Eulogy for Penny Lane
Early Saturday morning, after I got home from work, it became apparent to me and Amelia that our cat, Penny Lane, was very ill. She had been struggling with unidentified gastrointestinal problems for her entire life, but this was obviously more intense than anything she had previously dealt with. While I got some much needed sleep, Amelia took her to a vet, and by noon, Penny Lane was gone.
The only surprise was in how suddenly it happened. Both of us had been preparing for this eventuality, and before we even made an appointment with the veterinary hospital, weíd been discussing putting Penny to sleep. There had definitely been a slow deterioration in her health and overall happiness over the last year, but it never seemed like she had deteriorated into the final stages of her affliction. Before Saturday, we were thinking poor Penny had at least a few more months left in her.
Still, Iíll be honest: at first, the blow seemed light. Itís just a cat, I told myself, and thatís what happens with all pets. Sure Iíd miss her, but itís not that big a deal. Itís not the same as a person dying. Amelia didnít take it quite as gracefully, though she also wasnít a sobbing useless mess either. Itís strange, because Ameliaówho had been telling me from day one that she didnít have any strong reaction to deathóalways seemed to be the one who was more accepting of the reality of Pennyís condition, though I must admit I knew she was right. Besides, when I was younger, I tended to take the death of pets pretty badly.
Maybe Iíve matured, or maybe I was just being extra strong for Ameliaís sake. I know I went through the same gamut of existential questions that she didódid we give up prematurely, did we kill her out of selfish desires, was her illness really terminal, were we only worried about money, was Penny really in that much pain, could she have lasted another year on steroids, should we have done more, is the death of one dumb animal really worth dwelling onóbut I was able to ask myself those questions without too much emotional weight, whereas they clearly bothered my wife. In the end, we both knew that we had done the right thing, but itís still hard, because strong emotions arenít easily swayed by logic.
And letís face it: Penny Lane was a part of our family. She may have only been a cat, but she was the only family we had around here. In the apartment, it was just Amelia, me, and the cat, and we sometimes treated Penny Lane like she was a human baby rather than a domesticated feline. And sometimes, Penny Lane acted more like a human baby too.
Penny Lane was a cute companion, a good lap cat, and a friend even to strangers. Her needs were few (though she sometimes made her demands very clear), and the comfort she provided, just by laying on us in bed or on the couch, more than made up for any trouble she caused with her bulimic, stinkybut ways. For that, maybe she should be mourned, and maybe itís okay to talk about her as though she had been a real member of the family.
It wasnít until I was alone in the apartment without her that the emotional part of it hit me. It wasnít harsh, but it was nonetheless real. Thereís a sense of presence you take for granted when you have a pet, a knowledge that, no matter what, thereís some other friendly being at home with you. And when that presence is taken away, thereís an odd and very pronounced silence, though your petólike Penny Laneómay have made few noises at all.
I can still feel it, too. Itís odd sitting at my desk typing without the cat wanting to jump on my lap. Itís odd coming home from work without Penny Lane demanding to be fed before I even kiss my wife good morning. Itís odd when my eyes briefly pass over the back of the couch and sheís not there, sound asleep and cozy.
And itís odd the knowledge that I wonít have to clean her litterbox this week or worry about changing her water bowl. I donít have to prop up my pillow to keep her from sleeping on it when Iím not around, and I donít have to worry that sheíll spoil my dinner with her incessant need to poop while Iím cooking. These parts of it should be a relief, at least, but theyíre not.
Because I loved her, even though she was just a dumb animal, and thatís the part that hurts now that sheís gone.
-e. magill 01/21/2008