I was looking for a poem I wrote a very long time ago, after having to listen to a very deaf, very uncaring old man have his very elderly graymalkin put to sleep in the vet's office, but I cannot find it. What I did find was this, a bit I wrote in 1997. It's not cheerful, but it's an inescapable fact that when we bring other lives into our space, into the circle of our hearts and our arms we take responsibility for their quality not only of life but of death, too. Responsibility to make sure that their death is easy and painless as possible, and that they know beyond a shadow fo a doubt that they were loved.
Prayer to Bubastis
Bubastis--I send unto your keeping the soul of a kitten. Please take this little one into your arms, keep it warm and clean, and give it the comfort of your mother's care so that it might live forever in your keeping.
I held a kitten today while it died. It was one of three, the runt, and was never very strong or large. Where it's siblings grew larger and more playful as time went on, this little one (I never got to give her a true name) didn't get any larger, slept often, and was weak, never got playful with it's siblings. It was, however, the most affectionate of it's litter. How many nights did this little one sleep on top of the comforter while I slept at night, or curled up on my terry cloth robe and napped while I watched TV. It's mother cared for it, but there was some lack, some unseen failure that I could not fix.
I walked into the house after spending the day working outside today, and found the little tabby lying on it's back on my comforter, legs splayed. I stroked it's back, and it tried to meow, but it had no strength to get any noise out. It had gotten so weak from whatever failure it had in it's body that it had finally crossed the line from living to dying. My heart tore, tears came to my eyes, and I held the poor tiny thing in my hands, barely a handful, smelling of death. I stroked and held it, it lay it's tiny little head against my fingers and after a few minutes it had stopped breathing. I took the tiny one outside, dug a pitifully small hole in the yard, in a quiet place where the sun often shone, and buried it with a prayer to Bubastis to take the wee tiny soul into her arms and love it's tiny self as I did; barely knowing it, but loving it all the same for it's spark of life, short and feeble though it was.
Bubastis, watch over them all. Watch over the nameless kittens killed by tomcats on the prowl. Watch over calico Psycho, my 'old queen of the house.' Watch over the oldster at the veterinarian's so many years ago, his tired heart stilled by drugs, easing it's suffering of too many years lived. Watch over Fafhrd, taken by some nameless unseen heart distress. Watch over all the kittens and cats living and dead. Watch over them and love them as we do.
And in looking back over the years, watch over Sophia, the beautiful jelicle cat, and Fafhrd's brother Grey Mouser, who moved to Oregon many years ago to live with The Goat, where he died of a ripe old age lived chasing birds and eating mice. Watch over Finnegan, Old Mr. Big Head hisself, who never would stay put long enough to become my house cat, and over Mamie, who would bite when she was happy, who wandered up one day wearing an over-tight zip-tie for a collar, pregnant as all outdoors, who now lives with a sweet old lady who needed a loving tabby. And watch over all the little and the big, please, all the kittens and the cats that live or die, named and unnamed, who pass out of so many lives unmourned.
And less this be nothing but a song of mourning, thank you.
Thank you for Agaku, my first Fishercat, the old queen of the house now, who epitomises the saying "A tabby cat is a very bland cat indeed" but without whose quiet ways and gentle manners I never would have known the love of cats again.
Thank you for Babel, my poor crazed tortoise-shell lumber-cat, who began her life by being tossed over a fence in a plastic bag with her sisters and brothers, who came to live here and is my ever-warm comforter, with her squeaky meow and her reclusive ways.
Thank you for pure as driven snow Cracker, our "gay uncle" of the house, with his soft feet and his close-mouthed miaou when he wants to share my oatmeal.
Thank you for Delilah, the other calico of the house, she who knows my weakness in cats; she of the flowing hair and the plume-tail, who sings with such abandon and unabashed enthusiasm.
Thank you for Egan, the little flame-point Siamese who, at two days of life, abandoned by his mother, was found nosing in the dirt. It was he who taught me that it was okay to be close to little tiny kittens, that with care and cans of KMR kitten milk carefully mixed and given through a tiny syringe and nipple can grow into fourteen pound bottle babies, full of love and eagerness to please.
And thank you for Fiona, MY first bottle baby, fallen into the hollow of a wall and pulled out covered in filth and plaster dust, all orange and grey tabby spit and vinegar because she had the benefit of her mother's "wild milk" for her first few weeks.