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.

Smokey in September 2020
One of my last good photos of Smokey.

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.

Trixie
Trixie the Melville Kitten, doing her best to walk in the Melville Cat’s footsteps.

Goodbye, Smokey

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.

I didn’t anticipate how much I would love this box. It contains half of the Melville Cat’s ashes and a bit of his fur, which Tassia from the Richmond vet gave me the day he died. The little clay cat is a souvenir I bought last year in Taos, New Mexico. I think it’s the perfect adornment.

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.

The Melville Cat’s final resting place. He’s buried next to Mystery, Horst’s cat who resided in this garden at the same time Smokey did.
The sketch is a gift from Thorsten, who interestingly came into my life right after Smokey left. I wish they could have met one another but luckily Thorsten could get to know Smokey through his blog posts.
Horst and Lucky burying Smokey
Horst and Lucky filling in the Melville Cat’s grave.
I decided to keep the sketch. It captures Smokey’s spirit so well and I want to have it framed.

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.

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