Well, we finally cremated the cat.
Oh, fair warning, this blog will include some bluntly worded descriptions and I will not be sugar coating the details of this story. So be prepared for reading some things that might take a moment to digest, or may disrupt digestion should you happen to be eating while reading it. Consider yourself fairly warned.
Someone asked me why it was important to do this, now that the ground is unfrozen and we could have simply buried him. I am not sure of all the complexities behind our reasoning. In part, since he left this plane the day after Christmas, when the ground was frozen and the snow was deep, it was the initial decision. We’d planned to burn him at the Spring Equinox but the snow was still so deep and heavy, we couldn’t shovel a space around the covered fire pit to safely perform this task. And then, we had a vacation to visit family, and time for the cremation kept getting pushed out. Meanwhile, Lucky remained fine in the pump room. [Initially he’d stayed in the arctic entrance through the freezing months, where he was a catsicle. When the weather broke, we moved him to the pump room where he again, remained largely unchanged, until the very end.] I believe it was a combination of many factors but mostly, curiosity about whether we could pull it off without trouble.
We had what turned out to be perfect conditions for this to go successfully.
Last fall before Lucky began to really deteriorate and seem like we might be losing him soon (this cat had SO MANY times in his life where we thought it was game over for him and then he’d bounce back!), we had done some wood processing. Many of the bark sections which seemed less desirable for burning in the Rocket Mass Heater were stacked in the outdoor fire pit. And, when the fire season seemed at its end, we covered the pit with a tarp knowing we might have a mid-winter fire to send Lucky off to his Valhalla.
This turned out to be a perfect place to support Lucky’s “throne”, an old wicker chair from Grandma’s set bequeathed to me, and, besides the table, the only remaining piece still in our possession. We had decided to use this piece to send him off in style and it ended up being a beautiful burn with the structure of the chair burning away, leaving the frame beautifully intact as the fire carried Lucky to his final end.
Before the ceremony, we placed his throne atop the wood pile, stuffed fire starters (toilet tissue rolls stuffed with dryer lint – upcycling is our thing!) around the base of the throne, and then added longer wood branches around the chair to draw up the flames. Then we put Lucky, in the little box in which he’d spent the last half-year, covered by his old blanket (actually an old baby blanket of Tommy’s, handmade by his Gramma) alongside his favorite toys, atop the throne. We assured that he was looking out toward the woods, as he did do often from the porch.
Then we burned sage, said prayers and remembrances and just sat for an hour or more talking about what a joy he’d been in our lives. We remembered all the hard work of hand feeding him and knew we had done much to make his life easier. We noted that his best years were probably the two and a half he spent being spoiled by Gramma Ruth who fed him soft food every day, multiple times a day, to be sure he was never hungry. We thought back to when he first arrived in our care and the way he sat behind the french doors in the office of our old house in Indiana as Kinya hissed at this newcomer. We reminisced about how he was originally Tommy’s cat (Lucky slept or hung with Tommy throughout his childhood) and then he became ours when Tom left for college. We reveled in the fact that he FINALLY became a lap cat late in life and all the snuggling that we enjoyed, especially in those last few days when he was held almost non-stop. We recalled how he would visit us at night to “tuck us into bed” before hopping down ten minutes later to yowl through the house trying to locate Kinya, who now ruffed him up on a daily, even though he was almost twice her size. We finally smiled as we thought of all the times he meowed us out of bed for his morning feeding. [Mom created this habit with her endless dedication to his every need while he lived at Gramma’s house, and he never quite outgrew it.] And we comforted ourselves thinking of the hours of sleeping three across in our big king-size bed, all of us under the covers with our heads out the top of the sheet, unless Lucky decided it was cold enough to just curl up completely undercover, soaking in our warmth between the sheets.
About 9 PM Dan thought it was time. The was still light in the sky which would help in case we had a crashing pyre. It was a daunting setup but I hoped it would go well. This was a dense fire base and we were a bit worried whether it would take off with enough ferocity to consume his body. But I’d done prayers ahead of time asking for all the help any entity available could bring to assure we sent this little man completely into bone. Let me tell you, it burned so hot, we couldn’t get closer than 5′ at times! I truly felt as if we had a surge of energy taking the fire to maximum heat.
As the fire took off, we continued to talk about our little friend, though we spent much time in silence simply watching the beautiful process.
One of the factors I hadn’t considered when contemplating this process was that, to get to “cremated cat”, one must pass through “roast cat”. While his body had mummified in part in the dry storage over the previous months, it still contained much moisture. It was a bit sickening, but not wholely unpleasant, to hear him sizzle as the fire burned down destroying the throne and putting his body into the fire itself. The fire as built was largely enough to consume him but as his body burned, we could see we would need to move him (used a shovel) to a hot spot in the coals that would support his final processing . We added a few more logs to the fire to assure a complete consumption and then we simply watched the fire burn down. About 11:30 PM, we headed inside and let the remaining fire burn itself to coals.
I will always remember seeing the frame of the chair as it was consumed with flame and how beautifully it framed our old friend. Today I remember the brilliant red of the fire, the patterns making new art forms through time. I enjoyed every moment of that fire. From the building of the pyre, the placement of Lucky’s body, the heat and glow of the burning, and even the removal of the bones from the cold fire a couple days later, it all felt like part of honoring the great gift that he was to our lives.
We still have not given him a final resting place. I’d hoped to retain his skull but it was so very fragile in the coals and an added piece of wood broke the jaw bone from the cranial cavity. There is still a small round head – very interesting to see the insides of a cat’s structure – which I will likely leave intact after I crush the smaller bones. We will also keep a few of his spinal bones which are largely intact, as we find a small container for his final pieces. I wonder now if he will be buried with one of us or if Tommy will have any interest in retaining his old kitty on the shelf as an old man.
I am very glad we took a chance and tried this new way of sending off our friend. I believe it has prepared me for the future in a way I could not have foreseen.
In the end, I am not sure I have ever a more beautiful, perfectly burning, and entrancing fire.