Already, kind people are asking if I will get another cat. No I won't, and not because of any feeling that no other cat can possibly replace the one I've lost. Of course no cat can replace any other; they are all individuals. But I have learned by now that I can love each one with all my heart.
Guinivere and Isolda, Ishtar and Sam, Freya and Levi – beautiful cats all, each with their own unique personality. Guinivere was the smartest of the lot, so intelligent and aware that I used to say she must have been human in her last life or would be in her next. Isolda and Ishtar were gentle, pretty girls who never gave a moment's trouble, but much joy. Sam and Freya were both highly assertive, highly intelligent, and devoted to me despite some power struggles. And Levi was basically cheerful and cruisy but also incredibly sensitive, an intrepid explorer with a learned timidity following some adventures that didn't turn out so well. It seemed he was intent on using up all his nine lives before he finally died!
I realise, now that it is past, how stressful it was looking after him in his final months. He had arthritis for many years, following an adventure with a fence and a torn ligament. Later he developed kidney disease. Though these things were well controlled, I was constantly concerned for his wellbeing and vigilant to his needs. I didn't even realise how much until it abruptly became unnecessary.
And before that, a year ago, I was looking after a sick and dying Freya. And two years prior to that I was carer to my darling husband as he became more and more incapacitated and eventually passed away. In fact, in his case and in Levi's, the extra care started happening some years previously. I was only too happy to do what I could for all my family, and distressed that I couldn't do more than was humanly possible. Now, however, I feel it's time to focus on looking after me.
That of course cuts both ways. You could set your clock by Levi and Freya. Now I have no-one to remind me when it's lunch-time. Looking after me without their help will require some self-discipline!
In any case, I'm 75. I'm getting too old to be certain I could meet a new pet's needs adequately into its own old age.
Then there's the wild life. I would not originally have got a cat after moving to this part of the world. It was only that Levi and Freya's first owner had to leave an abusive relationship fast, and we offered temporary respite to her, her daughter, their puppy and their cats. She found a new home for herself and her daughter but wasn't allowed pets. A friend was glad to take the puppy. By that time we'd had the two young cats for a fortnight. No-one else seemed to want them. 'I've been catless too long,' I said to Andrew. 'You couldn't possibly split them up,' he said. And so, after vowing to have none, I had two for 16 and 17 years respectively. I don't regret a minute of it – and I still don't think a cat is a good idea here.
Not only that, but the Abbott Government has brought in new laws to control the feral cat population. That's a good thing – except that it can also be applied to any domestic pets found outside. But now I no longer have to worry about a cat of mine falling foul of that law, and I am very happy to keep it that way.
I'm about to make a trip interstate for a big family reunion, and hope to make another at xmas. I wasn't easy in my mind about leaving Levi for so long, in his recent state of health, even though the house sitters, whom he was acquainted with, would have looked after him lovingly. Now I am free to travel as I wish, whenever I wish, without a backward glance.
And there are surprises. Yes I am still very much grieving over Levi, very much missing him, despite the fleeting ghostly visits. However, alongside the grief is astonishment at how clean the house is looking – and staying. I vacuum once and the carpet looks pristine for days! Who would have thought? (I have had cats most of my adult life, including the last 17 years. I guess I'd got used to the way it was.)
Finally, I had been racking my brains as to how to stretch my pension, as I wished to retire from doing psychic readings in the market every month. It occurs to me now that the absence of pet food and vet bills is one effective way to stretch the pension!
A dog barks outside. For a moment I come to attention, then realise I no longer have to worry whether Levi's outside and whether that's a cat-chasing dog. Eventually I won't startle like that at a bark any more; the habit will gradually fade. One less thing to worry about.
I eat my lunch. It's 2.30 in the afternoon. That's OK, it won't kill me to be eating late – and eventually my stomach will notice that it needs to remind me about meal times. We are not wired to let ourselves starve forever.
I walk up the passage and am confronted by the empty spot where he used to nestle in the corner. I cry. I remember how unwell he was looking lately, and cry some more but in a different way.
I start packing my suitcase for my trip away, and I'm thankful not to feel torn but free.