On life’s great equaliser


On life after Mog – and on dealing with one of life’s final taboos.

A sombre day today as we took Mog to the vet to be put to sleep following a short illness. A large stomach tumour and failing kidneys meant she’d lost a huge amount of weight and was drinking continuously. This despite struggling to do so, getting water up her nose each time. With her decline she inevitably looked worse for wear – having stopped grooming as well.

How are you supposed to feel about the passing of a creature who had been there for half of your life?

Mog, shortly before she died.
Mog, shortly before she died.

She arrived one spring morning just before the 1997 general election. This six-week-old bundle of fun looked far too small to be away from her mum, but having been a cat-less house since the disappearance of Mog’s predecessor some 18 months earlier (who had been in the house since before I was born), was glad to have a four-legged friend to scare off rodents. I’m not good with meeces.

She’s been one of the few constants over the years. Always loud, always sociable…and always hungry. She pre-dated the house having internet access, & bridged the gap between four generations of our family – from my late grandparents through to my young niece & nephew. She saw me leave to go to university, & saw me return from London exhausted as I exited the civil service during the big post-2010 cuts. She was even around to see the arrival of that Twitter phenomenon known as Puffles the Dragon Fairy – even being there for our election campaign.

Puffles, Mog & Michelle working on a digital video project with Dana & Ceri in the background.
Puffles, Mog & Michelle working on a digital video project with Dana & Ceri in the background.

People have drifted in & drifted out of my life, women have come and gone, I have joined institutions and have left disappointed – sometimes heartbroken as with relationships & flings aforementioned. But Mog was always there – that constant in the background (or the foreground, depending on her mood). After a while, I guess I assumed she’d always keep on going.

Her final few weeks were a struggle for her

It’s never easy to see a living being in such a state. Struggling to eat, losing weight considerably and struggling to drink properly despite an increased thirst linked to failing kidneys. Hence the vet’s recommendation to put her to sleep – which the vet did this afternoon.

I could have gone along, but chose not to – leaving it to my Dad & sister-in-law to take her to the vet. When she returned, she was finally at peace. I spent part of the previous night sat down on the floor by the fridge with her, watching helplessly as she struggled to drink without getting water up her nose & sneezing. Health aside, nothing had changed. She was still the same cat with the same personality & the same ‘miaow’. Perhaps we both knew what was coming.

Digging her grave

I’d never done this before. I can’t pretend to have done the greatest job, going as far down as the stoney chalk layer below the topsoil would let me. I guess this was ‘my bit for her’. There was something therapeutic about doing so – something that was missing in the funerals of past deceased relatives. My sister-in-law and I laid Mog to rest in the ground before I covered her with the topsoil I had dug out earlier, placing several very heavy pot plants on top to as to keep out scavenging creatures.

A poignant reminder of my own mortality

Mog joined our family half my lifetime ago. At that time, I was struggling emotionally at college, disappointed as my hopes & dreams seemed to vanish & with no support from friends or institutions. Fast forward to now, and a number of my younger Twitter followers are preparing to make that step to college or university for the first time. How I wish I could recapture those days & not make the mistakes that I did – which amongst other things were not having the courage to follow my heart & fight for what I wanted. I was already conditioned to follow, not rebel against authority & established conventions – irrespective of whether they were working for or against me. All the more harder now as I struggle with sleep, a lack of energy and a state of health that means I cannot work full-time hours. At the same time, the fight hasn’t gone out of me.

Comparing experiences – Mog vs human family

This article appeared in my FB feed https://www.facebook.com/humanism/posts/10153461209920923 during the day. It got me thinking about how our family’s ‘human’ funerals were handed over to other institutions that had their pre-set procedures & rituals. In the ones that have involved close relatives, I’ve always felt like I was a bystander. A group of strangers in mourning/morning suits would move the coffins while clerics from the churches that our family went to during my childhood would run the services. Where the deceased were regular attendees of services, you can understand why a religious institution would take the lead at a time when the family of the deceased is going through emotional turmoil. Less so perhaps where there is little or no relationship between the family and the institution. Hence the comments on the Facebook article.

What are the alternatives for dealing with what’s left of us after we’re gone?

For example, we have a city cemetery that a handful of my family members are buried in, but has anyone thought of having a city woodland where people can choose to be buried in an ecopod with a tree planted over them as at http://www.buzzworthy.com/coffins-eco-friendly-burial-pods/? Given the relative lack of trees in these parts vs more forested areas, I think that would be quite nice. We also have a county crematorium. During my civil service days I was taken on a tour of one in Norfolk or Suffolk – one of the two. People forget that this too is a public service.

The first time I came across alternatives to church funerals – or mainstream religious ceremonies generally, was with former Hove Green Party Parliamentary Candidate Anthea Ballam (http://www.antheab.com/) who I got to know when she stood in 2001 at the time I was living in Hove on the south coast. Over the years, I became more familiar with alternatives as people threw out the rule book and as laws changed. My cousin chose to ditch formalities for her wedding several years ago, going for readings & performances by those close to her, & treating the legalities as a simple formality required by law. (The best bit for me was the big ‘dressing up box’ idea for the children – who quickly changed out of formalwear to dress up as superheroes).

I can understand why some people get angry with religious institutions in particular when funerals & weddings seem ending up being more about the faith than the family concerned. Even more so when it seems like an attempt to get money from or control over people by whatever means. Is this the result of us not talking enough about something that is a constant for all of us – something that we will all experience? Is it in part the result of only giving serious thought to this at a time when entire families are going through emotional distress at the loss of a loved one?

Mog as a marker of time

I tweeted that her passing was the end of an era for me –  a chance to reflect on the changes in the world we live in over the course of her life. Yes, the house will be more quiet without her. No longer: “I have to get home – got a cat & a dragon to feed” as I sometimes joke. Sleep well Mog, will miss you.

Making posters for 'Be the change - Cambridge'
Making posters for ‘Be the change – Cambridge’
Puffles & Mog - bestest friends forreva!
Puffles & Mog – bestest friends forreva!

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