Smokey, a.k.a. The Melville Cat, died more than three months ago on October 7th. Smokey himself delivered the news of his passing in a blog post the next day, and I intended to write my own tribute to him soon afterward. But for some reason I kept putting it off.
First I decided to wait until I had done a proper burial of Smokey’s ashes before writing my last blog post about him. Then I got busy and distracted by other things. So much happened in the immediate aftermath of Smokey’s death: The covid-19 lockdown lightened and I suddenly had all sorts of activities to attend; I took my first road trip since the pandemic started; the jacarandas bloomed; there was a chaotic U.S. presidential election; it was the holidays; I got a new boyfriend; etc.
In hindsight it feels like Smokey continued to pull the strings from beyond the grave in the weeks after he died, making sure I was distracted so I wouldn’t miss him too much. And the truth is, I didn’t. After a few days of intense grief, my sadness waned and I moved on.
Now a new year has started, covid has surged again, and I’m back to spending a lot of time at home with my cat. I’m so grateful for Trixie — the Midget Fluff Ball Menace — an all-around wonderful kitty who provides excellent company in the absence of her more mercurial big brother. But Trixie’s ever-cheerful, non-judgemental, guile-free disposition is also a reminder that I will never have another cat-human relationship like the one I had with the Melville Cat.
I’ve had a lot of pets in my life, both dogs and cats, but none of them were anything like Smokey. The Melville Cat stood out because of the way he arrived — parachuting into my garden during the hardest year of my life and refusing to leave despite repeated attempts to discourage him. He also stood out simply in the way he existed — remaining aloof, doing whatever the f*ck he wanted, while somehow also making me feel loved and appreciated as chosen human of the Melville Cat.
The way Smokey left the world is a perfect illustration of what kind of cat he was. He died suddenly, without any notice whatsoever, and it could have happened anywhere. Smokey spent so much of his time sleeping in secret places, away from the house, and if he’d died in one of those places it could have taken me days or weeks to find him. Or perhaps I never would have.
Somehow Smokey managed to pass away quickly and quietly on the patio, in one of his favorite chairs, in the middle of the day when my friend Michelle happened to be with me. I had just pet him and fed him treats a few minutes before. If animals were able to choose the way they die, this is exactly what Smokey would have chosen for himself — and for me.
There’s a lot more to the Melville Cat’s story than he has told on this blog. Many people have asked him to write a full memoir and that may still happen someday. At the very least he’ll be a contributor to the 2Summers memoir, currently in progress. But the Melville Cat’s time on the blog has come to an end. Maybe I wasn’t totally ready for this reality and that’s why I waited so long to say my official goodbye.
The Melville Cat has two final resting places. I had him cremated (thank you to the Richmond Animal Hospital for making this process so easy and painless) and his ashes were delivered in a beautiful oak box. I’ve kept half his ashes in the box, on a shelf in my lounge.
The other half of Smokey’s ashes and fur are buried in the garden at my old Melville house on 7th Avenue. I originally met Smokey in that garden more than ten years ago. Horst, my former landlord, kindly offered to make a final resting place there.
I’ve been thinking a lot about grief since Smokey died. I believe every person grieves differently and no loss is the same as any other. But for me, losing a pet feels nothing like losing a human. A pet dying is more expected — something that has happened over and over throughout my life and will continue to happen in the future. The pain isn’t as sharp or long-lasting.
But in the wake of Smokey’s death, the strongest feeling I have is that of absence. Every time I see a picture of Smokey I feel a soft, furry gray hole in my chest. I often stand in the garden and feel certain I’ve just seen him out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes I even turn to look before remembering Smokey is gone.
Grief often fades, but absence doesn’t. By its very definition, absence can never go away.
Beautiful and fitting tribute to Smokey, darling Melville Cat xx
Thank you Wendy 😻
Beautifully put and I’m sure he is missed by many who came to know him through your blogs. Cats that find us seem to have a special purpose and then leave us when our lives move on. I found a kitten in the grapevine of our previous house at the time that my Mom was getting ill, he was a delight and was such a special cat. Shortly after my Mom passed which was about six years later, he died. It was almost as if his job was done.
That’s interesting. I also think there’s something to that theory. More than one person have told me they think Jon was living inside Smokey, which seems like a really out-there belief but it’s always kind of made sense to me.
I would take that as a sign that Jon approves of how your life is moving on.
I like to think so 🙂
A lovely tribute, you’ve done him proud!
Thanks Mr. Bunny Chow!
The perfect tribute, with just enough humor to keep me from crying all over my keyboard.
Some animals are incredibly loving. And some, like MC, are characters (sometimes even assholes). I don’t know what it says about me that the loss that hit me the most was a dog who was a complete jerk. But he was my big, fluffy jerk and I adored him.
This is so true and I’ve never thought of it exactly like that. I guess human-cat relationships are much like human-human romantic relationships in this way.
Maybe our romances were only meant to last the lifespan of a cat.
Autumn – your reply made me laugh out loud! Pretty much true for me, at least ….
Me too actually.
Thanks! Making people laugh is my favorite thing. Especially in times like these.
“I feel a soft, furry gray hole in my chest.” This is so beautiful. And I agree about the way he died. I think that was his final gift to you. I am glad you have Trixie to help fill the hole. And Thorsten’s sketch (and Thorsten). Sending love from Nancy in Chicago (and Ruthie and Juanita)
Thanks Nancy. xxx
Absence by its very definition never goes away. Exactly.
This is such a beautiful post Heather, capturing so much. It made me cry and reflect on two absences that have been with me for decades.
Thanks Margaret 🙂 Hope you’re doing well.
Such a lovely tribute. I am glad he gave you so much joy during good and bad times. I love the independence of him, but being there when you needed him.
Beautiful writing as always you always manage to grab the guts of your stories. Keep it up much love ❤️ from Canada. (Chris Green’s sister) Carol.
Thank you Carol!
Lovely tribute, I miss him too and I only knew him through your blog.