This is Tigsby, the cat my wife and I adopted in September 2010, after he turned up as a stray at a friend's house pleading for food and shelter. The photo was taken when he first arrived at our home, at that point a little lighter than the 7 kilograms worth of feline fun he was to become. He is the love of our lives and has offered more than the comfort and laughter of companionship - during times when I have wanted to shut out the world he has brought me back to life. I owe him a lot.
It was a pleasant surprise when we searched his name on Google, a name my wife made up as a derivative of 'Tigger', the urban dictionary defined the word as, "A name to call someone who means a lot to you. A name for a very close loved one."
Like the millions of Brits who see their pets as more than just a possession, as an integral part of the family unit, we treated him as such. We would often call Tigsby 'Pinocchio Cat' and teasingly ask him if we wanted to be a 'real boy' such was his love of human comforts, his tendency to try out human foods (including tomato ketchup and naan bread), his habit of nattering away at us in differing tones.
Across various cultures cats have been recognised as having a spiritual quality and a deep intuitive understanding of human beings. In Roman folk culture, cats were seen as the guardians of homes. In Celtic folk culture, cats were viewed as guardians of souls and able to see the mystical realm (except that is for black ones, which were viewed as having more malignant characteristics). My experience of living with a cat certainly evokes the same sense of connection that my ancient British ancestors likely felt around these mysterious little creatures and their secret worlds.
Late last Sunday night we arrived home having visited friends of the family. I went on a routine trip around the house gently calling out the name of 'Tig', anticipating he would come and greet me as he nearly always did on my return.
What usually followed, sometimes after a playful game of chase, was a short supper and him then coming to our bed to take his place on my chest, head rested on my shoulder. During these moments I often wondered if he was listening to my heartbeats, as I listened to his. He would usually depart after 10 to 20 minutes, creeping out gently if we were asleep and leaping out theatrically, sometimes with a hop and a skip along the bed head, if we were awake.
What followed on Sunday night turned out to be one of my greatest fears fulfilled, as I looked onto the silent road outside of our home and noticed an abrupt, out-of-place patch of wetness in the half-light on the far side. Behind the street sign nearby I then glanced upon him. I ran over, he was still warm but had breathed his last, having tragically fallen victim to a passing car. In my shock I tried to wake him, crouched onto my knees in dry sobs - "Boy... Boy..."
From there my wife and I entered what I can only describe as a nightmare, the worst of nightmares but also somehow beautiful. We wrapped our beloved friend in his favourite blankets and buried him in our garden, having stroked him for the last time, saying a short spontaneous prayer as we laid him to rest. I lit a tea light candle in a glass vase I had found in the garage and placed it next to his grave. Having gone to bed, the early hours now upon us, I could not sleep and fitfully paced between bed and window staring in disbelief, in silent screams, at the little light in our garden.
This involuntary vigil continued until the sun eventually began to rise behind the trees and with that the birds of our neighborhood began to chatter. It was a time of day that excited Tigsby, often to our irritation as he insisted at 5am or earlier that we share in his excitement! I wonder now if he was in fact rejoicing more at the possibility of a new day with his 'big unfurry cats' rather than the possibility of hunting, as more often than not his excitement ended with him climbing onto the bed and curling up between our feet. Unless there was a crinkly plastic bag lying around to lay upon, an item he viewed as the height of luxury.
I walked back downstairs and outside to the garden, my wife following shortly after. We sat on the steps in the hazy glow of dawn and just as we did so, the candle flame faded and disappeared. It may have been a coincidence, but it was at this point that I felt a measure of peace set upon us, a sense of Tigsby's spirit leaving us to return to that we call God. In traditional Christian culture, animals are not viewed to have souls and this had led at times to us treating them as material things only to be used. However, as a Christian who holds to a panentheistic perspective, I am convinced the spirit of God is within all life - what Unitarian preacher Jabez T. Sunderland called 'the spark in the clod'.
Three days have now passed and we have been stricken by grief, my wife and I, alongside all those who had come to know and adore him. I have shared the news with my Quaker fellowship and their gestures of love and support has, perhaps for the first time in my life, showed me the true meaning of belonging to a church.
Amongst the emptied quiet that now permeates our house, I have on occasion turned to my bookshelf in a futile search for answers. There are no answers, but I have been comforted by the late John O'Donohue's reflections on death in his book, 'Anam Cara'. I am struck that in our holding of vigil for Tigsby, we unconsciously followed the centuries-old Celtic Christian traditions he describes where a wake is held throughout the first night of a loved one's passing. Maybe, in our agony, we gave rise to a primeval, unsophisticated instinct, yet one deeply in tune to and expressive of the Holy Spirit.
I have also, in my pain - in my moments of anger, gained solace from the following passage from 'Plain Living', compiled by Catherine Whitmore, which reads as follows:
"The Hassidic Jews have a custom of going out into an open field at night to cry out all their doubts and questions to God, to go down to the basic level of their faith. Possibly Jesus was doing that at Gethsemane. Today we may well take the advice of the mother of a dying child who suggested that every hospital should have not only a chapel, but a screaming-room. Perhaps this should be the anteroom to the chapel, as in our hearts we have to go through the earthquake and the whirlwind before we are able to hear the still, small voice." - Carol R. Murphy 1977
Whilst out running this week I have often imagined Tigsby running alongside me freely, just as he used to follow me around the house and garden. Yet I have also wanted to run and rage at the top of my voice, clench my fists and shout in protest at God.
The reason I share this now is to give raw testimony to the Light we found in our Tigsby, to his life and spirit, to the very present loss which I suppose reflects our previous gain. I have no answers, there is no 'coming to terms with it' by way of reason. We must simply endure and try to reach a measure of acceptance, for as Kahlil Gibran says in 'The Prophet', to love fully is to risk being hurt fully - and this is, for all our tearful wishes it would be different, the inescapable beauty and cost of being truly alive.
God keep you Tigsby, and thank you for the countless blessings you brought.