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Lizzy’s long journey into the night

June 2, 2016

This blog post is not about politics, the environment, or science. It is about a cat plus some autobiographical notes and if you are not interested in cats or in personal stories, please ignore the text.

I started working on this piece when Lizzy, the greatest cat-love of my life, died. I still hear her purring in my ears. I think of her regularly and will never forget her. Lizzy’s memory will live on until I die and maybe even a little bit longer, provided that someone visits this blog after my death. 

As I write this, I have to correct myself instantly, because Lizzy’s body may be decomposing in her little grave, but her impact is still there, nothing is lost. She changed my life and to some lesser extent the lives of others, she made me write this text, her story will maybe touch some people who read it and these people will consequently influence others in a never ending chain reaction. 

Lizzy is immortal, every living being is immortal, living on eternally in the chains of processes and developments, of causes and results. This is the essence of a deterministic view of the world.

The day before Lizzy died

It was Monday, May 31, 2010. When I went up in the morning, my then wife Herta told me that Lizzy had gone out and that she couldn’t find her. I walked onto the patio and looked around in the garden and I discovered Lizzy lying in the wet grass beneath a bush. She looked as if she had collapsed there and couldn’t go up by herself anymore. I took her in my arms and went back to the patio and just as I entered the house, Lizzy made a terrible sound. I had never heard any cat make a sound like this. It was a combination of meowing and crying and it sounded so desperate and distressed that I instantly knew that she was dying. Lizzy made this sound three times.

I brought her into the house and laid her onto a couch and offered her various kinds of food. Her favorite dry food (a special product for sensitive digestion that I buy in 10 kilo bags in the pet shop) first and then a specially formulated senior cat food. She refused both. I tried a convalescence support food from the veterinarian and she did lick at it a little bit at least. This special food is a white powder which has to be mixed with warm water to a white pulp. All the cats love it and sometimes get is as a special treat or when they are sick. After Lizzy did eat a little bit of this food she moved to the other side of the couch to lay down on a blanket, which was always there as a resting place for cats. She hardly could walk and she stumbled and stepped into her food cup, leaving her paw covered with the white pulp.

I set down beside her, touched and stroke her gently and talked to her. She liked it and relaxed and curled up on the blanket. I fetched some food to have a basic breakfast while I was petting Lizzy and then I took my guitar and sat down beside her and I played the tune that I had composed for her. The title is “Lizzy’s Quiet Evening”, and that can be understood literally as well as allegorical, meaning: the quiet evening of Lizzy’s life. I played another tune with the title : “The Journey”. This piece is the longest and most advanced competition I ever made. It is kind of a chaconne (though I would never dare to compare it with Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita for Violin No.2, which is one of my favorite pieces of music). I pondered about it and decided, that this piece from now on would have the title “Lizzy’s journey into the night”.

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At 11 AM I made a short pause to fetch me some bread. I didn’t want to leave my little friend alone for too long in her last hours and I did eat beside her and after eating I took the guitar again and played some more tunes. One of the pieces that I played has the title “Thank you, my friend, I miss you”. It is a quiet and somehow romantic composition with a simple melodic motive, that is perpetuated throughout the piece. Some people may perceive it as sentimental.

I’m quite sure, that this melody or a variation of it is used in other music pieces and maybe I heard it a long time ago and forgot about it and then, as I sat down one day improvising and playing along intuitively, the melody came up again from a remote corner of my memory. Maybe one day somebody will accuse me of plagiarism, but as I’m not making  money from this composition such a claim will not concern me. I originally dedicated this piece to my cat friend Harry, who died in 2008, but from now on I will always play it in memory of Harry and Lizzy.

Two other tunes that I played are part of a suite of three pieces that I call “Fact’s of Life.” I recorded the first part and it can be found in the About/Music section of the blog. The idea behind this pieces is, that we and our cats and all other creatures on this planet have only a limited time and very limited means to make the best out of this life and that we have to embrace and cherish every moment. This is the very fact of our existence, as I see it.

The cats don’t have to ponder about this fact and they don’t need to figure out the right attitude, they know intuitively, what life is. They try to make the best of every situation and somehow muddle through and if the moment allows it, they will relax and have a good time in between all the challenges, lures, and threats.

Herta had called a veterinarian who confirmed, that all symptoms pointed to the fact, that Lizzy was dying. The vet also told Herta, that dying cats often try to hide in a secret place and that we should not let Lizzy go out, because otherwise there would just be another decomposing cat body lying hidden in an inaccessible place. But I knew, that this advice was misplaced and unnecessary, because Lizzy would never leave my side and she would stay with me till the very end.

When I looked at the clock, I discovered that it was already 5 PM — I had not noticed, how time was slipping away. Lizzy went up and stumbled towards me and laid down on my lap. She started cleaning her paws, especially her right hind paw, with which she had stepped into the food cup and which was still covered with the instant powder food. She obviously tasted the food that she had liked so much in former times and she smiled, while she was licking her paw. After that she slept for an hour on my lap. I had my hand on her back. She was so thin, I felt every rip and every vertebra of her backbone.

Suddenly Lizzy woke up and jumped down from my lap and she staggered towards the patio door. I opened the door and she went out and started vomiting. She vomited mostly fluid, but also all of the tiny amount of food she had eaten in the morning. I was heartbroken, tears ran down my cheeks, I felt so hopeless and desolate that I cannot describe it with words. Anyway, I brought my little friend back into the house and placed her again onto the blanket. I kneeled down beside her and talked to her and caressed her. There was not much else I could do for my beloved Lizzy, for my loyal friend and companion of eight years. I would have taken every meaningful effort, but it was hopeless. Lizzy was dying, that was the bitter reality.

It was also clear now, that Lizzy was feeling pain and it would be the best to euthanize her. There is never a “right time” to euthanize a dying pet, in retrospective it will always be either too soon or too late. Too soon, because the pet by its own decision would rather stay alive according to its survival instinct. Too late because it will suffer unnecessary in a prolonged dying process.

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The relation between us and our feline companions can be viewed (or regarded) as a contract. The cat stays with us and is adjusting to our lifestyle as good as it can. In the nearly 10,000 years since men and cats have first joined forces, the cat species has already undergone significant adaptive changes, though incompatibilities remain and every cat will have to learn on her own, how to make the relationship with her human friend work. It can be a challenging process that needs patience and good will from both sides. Some cats may try to teach their host how to adapt to them — and they will mostly succeed.

As an additional part of the contract the cat may direct her/his affection to the human host and by this bonding improve the quality of life significantly. This is not obligatory, but all my cats do it and in this way help me to overcome the adversities of life. All my cat’s are “therapy cats”.

Our part of the contract is to give the cat food and shelter, to care for her/his health and to make important decisions like: which food to buy, when to consult the vet for treatment, and the most significant decision of all: when to end life.

I rather would not be the master of life and death. I rather would not be in a position where I have to decide about the life of humans, or cats, or any creature (with the exception of slugs, of mosquitos, ticks, and other nasty blood sucking insects). But I know what pain is, I’ve experienced pain which was so debilitating that I considered ending my life. Ending my life, just to stop the pain. Only the hope, that my condition would improve and that I would recover kept me going.

It is well established science, that mammals, birds, and other animals with an advanced neurological system can experience discomfort and pain. Although humans have a more developed cerebral cortex than animals, this part of the brain is concerned with intellect, with speech, with thinking in words. The basic impulses, emotions and feelings are located in the diencephalon, which is well developed in various species, especially mammals and birds.

Recent research has found that cats do suffer from pain nearly exactly the way we do, even though they may not show it noticeably and markedly. Cats hide pain and may behave perfectly normally when they experience pain because of their survival instinct (in the wild, a sick or injured animal is vulnerable to attack, so survival can depend on the animal’s ability to act like everything is fine).

Lizzy had pain and she didn’t hide it. She was dying and there was nothing left to do than to comfort her and to end her suffering as soon as possible.

Yet, by the time this became clear to me it was too late to bring Lizzy to the veterinarian and it seemed more likely that she would die at home in the night. I made myself ready for a long night and fetched a few blankets to prepare a makeshift sleeping place for myself. At 8 PM, Lizzy suddenly jumped down from the couch and crawled into a little straw basket in the corner of the sitting room, where my wife Herta had stored some of her painting paraphernalia and on top of them a few cleaning rags. I moved there too and sat down beside her. Half an hour later she vomited again a little bit of fluid. I emptied the basket and put a pillow from the couch in it and Lizzy accepted that and laid down again.

Lizzy was breathing heavenly, a clear sign of pain or at least discomfort. I stroke her and talked to her and she relaxed and started even purring. Purring doesn’t necessarily mean, that a cat feels well, cats also purr, when they are injured or sick, because purring helps the healing process. But regarding our special situation, I felt it and I saw it when she looked at me, that she was grateful for my attention and that it helped her getting by.

Memories of a beautiful friendship

My mind wandered off and all the happy moments that we spent together came up one after the other as if I would have unlocked and opened the treasure throve of memories. We had formed a strong bond in the eight years since Lizzy and I first met. The relationship grew over the years to a point, where I was not only her best friend but also her main reason of life.

Unfortunately this also meant, that she demanded more attention and time than I was able to give.

Lizzy was always a loner and didn’t like other cats. Harry, the first cat and the leader of Mato’s cat family till his untimely death in 2008 was her only friend beside me. I don’t know, how Lizzy grow up. The neighboring farmer told us, that she appeared in 1992 and was straying around the various farms in the area. He could remember the exact year because he was just building a new stable at that time.

This means that Lizzy for the first 10 years of her life was lurking in the barns and stables, catching a lot of mice and rats. The farmers liked her and praised her for her hunting skills, but that doesn’t mean, that anybody took care of her. She was in fact a feral cat.

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Here, in this small country in the middle of Europe, everything is well regulated and — in comparison to other places — well organized. Neutering and spaying cats is mandatory, and the farmers are not excepted from this rule, though many ignore it. The farmers need the cats for keeping the rodent population in check.

The feral cat population is not as big as for instance in the USA, where according to differing estimations between 30 and 60 million feral cats roam the woods and plains. The stray cat population here is much smaller and it is only because of irresponsible pet hosts and farmers that feral cats exist at all.

There are many cats in the rural areas who live in feral cat colonies loosely attached to farms. In winter these poor animals somehow survive hiding in the stables and barns, and most of them die after three or four years from epidemic diseases or parasites. One of our neighbors had to fetch several times young cats from another farm because the whole cat population on his farm was wiped out by an epidemic.

It is remarkable that Lizzy under this circumstances survived for ten years and alone this fact proves, that she was a tough and very robust animal. Yet, the independent, freewheeling life took a toll on her. When we moved into the area, occupying an old farmhouse there, Lizzy, along with other cats, occasionally visited our place. She looked quite sick and shabby and that was the main reason, my wife Herta didn’t want to take care of her or other straying cats and instead in spring of 2002 one day unexpectedly brought home Harry.

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Harry was a castrated tomcat and he had a slightly damaged shoulder as a result of being hit by a car and not adequately treated afterwards. I had always resisted the idea of adopting a cat because after my beloved Babycat (a beautiful and highly intelligent feline) was killed by an idiot who drove by my house far to fast in his fancy cabriolet, I wanted to avoid any emotional strife that one is inevitably poised to undergo as a pet host.

It was three month later, in August 2002, when a farmer woman told us that her husband had injured a cat with his mowing machine. The cat had been hiding in the high grass and the sharp blades of the mowing machine had cut off one of her front paws. “The cat is fine” the farmer woman told us. “That is a tough one. She is jumping around and already fetching mice again.”

I was working on an audio recording in my studio the next day when I looked out of the window and saw an animal hopping along the driveway. There were all the time hares running and hopping across the surrounding meadows but this was not a hare. I knew instantly that this was the mutilated cat and ran down and out of the door, yelling “hello, hello, come here“. The animal stopped and after a moment turned 90 degrees and hopped towards me.

It was the injured cat. It was the cat that had strayed around the house. The cat looked terrible. The stump of her front paw was black, it was hard for me to look at it. I kneeled down to the cat and held her for a moment. Then I ran into the house and fetched Harry’s cup, filled it up with dry food and brought it out to her. She did eat all of it, she was very hungry. I stayed with her and talked to her and held her. My wife Herta would come home from work soon and help me.

When Herta came home, she called the veterinarian and asked, if she could bring the cat for an emergency treatment. The vet agreed, I put the cat into the pet carrier that we had bought for Harry and Herta drove away. A little time later the telephone rang and Herta told me, that the cat would survive, but it would be costly. No, I didn’t mind the expense. I’m not rich, I have to spend my money wisely, but this cat, which ran towards me with faith and hope, this cat would get the best possible care.

Herta brought Lizzy back the next afternoon. I had chosen the name Lizzy, because it blended well with Harry. “Harry and Lizzy,” that sounded nice. I know the history and the styles of popular music, I played long enough with commercial bands. I also know the band Thin Lizzy, though Irish rock music is not my style. Lizzy was a little cat and she had nothing to do with Irish rock music, but she was thin, she was terribly thin. 

She looked even thinner, because half of her fur coat had been shaved off for the surgeries. The vet had to remove the left front leg completely, because it was already effected by gangrene. Lizzy was also spayed, but that was a minor procedure compared to the amputation.

Lizzy thin

Lizzy was a female ginger cat with a faint tabby pattern. Female ginger cats are rare for genetic reasons (a normal female has XX genetic makeup and must inherit two ginger genes to be a ginger cat). The widespread myth that female ginger cats are infertile is wrong and Lizzy proved that. The farmers told us that she had been pregnant quite often and that she delivered and raised her babies usually in an unused section of the barn that belonged to the old farmhouse where I was living. 

When Lizzy came back I gave here first some special food and water. Then I put her into a straw basket. I had folded a soft blanket and put it into the basked so that she could rest comfortably. She was still severely affected by the anesthesia and had balancing problems. She was very week and lethargic. 

I had set up a litter box in the big barn room that was connected with the house. This room was the former pig stable. I had adapted the room in the month before, put new windows in and sealed all holes so that we could use it for Herta’s painting courses. The litter box was quite big and hooded, Herta had brought it from her old flat — it had been the box of her former cat Tommy. I showed Lizzy the box and she used it instantly. Lizzy probably had never seen a litter box before, but she was a clever cat and knew right away, what it was for.

Harry didn’t use a litter box. He alway went out when the need arose and he waited patiently, when the door was closed. Harry never caused any problems with “inappropriate elimination” and as it came out, Lizzy also never would.

Lizzy recovered fast. We kept her in the house for one week and then let her go out. I didn’t have to work in the music school because of the summer holidays and could accompany her to make sure, that she didn’t run away — after all, Lizzy had been a wild cat and she was not used to a domestic life. But my fears were unfounded, Lizzy had no intention to run away. She sometimes wanted to visit her old places in the barns of the two neighboring farms but she never went beyond that.

One day in September Lizzy disappeared unexpectedly. I looked into every corner in every room, then went out and ran around the house and looked in every possible hiding place of the barn, I looked into the garage and into the vegetable garden. I called her name at the top of my lungs, but Lizzy didn’t show up. I went back into the house, frustrated and depressed, sitting down in the living room. Had I lost my dear cat friend now? I liked her so much and I had thought that she liked me. Just a few days before she had started to purr. Lizzy couldn’t purr, when she joined our family. She couldn’t purr, because her life had been miserable until then and she had never experienced situations where relaxing and purring would have been appropriate (at least that was my explanation of this particular fact).

As I sat there quietly thinking about Lizzy’s purring progress, I actually heard a faint sound of purring. I first thought, that it was a trick of my mind, but as I focused it became clear, that the purring was real. Lizzy was right here, hiding somewhere in the living room! I had already looked into every corner, under the coffee table, behind the couches and flowerpots, behind the big glass cabinet and the CD storage.

A had not looked behind the books. One wall of the living room was completely covered with a bookshelf. It was a library wall unit filled up with approximately 2,000 books. My wife Herta had the habit, to arrange her books in line with the front edge of the shelves, so there was space behind the small sized books. I stood up and went quietly to the shelf. The sound lead me to a shelf in the middle of the unit. I pulled out a few books and there she was! She smiled at me and her purring became louder and louder. She had tricked me and she enjoyed it so much. Lizzy had jumped from a couch onto the books and squeezed into the space behind without moving any book from its place. Only a cat can do that!

I pulled some more books out and took her and she snuggled into my arms. I was standing there with her for some time. She was continuously purring and if I would have been able, I would have purred too. Unfortunately I cannot purr, but I felt peaceful and contend. It was one of the good days in my life!

The emergence of “Mato’s cat family”

The already mentioned Harry was a huge spaded tomcat, friendly, very settled, and uncomplicated. Harry was nevertheless curious and a bit uneasy when Lizzy joined the family; he felt instinctively, that Lizzy would steal some attention away from him. He also tried to assert his authority, as every cat will do. Lizzy never accepted any authority and would never give in despite her disability.  When Harry lashed out at her she couldn’t hit back but she hissed and she never backed down. Sometimes she would stand up on her hind legs so she could hit back with her remaining paw. 

I made it very clear to Harry that he should leave Lizzy alone and occasionally chased him away or threw him out for some hours. Cat experts say, one never should do that, because punishment doesn’t work with cats, but in this case it worked and after some weeks Harry accepted Lizzy’s special status. He understood, that Lizzy was no threat to his dominating role and he left her alone. The two cats also didn’t have to fight over territory, the house was big enough for both. Lizzy had her place near me either in the music studio or in the bedroom. Harry occupied and reigned the rest of the house.

Who said that old cats can’t learn new tricks? Maybe old dogs can’t learn new trick, but cats are different!

My dear Lizzy at least proved to be very adaptive and she had no difficulties in being a house cat despite living 10 years in the wild. Lizzy was also, like most cats, a natural loner, but over the course of six years she nevertheless became friends with Harry, the undisputed head of the cat family, and she was quite disturbed, when Harry tragically died at the untimely age of only six years.

I didn’t have installed a cat flap, when Lizzy arrived, but Harry and Lizzy always waited patiently till I opened the entrance door. Occasionally they both scratched at the door though this was often not loud enough to be recognized by me or my wife. When it was more urgent or they had waited in vain for too long, Harry meowed and Lizzy knocked on the door with her head.

I was terrified by the notion that Lizzy hat to bang her pretty little head onto the hard wood of the door and therefore installed a cat flap as soon as possible.

Lizzy underwent a miraculous transformation in the following years. She gained weight and her fur became shiny, prompting visitors quite a few times to congratulate me for this beautiful cat. The visitors were even more stunned when they discovered that Lizzy had only three legs.

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It was in spring 2003, when my wife Herta was told by a girlfriend, that her cat had given birth to three kittens a few weeks ago and she would have to kill them because she couldn’t afford to feed another three cats (she obviously also couldn’t afford to fix her cat so that she would not get offspring in the first place).

When Herta came home, she told me about the kittens. As we had already Harry and Lizzy, who both were doing fine and had grown accustomed to each other, I didn’t have any intend to change the situation and cause disturbance and turmoil by taking in additional cats.

Yet, when we drove by the house of Herta’s friend a few days later, my wife wanted to have at least a look at the kittens. “Maybe we take one“, Herta said. “Harry will not feel challenged by the tiny little newcomer and Lizzy might even adopt the kitten, she raised so many babies before.” That was at least what Herta thought.

I was not ready to take even one of the little cats, but I accompanied Herta and she introduced me to her girlfriend. The woman led us to the backside of the house and fetched a small straw basket from a shed. In the basket were three tiny little bundles of fur, The kittens were curled together as if they wanted to protect each other. They looked incredibly cute. When Herta took the basket, one of the kittens raised its head and hissed at her, it obviously wanted to frighten her and chase her away. We all had to laugh, because it looked so funny (as it later came out, the kitten that hissed at Herta was Rosy).

Herta handed the basket back to her friend and the woman asked: “Will you take them? I have to know, because otherwise I’ll hurl them to death right away.” People in this rural area here are not used to spend any money on cats. If cats get unwanted offspring, the kittens are killed by either trowing them against the wall or drowning them in a bucket of water. The idea that this three lovely little cat babies would get killed was unbearable for me and I decided instantly, that we would take them. Not only one, but all three of them.

There were now five cats, and after my wife transferred one to her sister in Munich, there were still four: Harry, Lizzy, and the two young ones, Rosy and her brother Paul.

Rosy soon became Harries disciple and close friend, while Lizzy never warmed up to the newcomers. She at least learned to live with them and the four cats often rested or slept together side by side.

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In 2014 two unexpected developments significantly changed the character and appearance of Mato’s cat family.

First, the cats developed the habit of making regular walks with me in the surrounding meadows and fields. It started quite benign as a walk around the house in the evening. I had the habit of walking, before I went to bed, around the house, the attached stable, the garage, and the vegetable garden, looking if all doors and windows were closed and everything was in the right place. The cats were mostly in the meadows, sitting and waiting in front of mouse holes. When they saw me walking around the house they ran towards me and followed me.

Out of curiosity I extended the walks to include the adjacent fruit trees and later a meadow, but the cats followed me still. I walked then along the gaps between the fields, visiting nearby thickets and a small lake. As the distances grew bigger, Lizzy struggled to keep pace, but she bravely, if not to say heroically, hopped along and it became clear that the participation in these walks was for her and her fellow cats the bonding activity, the defining feature, the firm and unquestionable manifestation that they were a special group, a community, a family.

The second unexpected development in 2004 was the arrival of Princess Min Ki. I first called her Queen Min Ki because commonly fertile female cats are called “queens,” but after she got spayed she consequently had to be denoted to a princess. The name also takes into account that Princess Min Ki developed some interest in the frogs that are populating the garden ponds and nearby lakes. Not to kiss them, but to kill them. Unfortunately she was successful at least once.

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Princess Min Ki grew up on a nearby farm, but after raising her first kittens she decided to leave farm life behind and join Mato’s cat family. She has a remarkable social instinct which enabled her to quietly and smoothly slip into the family, even becoming the leader of the family after Harry’s tragic death. She never had any problems with Lizzy and they treated each other respectfully.

I first became aware of Princess Min Ki when she followed us along our walk in a reverential distance of some 20 meters. During the following walks the distance became shorter and shorter till the Princess suddenly was part of the group. The other cats were initially bewildered, but at that time they had already become accustomed to the quiet and unpretentious new family member without even realizing it.

Pain and joy

The years 2006 and 2007 were the most happy time in my life despite the fact that Lizzy suffered from a debilitating flea infestation which the vet only could cure by bathing her in a special lotion, and that Lizzy was two times severely bitten by other animals.

Lizzy had the habit to visit her old hunting places in the barns and stables of two neighboring farms. She lurked there in the timberwork, watching for rodents. With only tree legs she was not fast enough to catch anything, but this had been her routine for ten years and she just wanted to keep some parts of it alive.

I don’t know how it happened and which animal attacked her, but one evening she came home frightened and distraught, though there was no visible injury. Two days later she was seemingly in pain and when I brought her to the vet it came out, that some deep wounds, concealed by her fur, were already infected and full of pus.

A second similar incident was even more devastating, as the vet initially overlooked the wound and Lizzy needed surgery to remove inflamed tissue from her back. Lizzy recovered, but walking along with the other cats became very exhausting for her and I occasionally had to carry her in my arms for a stretch of hundred meters or so.

As Lizzy became more weak and frail, she was also more depending on my. She didn’t visit her old places anymore and stayed beside me all the time. She preferably rested on my lap and I had to find ways to practice piano and guitar with her on my lap or at least resting beside me. 

She also developed the habit of scratching on my bedroom door till I went up and let her in. This was usually in the first two hours after midnight. When I had let her in, Lizzy waited till I was in bed again and then she jumped onto the bed and laid down right beside me either on the blanket or on the pillow and she often pressed her little head against my cheek.

Other cats were scratching on my bedroom door too, but Lizzy had a distinct pattern of scratching, and I knew alone from the sound and tempo of the scratching which cat was waiting at the door. Lizzy scratched three times, then made a pause before scratching another three times. My unconscious brain obviously paid special attention to her pattern, because I always woke up instantly, when Lizzy wanted to come in. Other cats had to scratch harder and longer to wake me up.

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2008 was not a good year because Harry died from an incurable liver infection. During summer he had become withdrawn and had difficulties to lead the cat family during our obligatory walks. The vet also had to pull two infected teeth. In his last month of life, Harry did not eat much, but he was still an excellent mouse catcher and so he brought his catch to Lizzy, who gratefully accepted it.

Harry’s death was a blow to all of us. I lost one of the best friends that I ever had and even as I write this I have to wipe my eyes. He was, together with Lizzy and the other cats, responsible for the happiest years of my life until now and I’m deeply indebted to him. A debt that I try to pay back to the cats which are still with me.

Once, as Harry sat alone in the meadow watching a mouse hole, I kneeled down beside him and hugged him. He rubbed his head against my hand and purred and we were quietly sitting together for a few minutes. This is my lasting memory of him and I only regret that I didn’t spend more time with him.

Moving to another place with cats is said to be very complicated, but in cannot confirm this. My feline friends clearly don’t want to be too far and too long away from home, but their home is where my home is, wherever that may be.

In 2009 I moved into the house where I now live. I had two month time to prepare and modify our new home. When I worked in the new house and stayed there over night, sleeping on an improvised berth, I first brought my friend Lizzy to the house. She liked to be around me and it was a wonderful time for her, because she had my undivided attention. The other cats stayed in the old house with my wife Herta.

When I fetched them a few weeks later I confined them for two days inside the house, which is big and filled up with all kind of furniture, music equipment, and computers. It was an exciting new place to explore. After this two days they went out and looked around in the big garden and the surrounding area and they made the place to their own.

Paul sadly didn’t come with us, he was always an outsider and none of the other cats liked him. He had tried to become the new leader of the family after Harry’s death, but Princess Min Ki tricked him out easily and took the crown without even a fight or any kind of violent confrontation. After that disappointment Paul was very often away and I assume that he had a second family. I hope that they treat him well and that he has a good life.

I thought that with the move to our new home the ritual of our daily walks would come to an end, because the house was surrounded by two other properties south and west, a field in the north, and a deep forest in the east.

The cats initially swarmed out across the field to look for mice there but after only a few days they discovered the magic of the forest and started exploring it. Another few days later they made it clear to me that we had to continue our walks. They made it clear to me by waiting across the little road which divides the forest from the garden, meowing and looking at me.

So I came with them and we explored the mysteries of the forest together. Lizzy though didn’t participate anymore, the walks had become too strenuous for her.

I knew now that the end was near.

The reality of life and death

All these memories flashed through my mind as I sat beside Lizzy in her basket. Eight years after we found each other, eight years of a beautiful friendship. Only eight years, because Lizzy was at the end of her life. She was terrible thin and her fur was a bit dull. Quit similar to her appearance, when I first met her. The difference was, that we had spent eight years together and we liked each other and we needed each other. The difference was, that she would not recover. This was the reality. Life is brutal, life is unforgiving, life is often hard to bear. The reality of life is, that it ends with death!

It was 10 PM now. I continued talking to Lizzy and touched her and caressed her. Lizzy purred, but she turned from one side to the other more often than she normally would do. She for sure felt discomfort. I was tired now and collected the blankets in the room to put together a makeshift bed where I could lay down beside Lizzy. Herta brought me a few more blankets — it would get cold in the night. I laid down beside Lizzy, whispering to her and talking about all the wonderful moments, that we had together and the sweet little secrets that we had together. Sweet little secrets, that nobody else knew or would ever know.

Occasionally I had to leave the room to go to the toilet or brush my teeth or drink a glass of water. When I stood up and went out, Lizzy lifted her head and her eyes followed me and when I came back, she looked again and she laid down her little head relieved, when I laid down beside her. I knew that I should not leave her alone for too long.

My mind wandered off again and pictures appeared and scenes of Lizzy’s life started again playing in my head. It was not a continuous film, it was not chronological. It was not a story that one could put down on paper. I knew that I would have to sort the scenes and pictures and I would have to reach deep into my memory to fill the gaps. I would have to compose a story and write it down, I owed it to her.

This is the reason you now read this text about Lizzy’s life.

At 2 AM I fell asleep again. Lizzy was still purring and she surprisingly looked now more relaxed and content. I had my hand on her back. When I woke up after approximately half an hour I had a song in my head. This happened quite frequently in the years after my episode of cancer and I often turned on the computer instantly after waking up to write down the lyrics. There are hundreds of song lyrics in a special folder (backed up on other computers in the house). The folder has the title: “Some bad rhymes from MATO”.

Right now I had not the energy to turn on the computer and I didn’t want to leave Lizzy’s side. So I forgot the lyrics after a few minutes. Later I tried to reconstruct the rhymes and it could have been something like this:

I leave the zone of evil
There’s nothing I will need or miss
I’ll reach a place, where nothing is
No pain, no grief, no joy, no bliss

Nothing remarkable, nothing to behold. Just an outbreak of desperation and hopelessness. I looked at Lizzy, she had turned and I couldn’t see her face. I gently touched her head between the ears and she sighed. I slowly stroke her back. She was so thin, I could feel every vertebrae and every single rib. I started again talking to her and I told her, that I would never forget her and that I was so grateful for the joy that she brought into my life. When I run out of words, I simply said: Lizzy, if you would know, how much I need you, you would live another ten years.

I knew, that this was not correct. The feeling of happiness and love can greatly improve the health and heal many sicknesses, but it cannot repair a severely damaged organ or cure an advanced cancer. Lizzy’s liver and kidneys were probably beyond repair, her whole metabolism had broken down, the only thing that kept her living were her feelings for me. Maybe it was selfish of me to hinder her going to the place, where nothing is…

Makes it sense to cling to life just to experience the feeling of love?

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Lizzy died on June 1st 2010 and I wrote this part of the text in the week after her death. I didn’t publish the text, because I was not satisfied with it. Lizzy was my best friend for eight year and this text is very important for me. I’m still not satisfied with the present version, but for the time being it is the best I can do and maybe one day I will be able to correct and improve it.

This story is about a little cat and some readers may say: Well, its only a cat. Don’t overdo it!

Lizzy was a cat, but I regarded her as a person, a dear friend, with a different appearance and different talents than humans obviously, but with the same rights as my other fellow creatures. Why shall I distinguish between “human rights” and “feline rights?” Why shall I condone the arrogance of speciesism?

I’m not an overly social person — like Woody Allen said: “I’m not antisocial, I’m just not social.” Accordingly I had not many close friends in my life, yet, I encountered a few remarkable persons for which I have deep respect, who advised me and helped me in my quest, who enriched and brightened my life, who comforted me and saved me. This group of persons include my teacher at the Music University Professor Luise Walker, a worldwide renowned guitar virtuoso of her time, a yoga teacher whom I met during my music studies, a Zen priest, and a protestant priest from South Korea. I’m an atheist (or agnostic, pantheist, Buddhist), but the two priests impressed me very much and I learned a lot just watching them and listening to them.

There were other important persons in my life, like my parents, my wives in two marriages and a few longtime lovers, my son, some of my grammar school teachers, some colleagues, some fellow musicians like Blues lady Jeanne Carroll, with whom I worked for a while, and Jazz singer Ines Reiger, who was my vocal teacher.

And there was Lizzy — she helped me, taught me, changed me. She belongs to the group of remarkable persons in my life.

It was a bad day, when Lizzy died.

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I had quite a few bad days in my life and they all come to my mind right now. I have a very good memory and I can remember many of these days in great detail. The memories still hurt. I found out in the many years of my life, that a good memory is not always beneficial, it can also be a burden….

It was a bad day, when my father told me, that mama had died. It was a bad day twelve years later, when I got the telegram, that my father had died and a similar bad day, when we walked behind his casket in the freezing cold of a winter morning. Me, my then wife Karin, and Mrs. Kraus, a neighbor and close friend of the family. Snow was falling. Nobody else came to the funeral.

It was a bad day, when my first girlfriend suggested to me, that we should part. I loved her and will always remember her kindly. It was a bad day, when I left Vienna without any notice to my friends. I had a complicated but not hopeless relation to a woman, who wanted to come with me. I didn’t give her any chance and I wonder, what became of her and where she may be now.

I vividly remember all the bad days, when I lost my temper and did things, that I deeply regretted afterwards. The days, when I had a heated argument and got into a fistfight. The days when I became violent and hit people instead of talking to them. The days, when I got into a violent rage and smashed things to pieces. There were several bad days that I better don’t describe here. I’m ashamed of my conduct in these events and I can only hope, that the witnesses have forgotten about it and the victims have forgiven me.

It was a bad day, when my first wife Karin stood over night with my best friend. I had been unfaithful for some years and had betrayed her with various women. Now she betrayed me and I could’t cope with it. I didn’t even realize the hypocrisy and the double standards that I applied. I hardly slept a minute this night, but in the morning I went out before she came back and I met my mistress and we drove to a remote place deep in the woods and made love there.

It was a bad day, when Babycat died. I was shocked, when I stepped out of the door and saw her lying on the road in a pool of blood. Her body was warm, she must have been hit only a few seconds before. I can remember that it was overcast, though the sun shone through the clouds and colored everything into an unreal reddish hue.

I fetched a box from the kitchen and put her in, I had to drive to school. I cried the whole way to the music school and I felt so shaken, that I hardly made it through the lessons. In the evening I buried Babycat in the garden. My son Alexander made a little cross that we put on the grave. Her grave was right under the window of my working room and her little body was only two meters away from where I was sitting normally.

It was a bad day, when I damaged my relation to a female colleague irreversibly. We went along quite well and if I would have been patient and given her more time to adjust and sort things out we could have made it. We were both married and our marriages were in ruins. I wanted to force her into a decision she was not ready to make yet. How foolish I was!

It was a bad day some years later when my girlfriend Edith realized, that her two little kids wouldn’t move to a far away place where they didn’t know anybody. The children fought with vigor and determination, I cannot blame them. Edith stayed in her town and didn’t move to me and the relation faded and ended.

It was a bad day when the specialist from the hospital called me and revealed, that the skin tumor was a lymphoma cancer. It was a bad day, when two other tumors were found and it became clear, that I had to undergo chemo therapy. It was a bad day, when I stood in the shower and all my hair was on the floor of the shower cabin. It was a bad day when my left hand started feeling numb and became paralyzed in a few hours (it remained paralyzed for half a year). There were also a lot of bad days in my childhood when I was hospitalized and was near death, struck by diphtheria and four times by pneumonia. I have only vague and sketchy memories about my early years, but these events were for sure traumatic experiences that significantly shaped my personality.

It was a bad day, when I went with Harry to the vet, only to hear, that his liver was failing and I had to euthanize him. The following day my old duck Wulliwu was killed by the dog of my sister in law.

The day of Lizzy’s death is a new entry in this list. I cannot call it the worst day, because there were events in my life that did hurt more. It would also be utterly useless to make a ranking or a top ten list of my bad days. All I can say is, that it was hard enough and that it was one of the remarkable bad days. It was a very bad day, because Lizzy was the closest and dearest of all the animal friends in my life.

The end is the end

When we went to the animal clinic at 11 AM it was evident that it would be for the last time. Somewhere in my heart I still had the faint hope, that maybe Lizzy had a severe constipation or some other not outright deadly condition, but my intellect told me, that this was very unlikely. Herta drove the car, I sat beside her with Lizzy’s basket on my lap. I had my hand on Lizzy’s back and stroke her. The cat had never made a car ride in an open basket, she was always in a pet carrier. Lizzy was puzzled by the uncommon experience and she stood up in the basket and looked out the windscreen. We just drove down a hill on a serpentine road in a landscape of fields and meadows and occasional trees. After half a minute Lizzy became tired of watching and she laid down again and curled up in the basket.

When we arrived at the clinic we had only to wait for a minute. The veterinarian was a young woman which I had not seen before. A look into Lizzy’s eyes and some investigative touching made it clear: Lizzy was dying. She had no constipation, her bowels and her bladder were empty. The desperate attempts she made in the morning to relief herself were probably because she felt discomfort that was similar to a constipation.

There was nothing I could do for her and I decided to end her life and her pain. I would have liked to hold her in my arm in the last seconds of her life but the veterinarian said: “no, we know best how to do it,” and before I could respond anything the assistant took Lizzy and the vet stung the needle into her front leg, Lizzy protested angrily, she didn’t want to get another shot, she didn’t know, that it was for the very last time. In a few second’s Lizzy was asleep and then she got the deadly injection.

I know, that her heart would stop beating soon, her brain would be destroyed because of the lack of new oxygen and all the information there that had accumulated in the last eight years would be gone. All her affection for me and her gratefulness to me, all her memories about me would not exist anymore.

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My brain is still intact (or at least it appears at the moment to be intact) and my memories about Lizzy are rich and vivid. My affection and gratefulness to her is bigger than ever with the difference, that a profound feeling of guilt is now added to all the other emotions. All my emotions and memories concerning my friend Lizzy still exist, but there is no relationship between us two anymore. Lizzy cannot react and cannot give back the love. Lizzy is dead!

This is the quintessential meaning of loss. Loss is a common and frequent human experience, that can strike at any time. The feeling of loss is painful and it can be devastating. We have to cope with loss all the time and there are various methods to alleviate the pain and to overcome the feeling of loss:

One solution is to simply forget about it and go on with our lives. This particular method never worked for me. I still remember the moment when my father unexpectedly came into the classroom and talked shortly with the teacher. We just had geography lesson. My father wore his best suit and he walked somehow stiff. He looked very tired and his face was ash gray. I’ve never seen him like this before. My father went out and the teacher told me to pack my things and to go to my father. I felt the blood rush to my head, I collected my books and tools and hurried out.

My mother was in the hospital but is was a routine medical procedure and we expected her to be home in a few days. When my father told me in a mumbling and hardly understandable voice, that mama had died, I started crying and I cried the whole day long. A sat on a chair in the little flat of a neighbor, a woman who was a longtime friend of our family. She sat beside me and talked to me to calm and to comfort me. I did overcome this loss in a few weeks and I’m still wondering, if in a secret corner of my brain a subconscious emotional trauma may be hidden to come up one day unexpectedly and haunt me and break me down.

The death of my father 12 years later was a very different experience. I felt it much more intense and it came up in my dreams and in certain emotional situations again and again till today. “I still cannot move the stone from my fathers house”. One day this sentence came into my mind from nowhere and it is engraved in my brain, though I never figured out, what it really meant.

Another method to overcome loss is to believe in life after death, in an “afterlife”. I never believed in UFO’s, alien abductions, obscure conspiracy theories, and religious myths. I don’t believe, that our souls will raise to heaven or descent into hell, it is just a completely illogical concept and so obviously a construct of our mind to help overcome loss and to help coping with the inevitability of death.

It would be comforting of course to imagine, that Lizzy’s little cat soul is floating in cat heaven and that she is looking down at me and is waiting for me to join her one day and pet her and talk to her again in eternity. In fall, when I’m sitting at the garden pond and in the evening the glow worms are hovering above the water it would be a nice idea, that every little blue light is a cat soul. Maunzi would be there, Babycat and Fleckerl, Harry, Baerli, and Lizzy. Wulliwu would also be there, though a bit misplaced as a duck in cat heaven.

Wulliwu was an old duck, but the cats had never a problem with him and were often sitting side by side with him at the entrance door, showing all our visitors, that this was a very special household. Wulliwu’s little blue light would be easily distinguishable from the cat souls by his jerkily and (compared to the cat souls) rather inelegant movements.

A related method, to overcome loss, is the escape into a dream world, where the lost subject still exists. My father choose this method to cope with the untimely death of my mother — his beloved wife. He never looked for another woman, though there were quite some applicants knocking on his door. For him, to start another relation would have been a betrayal to the woman that he loved so dearly. When he went to bed, I heard him always talk to her, as if she was still alive, laying in bed beside him. He often talked for hours till he would fall asleep.

I cannot write about my father without being completely overwhelmed by emotions, so I have to stop now. I only want to add, that this method is not practical for me. All my life I have tried hard to curb my daydreams, fantasies, reveries, all my life I tried to quiet the brain chatter. I want to see, hear, feel my surrounding as clear as possible and not be distracted by runaway associations in my head. Our perception of the world around us is already severely restricted and distorted by the limitation of our senses and the structural deficiencies of our brain. Putting another layer of a “daydream reality” on top of our already limited and distorted personal reality could make it impossible, to react rational and appropriate to the events around us.

One method to overcome loss is, to redirect the memories and emotions to another individual. My father used this method in addition to the one I described before, when he put all his effort into helping me to find my way. I didn’t appreciate it and I didn’t give back the love in his lifetime, I only found out, how much I owed him when he died….

Redirecting my emotions to the remaining cats of the family will be my main method. The cats are all lovely animals and like Lizzy they are strong and distinct personalities.

Burying a friend

June 2. 2010. It was raining and much too cold for June when I drove to the place where I had to bury Lizzy. While we went home from the animal clinic I was considering my next steps and had the instant idea to ask this men, which I had seen only once before, if I could bury my little cat near his house. He was a retired civil engineer, who had bought the house cheaply a few years ago, and he had restored it and adapted it to his basic needs, making everything by himself. He lived there with two goats, two sheep, a pot-bellied pig, chickens, and a dog. He had an alternative lifestyle, no TV, no internet, no landline, only a cellphone just in case of an emergency.

When I visited and asked him, he agreed instantly to my plan and we choose an appropriate place in a quiet corner of the little fenced garden beside his house. We looked at some other places in the fields around the house that belonged to the property, but this secluded spot seemed best suited as Lizzy’s final resting place.

When I stopped at the house, he was out in the garden and he had already dug a hole and in a wheelbarrow beside the hole were some stones and a small piece of a rusty metal mesh (probably from an old fence). I was astonished and kind of ashamed that he had done all the hard work for me. We talked a little bit about various matters and then he left me alone so that I could conduct my burial ceremony in privacy.

This was the fourth animal friend that I laid to rest. The first was Babycat a long time ago in 1988. As I already mentioned, Babycat was the most intelligent cat I ever hosted, and she was beautiful too. 20 years later I had to bury Harry after he died unexpectedly and much too early from liver failure. Harry was only six years old and I had hoped, that he would accompany me for another 10 years or more. Harry was a big cat, he was the unchallenged head of the cat family and the main promoter and leader of our nearly daily and extensive walks in the surrounding meadows, fields and forests. A few days later I had to entomb Wulliwu, an old duck who was deadly wounded by the dog of my sister in law. I could write a long story about Wulliwu, but I leave this task for another day.

I lifted a few more shovels of earth out of the hole and then I took Lizzy from the basket, where she had spent the last night and day of her life, and put her gently into the hole. The body was completely stiff but the fur was still soft and pleasing to touch. I wondered, that some drops of blood had come out of her nose and dropped onto the paper tissue where she had been wrapped in. Aside from this disturbing detail, she looked much as if she was sleeping.

I always try to put things into the right perspective and I was surely aware, that just as I was moaning my little friend here, far away in the Gulf of Mexico millions of animals were poisoned by oil or the dispersant Corexit and were painfully dying. I surely was aware of it and I was mad about it and about the perpetrators from BP oil corporation.

I swear that I will do everything to keep my carbon footprint as small as possible and continuously reorganize my life and use the car only if there is no other possibility.

Lizzy was no environmental burden, she lived the first ten years of her life from the mice and rats that she caught in the barns of various farms and after joining the cat family she lived from a little bit of dry food, occasionally enhanced with special food from the veterinarian, and from the mice, that Harry brought her. Lizzy did not contribute anything to the current environmental devastation, her carbon footprint was tiny for sure.

I looked at her and I felt again this growing tension in my chest, my eyes watered up and I started sobbing. Some readers will consider that as overly sentimental and inappropriate — after all, It was only a little cat. In company I would probably have concealed my emotions, but as nobody was watching, I let my tears flow.

I bent the metal mesh, so that it fitted into the hole and laid it on Lizzy’s body and on top of that I placed a ceramic tile. The tile covered her body nearly completely and together with the metal grid it was sufficient protection to prevent a fox or other animals to dig out and fetch the corps. I didn’t need the stones. I shoveled the earth back into the hole and tried to clean up the surrounding as good as possible. I could make the surface plane, there was no mound. The grass would cover the grave soon and there would be no indication that a little cat body was resting there in the ground. Nobody would know except me and this man.

I called him and we shortly exchanged some further thoughts about various matters and about life in general. He asked me to walk his dog next Sunday. We had offered some weeks ago to care for his animals when he was visiting his children or his girlfriend.

I would have plenty of opportunities to visit Lizzy. Plenty of opportunities to cry again about a little cat.

Epilogue

Miss Marple, who soon will be 19 years old, has in the last time gradually assumed the position that Lizzy once occupied. She always is around me and follows me wherever I go and in the night she lays on the bed and purrs me to sleep with her soft voice.

Who said that cats are nocturnal animals? The cats in my family are for sure not more nocturnal than I am, they usually sleep when I sleep and they go up when I go up.

As I recall my memories of Lizzy, who was undoubtedly the greatest cat love of my life, and compare her with Miss Marple, I ask myself, if that will be my destiny: One by one accompanying and guarding my aging feline friends through their final years?

Helping them to close down their lives peacefully, gracefully, and dignified?

I could imagine a worse fate.

Maybe fate is kind, maybe it turns out this way — lets hope for the best.

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