"It's the end of an era," said Micah Saturday morning at 3 a.m. as we drove home from the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. After eight hours of increasingly dire medical tests we learned our beloved cat Lars had a mass on the liver and lymphoma. He was only seven years old and larger than life (both in spirit and in body) when we made the heart wrenching decision to have him euthanized. Now the house sits quiet. A profound emptiness has descended on it.
Although we still have three other cats, gone are Lars' loud screams of joy at breakfast and dinner time. Absent are the sounds of his grunts as he threw himself (yes, threw himself) onto the ground, revealing his thick tufts of tawny belly hair. He tried really hard at everything he did: sitting on his placemat as he waited in the kitchen for his bowl of Fancy Feast, tilting his head and making himself ready to receive love when Micah said "Kisses," and extending his paw (literally) toward the other cats as they slept in bed in his attempt to make friends. This was Lars, an earnest, cuddly cat who came to us as a six month old feral kitten.
"It's like he sprang from the earth," Micah used to say, having spent months hand taming Lars (whom we initially named Maeve, after the Irish warrior queen, because we thought he was a fierce female). In those early years Lars divided his time between our garage and the outdoors. In the mornings he'd walk through the dew covered grass, and when he threw himself on the concrete patio one could see small slugs attached to his belly hair. "He's the neighborhood slug bus," said Micah. Lars loved routine and ritual and immediately took to using a litter box in the garage and fell madly in love with his cat post. He spied on our neighbor Jerry, watching wide-eyed as Jerry watered his tomato plants. And after a kill, he routinely left a single tiny organ on the patio for Micah to clean up. Lars was beautiful and ridiculous, wild and deeply devoted to routines. He made no sense at all and he made perfect sense to us.
And then, finally, after a long journey and much work to integrate two indoor cats and two outdoor cats (four adult males) Lars became the best house cat of the bunch. He flourished in Wyoming. He loved his reduced square footage and his cat posts pressed up against the windows, from which he continued spying on the neighbors. His world was small and that's exactly how he liked it. We had been given the most glorious gift: a curious creature who learned to live a domesticated life while making ours less domesticated. We didn't need the wild, untamed landscape of the Mountain West to ground us. We had Lars.
In Lars' passing I was reduced to a slobbering, snotty puddle of tears. This surprises me. There was a time I would have worked to remain composed. Maybe not so much in private but certainly in front of the veterinarians and in the hospital waiting room. Instead, I blew through two boxes of tissues Friday night. I walked around, my face ghost white with blotches of red around my blood shot eyes, resembling one of the undead from Michael Jackson's music video "Thriller." All my wailing and sobbing unsettled the veterinarians. And yet I made no attempt to spare them the discomfort of my grief. In a word, I was feral. Thank you, Lars.
When I awoke Sunday morning I felt renewed. I know it's because I had grieved so deeply and completely. I still cry (frequently) but it's a different kind of grief, gentler somehow. I'm so glad I let myself fall completely apart. As Julia Cameron says, "Resistance solidifies grief." By letting myself be exactly as I needed to be (without concern for composure or appearance or others, frankly), I am slowly finding healing. This is the legacy of Lars that I will work to honor: staying grounded in my own wild, untamed self. In her presence, as in Lars', life is fuller and louder.