April 2024

Sad Story of the Death of Cats

Michael Bettencourt | Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt

On Feb. 26, a Monday, Banquo, our youngest, passed away suddenly. In a flash – gone.

In the morning, I found him spread on the kitchen floor on his right side breathing sharply – panting, mouth open, tongue darting – and every 10 or 15 seconds spasming, as if he were trying to cough up something. Which is what I thought he was trying to do – our cats are renowned upchuckers.

I picked him up and placed him in a favorite spot on the arm of the couch, and even tried to offer him some food, but he moved off the couch to the living room floor and laid down again on his right side, rapidly breathing, spasms.

I called the vet, described the actions, was told to get him in immediately. Which was a problem because I had just brought the car to the shop that morning and had no wheels. I looked up bus schedules for the one bus that goes to Hoboken – not soon enough – and ended up calling Alane, our neighbor next door, to borrow her car (which woke her up – she is a late morning sleeper). She handed me her keys, and I went back to Banquo to get him into a carrier.

As I was pulling the carrier from the storage room, Banquo gave out three distinct, sharp meows – howls – one after the other. I picked him up from the floor and placed him in the carrier – but now, thinking back, I believe that is when he passed, that those three howls were his way of signaling that he was gone. On some sub-level I knew that that was true because his body sliding into the carrier felt heavy and unmoving, and later I wished I had recognized that fact and realized that there was no hurry now, that I should hold and rock him, cradle him in a proper goodbye.

But, instead, driven by anxiety and the imperative of getting him to the vet, I got him into the car, raced him there. (So maddened was I that, frustrated with the slowness of the traffic on Washington Street, I parked the car five blocks away and hoofed it, running with a 20-pound cat in my hand – I was not in shape to do that.)

Got to the vet, handed off the carrier – and, in the examining room, with Banquo’s long form laid on the examination table, on his left side, Dr. Sprague announced that Banquo had passed. Most likely, he had been dead the whole time from taking him down to the car to handing him off to Syna, the assistant.

How? His guess was congestive heart failure, given the conditions I had described, not unusual in heavier cats – but it was a guess. (Part of my brain wanted to know the answer, part said it didn’t matter.) Then they left me alone with him, told me to take all the time I needed.

Weeping, just weeping – harder than I’ve cried for anything in recent memory, even the death of my mother or Beatriz, María Beatriz’s mother. I stroked him again and again, spoke to him (in sorrow, a good memory of holding him as a kitten, his gentle nature) – I easily could have stayed there all day, petting him and sobbing over the loss.

In the brief moment from when they took the carrier to the examination room and then called me in, I texted María Beatriz in Argentina, having to give her the news on the fly. We connected by video through WhatsApp (while I sat on the street bench in front of the vet hospital so as not to disturb everyone in the waiting room), and her pain and agony at the news had the odd momentary effect of calming me as I tried to soothe her and give her details. Only momentary, though, as we wailed together across the miles in between at losing such a lovely soul, our longtime friend (he was with us for 12 years).

After the call, I sat again in the room with his body, murmuring to him, stroking his length, apologizing – honestly, it could have lasted all day. But life does not stop being ironic just because a beloved had passed – a voice in my head saying, They probably need the examination room; aware that I was missing the monthly staff meeting because I’d had to bolt from the house; the assistant handing me the invoice for his coming cremation and saying that I could pay for it whenever I was finished – the intrusive but also oddly comforting rib-nudging of daily life.

Finally, I left – I didn’t want to, but I did. (I did take a picture – not sure if I’ll keep it.) Paid for the cremation, was told that his ashes will come to us in a small cedar box with his name on it – and a death certificate.

Walking back to the car, I called María Beatriz again to update her, and the two of us clung to each other across the virtual space as I’m walking and weeping down Washington Street, aware of the public weeping, not caring if anyone noticed or took note, the empty carrier in my hand, forced to continue on instead of retreating into the pain and memory and giving him a proper grieving.

Here is what I hope. I hope that when he died, he had no pain and that he did not feel abandoned or betrayed. That he knew that he was loved, honored, even revered. That he felt no terror as he passed.

The other three cats do notice that something is different – well, at least Seamus and Fiona. Cordelia never had much to do with him, seeing as how she is in her own world of eating and sleeping. But for the other two, he had a presence with them. Seamus and Banquo had their own gay relationship, laying themselves on top of each other and enjoying whatever it was that they enjoyed in each other’s company. And when we petted Banquo, Fiona loved to come over to flop against him and get some petting as well. Somehow, the petting for her was always better when it was shared with Banquo.

We’ll build a memorial space for him in the new house so that he makes the journey with us as we had planned for him to do. We need his presence in our present. He will always be living with us.


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Michael Bettencourt is an essayist and a playwright.
He writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his “prime mate"
and wife, María-Beatriz.
For more of his columns, articles, and media,
check the Archives.

©2024 Michael Bettencourt
©2024 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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