I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”
―~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
“I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
There is something terrible about death: that life continues around and beyond it in spite of who or what has died: being who I am, I am familiar with this reality. I wasn’t prepared, however, to deal with its painful manifestation in the shape of the dead of my dear friend, teacher, brother and companion, my 20-year-old cat Bilbo Baggigs.
There are too many relations, beings, places we take for granted: we think that because they have been there for so long, they will continue being there forever. And then one day, in a matter of minutes, all that changes…and part of us is shaken, destroyed, waken up…
We adopted Bilbo and his sister (Misty Mountain) from a non-kill shelter 12 years ago, when both were already “senior” cats on their 8-year-olds. They had very distinct personalities: Misty was always elusive and wild but deeply caring and curious, always checking on any move I did in the house.
We preserved Misty’s name as it was and just added “Mountain”, but Bilbo’s original name was “Bill”, a really undeserving name for a cat like him!
Bilbo enjoyed his corner on the sofa, always close to the fire or the window. On Fridays, we watched documentaries, videos or movies together and he was always on my lap. The many Fridays I missed this routine, he was sure to claim in some way or another when I was back from one of my “adventures” in the faraway and unknown world beyond the house door…
Bilbo loved the small garden and was always the first to enjoy the morning sun. He never had an accident and was so polite and gentle that he resembled a real gentleman.
I love travelling and being involved in projects, but I do have a hobbit side: I love coming back to my little home and enjoy the pleasures of a good cup of tea and siting with a colourful throw and my cat to read or just watch the plants grow…that will be no more…
He started getting weak a few weeks back. I thought it was the food and I changed it. Then I noticed he would become really thin and I started to doubt about what to do. I hated the idea of him being treated with invasive exams and medicine that may just extend his life but make it also miserable. I wanted to preserve his pride: until the last minute, he would ask to go outside and do his business in the yard.
The last day (yesterday) he went to his favourite spot in the garden and for the first time he didn’t want me to approach him. He was extremely weak, even when he was still eating and drinking water.
I knew I had to do something when he could barely move from there.
It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced: more painful than my childhood experience when I was 10 and a military coup d’état changed the Argentinian social and political landscape: then, we lost everything, from the place we called home to the few clothes, books, toys, our connection to neighbours and friends, schools, jobs.
The losing of Bilbo brought back all those painful memories, first of losing it all and later of exile and being a refugee in an unwelcoming country.
I am not sure why my brain made that connection, but losing him has marked the closing of an entire chapter: I know that when I get home this evening, I will no longer “feel” at home, that I will no longer find peace and pleasure sitting with my son and partner to watch a movie now that Bilbo is not around.
The changes are more profound: some beings are much more than what they look in the surface. As LOTR character, Bilbo the cat had a deeper meaning than what the surface would allow us to see: he was part of my soul, and now he is gone.
The pain is profound and physical as well as spiritual, and like when I lost my grandma (with whom I lived for three years after that coup d’état), I know it will slowly become a memory. It will resurface with a tear or a river on gray days, and then will disappear again, deep inside the confines of my heart.
And that is what makes it worse: knowing that one day, Bilbo will be just a memory in my family members’ hearts: that of a wonderful sweet tiny cat with an unusual bluish-gray and white fur, the most beautiful and clean I’ve ever seen, who enjoyed being petted and would never-ever do something out of character but who from time to time, would have a mysterious adventure, always coming back to sit on my lap…
“I know I don’t look old, but I’m beginning to feel it in my heart… I need a holiday. A very long holiday. And I don’t expect I shall return.”