“Grief is the price we pay for love.”
I don’t recall when I first heard this–sources on the web attribute it to Queen Elizabeth II, in reference to the 9/11 attacks. I don’t think that’s the context I heard it in, but whenever it was, the idea struck me immediately as a comforting truth. Any time we open our hearts to love, we accept the risk that someday, we may have to do without our beloved. It changes grief from a terrible thing that assails us at random, to a bargain we strike in order to obtain something greater. Perhaps it’s just another illusion of control, but I can cope with grief much better when I understand it as a measure of love–the greater the love enjoyed, the greater our grief at its loss.
My cat, Grimalkin, died suddenly this past Saturday morning, of an apparent stroke. We took him to the vet, who ascertained there was little we could do for him but send him to a gentle goodnight. As hard as it was to make that choice, my only concern was that he not suffer; the last, and best, thing I could do for him, after nearly 20 years of companionship, was to let him go as peacefully as possible. And as hard as these past few days have been, it’s a small enough price to pay for two decades of warm, furry love.
In my family, when we’ve had a loss, we gather and cry and hug, and eat, and tell stories about the person we’re mourning. This means we generally find ourselves in tearful laughter around a table after the funeral, swapping our favorite tales of the dearly departed and remembering the good times we had together. It’s probably the Irish in us, our tame version of the traditional carousing wake. Thus, with your indulgence, I would like to tell the stories of how Grim earned his names.
Grim was my cat nearly his whole life–I picked him out of his litter when he was just 2 or 3 weeks old. I thought I wanted a black cat, but when I met the kittens, the little silver boy with bright blue eyes claimed me. As I tried to play with the black kittens, the little grey kept pushing his way in, trying to climb my skirt, and generally demanding attention. I had “Grimalkin” (Middle English for ‘grey cat’) on the short list of possible names, and I can read a portent when it’s climbing up my leg, so I accepted the inevitable: I put my dibs on little Grimmie and waited impatiently until the litter was old enough to leave their mother.
Grim was a strikingly beautiful kitten, all silvery blue, including his eyes (they later turned a beautiful golden-green.) When I first adopted him, I lived in a house with four other women, so he got constant attention. My roommate Rachel taught him to run up her arm and sit on her shoulder–adorable at 2 pounds, less so when he was still trying it at 10 pounds and heavier. He was a tornado of a kitten and indiscriminate about claw deployment–which earned him his second name, Playnice. As in, “Grimalkin, play nice!”
The story of how he earned his third name is pretty funny. We had a typical college-aged-girls party one Friday night, and I woke up Saturday morning to a weird noise that I couldn’t parse. It went, “tink, tink, clunk, rrr-rrr-rrr, clink.” Tink-tink-clunk-rrr-rrr-rrr-clink. Again and again. I finally went to investigate, and found the kitten pawing at half-empty beer bottles (tink, tink) until they toppled over (clunk) and rolled on the hardwood floor (rrr,rrr,rrr) to a stop (clink)–and then he was lapping up the puddles that spilled out. I grabbed him up and laughed until I just about fell over; then I picked up all the bottles and put them where Grimalkin Playnice Budweiser couldn’t get into them any more.
Grim’s fourth name was more of an honorific than anything, a title he earned by being an energetic, inquisitive, unstoppable ball of kitty mayhem: the Hun. There were two grey kittens in Grim’s litter, and the cat’s owner kept the other one, a little girl eventually named Hannibal for her destructive rampages. Those grey ones may look sweet, but my goodness, they’re little terrors.
Grim was very affectionate–he would follow me from room to room, puppylike, hoping to get petted. He didn’t like small children or other animals, but anyone else who came into the house was a cuddle target, as far as he was concerned. I know a lot of you out there will be missing his warm fuzziness yourselves. Thank you each for every pet, every cuddle, every word of admiration you gave him.
He was very much my darling and my baby, my cuddlemonster and my sweetheart. He and I had been together longer than I’ve even known my partner, as Ken himself pointed out on Saturday. He was funny and sweet and pushy and annoying–especially when he would walk on my head at 2:00 a.m. He would always push his way in if he saw me paying attention to anything else (books, yarn, Ken.) He was wonderfully healthy for an old man of 20, but he’d clearly slowed down in the last couple of years, and I knew the end had to come sometime. I’m genuinely grateful that it was quick and relatively painless; the shock was terrible, but it was better than having him waste away, or suffer something painful. He was big for a cat, 15 pounds or so, but that’s still pretty small to have left as big a hole in our lives as he has.