It isn’t just humans that make appearances after death. Beloved pets do, as well.
Thundercloud was a 20-year-old, grey and white, long-haired cat, with a gentle nature. She was the major Zen-force in our household. I’d arrive home from work, stressed-out, ticked-off about something at work, and from her perch on the window sill, she’d glance toward me, and give me that, “So, what’s your problem this time,” look, followed by, “So~~chill.” Eventually, once she was sure I’d followed her sage advice and had, indeed, chilled, she drop down from her perch and curl into a ball on my lap. I always imagined her thinking, “Is this human ever going to get it? And they think they’re the smart ones. Humpf.”
We had bedtime rituals with Thundercloud. They were not up for discussion or modification in any way. She’d jump up on the footboard of our bed, and preen for a few minutes, while waiting for my husband and I to get settled. Then, thump, she’d drop onto the bed and make her way, slowly, to her space between our pillows. She’d preen some more, again taking whatever time she wanted to take, then she’d sit and wait. She had a toy mouse that she loved to chase, but this chase-ritual was unusual. We’d lift the covers and toss the toy mouse to the foot of the bed; Thundercloud would meander under the covers, silently stalking the hidden mouse. Sometimes we could feel the bed shake, as she readied her hind haunches for the pounce, then “pow!”. The mouse had been engulfed beneath 15 pounds of cat and fur. Thundercloud would proudly carry her prey to us, then settle in to toy with it for a while, in her space between the pillows. When she was satisfied that the mouse had been sufficiently mauled and dominated, she’d turn away from it, and go about finding the perfect position in which to sleep. This took some time. But when the position had been found, she’d gently place her paw into the palm of my husband’s hand, then drift off to sleep.
The mouse eventually disappeared, never to be found again. But the bedtime, bedcover, now-invisible mouse ritual continued. Thundercloud continued to spring up onto the footboard, where she’d sit for a while, grooming, occasionally stopping to peer at us as though in a tease, then resume her preening. When she was ready, and only when she was ready, she thump down onto the bed and wander toward her spot between our pillows. No amount of coaxing could hurry this process; in fact, that would usually slow things down, her way of letting us know just who was in charge. Finally in her favorite spot, Thundercloud would wait ’til we lifted the covers, slowly make her meandering way to the foot of the bed, make a u-turn, back to her spot between the pillows, then find her perfect sleeping position, and place her paw in the palm of my husband’s hand, before drifting off to sleep. She eagerly participated in this nighttime ritual, until she started becoming ill.
Thundercloud had developed congestive heart failure, and we’d taken her to the vet a few times to have her treated. But she hated going to the vet. It scared her, and was always a struggle. At some point, my husband and I asked ourselves who we were keeping her alive for, her or us? Given how terrified she seemed to become when taken to the vet, and given her twenty-plus years of life with a diagnosis that couldn’t be cured and would continue to worsen, and which markedly diminished her quality and joy of life, we decided the most loving thing to do for Thundercloud, would be to let nature take its course, while making her as comfortable as possible. She could no longer bound up the stairs, chasing those invisible things that only cats can see, she could barely jump up onto her perch on my grandfather’s old rocking chair or the window sill, she lost interest in doing anything but sleeping. Eventually, she even lost interest in our beloved, cherished nighttime ritual with the covers and the pretend mouse. She was rapidly declining, and I declared her our “hospice cat”.
We carried her up the stairs, we lifted her up onto her favorite sitting spots, we held her as much as she would allow. We loved her so, and we knew we didn’t have much time left with her on this earth. On the last night of her life, somehow she managed to jump up into my grandfather’s rocking chair, which sat beside the fireplace and was in the same room with us. After a time, she rose, then tried to jump down onto the floor. The effort was too great, her legs too weak, and she fell onto her side. I picked her up and cradled her, and my husband, sitting next to me, gently stroked her beautiful, silky fur. We spoke to her, in voices low and soft and soothing.
Later, we carried Thundercloud up to bed with us. We settled her into her favorite spot between our pillows, and continued to speak softly, and to stroke her fur lightly. Suddenly, Thundercloud drew in a sharp breath, made a meowing cry, her head lurched onto my chest, and her paw thrust out, placing it in the palm of my husband’s hand. Then there was nothing. She was dead.
Weeks later, while lying in bed reading, and waiting for my husband to join me, something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. I turned and looked toward the footboard. Thundercloud stood there, gazing at me. She only stayed for moments, but just long enough to let me know she was okay. It comforted me. When my husband came into the bedroom, I shared with him what I had just witnessed. A slight grin came over his face, as he told me, “I didn’t tell you this, but I saw her the other day, too”. We shared tears, missing Thundercloud so deeply, yet so grateful that she’d come back to let us know she’s still somewhere, and she’s okay.
Beloved pets do come back to visit after death. So many have told me their own stories, and I don’t interpret them. But I absolutely do believe them.
©Janet Mitchell, October 2011. This story is based on true events.