. The smell, the lights, the decorations. Sure she would be running around batting things off shelves which would have been bad for business but it would have been fun to watch. I smiled to myself wondering how many decorations she had broken over the years. She would sleep beneath the tree, lit by all those coloured lights. Her jumping in boxes, playing with paper, as we unwrapped presents.
I heard movement behind me. My brother had stepped out of the room as well. He stood there with his beloved pet in his arms. He seemed to be in a bit of a daze as he bounced her ever so slightly as you would to sooth a child. This simple reflex action of endearment showed just how much he was really missing her. The smile was gone from my face as I felt the pang of loss again.
The rest of them walked out of the room, it was time to take her to her final resting place. The sad procession walked around nut crackers, tree skirts, and icicle ornaments. We left the comfort of that shop to the dark entrance to the gray day outside. My mother sat with the gentleman in a golf kart, there was only room for 1 person, the rest of us would have to walk over. She wanted to hold Pebbles. My brother carefully placed her in her arms. They drove off down a path double lined with fir trees. We slowly walked down the same path. The trees acted as buffers, the silence was all encompassing.
The trees soon opened into a small clearing. There was a small creek not too far in the distance, barren trees lining its edge. In the well-manicured space you could see the grave markers of other pets laid to rest by grieving owners. Some had flowers, toys, pictures. There was a square hole dug, beside it a mound of dirt, and on the other side a small mat. This is where she would be laid.
My sister-in-law kissed her head as did my mother. I scratched her head and kissed her goodbye. My brother took her and knelt before the grave. He slipped her favourite toy into the towel with her. He slowly, carefully lowered her in. We all just stared for a moment. We were allowed to put the first few shovels of dirt into the grave. My brother went first, then me, then my mother. The guy did the rest.
The sound a shovel makes as it scoops up dirt is so specific, so distinct. The scraping, the silence, the thud of the dirt hitting the ground, the silence, then the scraping again. This simple, quiet sound, has never meant so much to me.
I looked away as the grave began to fill. It was all I could do not to run over and pick Pebbles out of the dirt. She just looked like she was sleeping, maybe she would wake up. But those are the wishful thoughts of a grieving mind. I leaned into my mother looking for comfort as I cried some more. I knew it was supposed to hurt but I didn’t know it would hurt this much. I was embarrassed by all of these emotions that I couldn’t hide.
When he was finished he left us there for a while. It was suddenly so cold. The wind blew and I began to shake but I refused to walk away. Not yet. It was like I could see her running in the field, stopping to smell the air, curiously looking around. I missed her so much already. The clouds were low in the gray sky. The sun was more an idea of light. Everything about this day was unwelcoming.
We walked back to the cars and drove back into the city. It has always fascinated me how getting somewhere always seems so long but the ride back home seems so short. We stopped by a Rabba and I bought some ice cream. The good, expensive Haagen-Dazs that I normally refuse to buy but today was an occasion. Pebbles deserved to be mourned with only the best. I sat in that back seat and ate half the Dulce-Leche before I was dropped home.
I was supposed to work that afternoon but I could not bring myself to go in. I could not bear to be among people I didn’t know, trying my best to hide how I felt. I worked from home, sort off. I scrolled through emails and the websites but nothing was registering, I couldn’t function. I sat there in silence staring out the window for a while. I was not going to get anything done.
I put on some music and laid on the couch. At first this seemed to sooth me. It didn’t take the pain away but it kept me calm. Until Alt-J’s song “Breezeblocks” came on. The deep haunting chorus got to me.
Please don’t go, please don’t go
I love you so, I love you so.
But it was too late. She was already gone.