20 Life Lessons From Black Cat Clyde in Kitty Heaven: A remembrance of his life and death a year ago today.
Who would have guessed he missed one of the worst years in memory but that’s so Clyde, quietly exiting at just the right time. No fanfare but memorable enough to die on his 20th birthday. Everyone grieves in their own way but most will agree the one year mark is significant. It’s a full cycle of seasons of blooming, dying and blooming again. There is comfort in knowing no matter how crazy the world is, spring will come again.
I’ve experienced the loss of many cats and not only is every loss different but the grieving journey unique in its rhythms. When we feel pain, it’s natural to want it to go away, to fill the empty space but I’ve learned to sink into the darkness to find the hidden treasure.
In this past year, Clyde taught me countless lessons but for the sake of space, I’m sharing twenty life lessons. It’s the best way I can think of to celebrate his long and remarkable life. Although Clyde wasn’t physically here, he helped me navigate 2020 from kitty heaven or spiritual realm. He was an incredibly stubborn, resourceful and resilient soul and if I’m in a pickle I can ask: What would Clyde do?
All the photos except one have not been published before. Clyde began blogging here in 2016 and if you’ve not read any of his posts, may I suggest Meet Clyde
- It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but it doesn’t apply to cats. Well, at least not Clyde. Like many kittens, he and his sibling Tootie were adopted from a shelter and lived a good life in a big house in leafy New Canaan, Connecticut. Fast forward 14 years and his beloved sister Tootie dies, two years later their elderly owner is unable to care for Clyde and is surrendered to the same shelter. He was 16 with CKD, undiagnosed diabetes and hearing loss living in a cage. Clyde, a shy old guy had no clue why his life had turned upside down.
No one was interested in adopting him. Months passed. Never say never. I fell in love from his photo and story. And just like that he began his new life in our home. After two weeks of hiding, it was back to the vet and a new diagnosis: diabetes. A learning curve of testing for both of us but he felt better with daily insulin shots. We all adjusted and adapted to the joys of life with a senior cat.
Thinking of adopting of fostering a older cat? Do it. It will change your life.
Another huge life change happened two years later when we moved to a new house. Nervous about the huge move after 18 years, I worried about uprooting him yet again, but it was the best thing that ever happened. We loved our new home and Clyde found his second lease in life. I can honestly say, he was the happiest I’d ever seen him. Seeing him thrive in unexpected ways brought huge comfort during my grieving process in the past year.
2. Cat Love Is Until Death Do Us Part (Usually)
Chances are when you adopt a kitten, they will love you but what about an older cat who once loved someone else? I was lucky to connect with and maintain a relationship with Letty, Clyde’s former owner. She filled in many gaps about Clyde’s former life I found incredibly insightful. It was no accident he loved sitting by the sliding glass doors in our new home because they were identical to the ones in his former home.
I believe pet ownership is a responsibility for the life of the pet. While I would move heaven and earth to care for all my pets, I learned that life and relationships are complicated. What was that about man plans, God laughs?
The past year, colored by a pandemic upended many of my beliefs. None of us know what the future holds. All we can do is love our cats and make provisions in the event of an untimely death or major life change.
As Clyde aged, I made regular adjustments for his comfort. I placed the massage table (for my acupuncture appointments) by a sunny kitchen window which he adored. He bounced up easily at first, then needed a step stool and eventually he needed to be lifted up. He never complained.
3. Nature Is Our Best Healer and Teacher
To my shock and surprise, indoor-only Clyde wanted to go outside the new house immediately. It was raining but he didn’t mind. Something came over him and I understood why after Letty described the sliding glass doors and garden of his former home. The similarity must have triggered a memory and he seemed like a completely different cat. Younger, happier, curious. I carefully watched him explore a grassy patch. Letty also mentioned that he’d escaped once and went missing for six weeks. He returned no worse for wear. Who knew this old boy wanted to be an adventure cat?
At this point Clyde is deaf and insists on going out daily rain or shine. My life revolves around his comfort. He is closely supervised on his outdoor adventures. I’m convinced his daily fresh air grounding regardless of the weather or season acted like a tonic.
I agree with Clyde and I continue to ground myself outdoors barefoot even in the snow following in Clyde’s paw prints.
4. You Deserve Pleasure
Spring turned to a long hot summer and Clyde did not mind being bathed outdoors. Remember he loved the rain. As the weather cooled and his appetite waned, dining al fresco worked well. We often ate outside picnic style and why not. We all deserve pleasure. During quarantine, I continue to dine al fresco as often as possible.
5. Be Open To New Things
Clyde wore many hats: writer, blogger, book reviewer, tarot and astrology maven but he never quite mastered product reviews. It was beneath him and I never pushed the point. He continued to be open to new things and I figured if an old cat of 19 could be, then so could I. As always, lifestyle adjustments were made. Clyde never had litter box issues but as his arthritis progressed, we had to get an extra large, low-sided litter box for easier entry.
6. Respecting Boundaries Is Healthy and Wise
We all know you can’t tell a cat what to do. They can be trained but only if they agree to it. Clyde reminded me of an older James Bond character, a Sean Connery with deadly wit and quiet charm. He knew his boundaries and these days it’s more important than ever to respect boundaries invisible and visible with social distancing.
7. Winning Awards is Gratifying But Not as Much As Kindness and Honesty
Clyde influenced when and where I write. Usually sitting on the coach or bed and never at a desk. I liked his editorial energy nearby with his tail often dusting my keyboard. Clyde wrote one of the stories in Black Cats Tell All: True Tales And Inspiring Images. It won a Muse Medallion Award not that Clyde cared a whit. Winning any award brings a temporary elation but then it’s back to work as usual. Time feels like it’s rushing by faster than ever. My book is old news by now and I’d rather embrace Clyde’s attitude of appreciating kindness and honesty.
If you haven’t seen it, there ya go.
8. It’s In The Cards
This oldie of Clyde is from Instagram @BlackCatsofIG
He loved tarot cards and being my muse helped inspire me. He’d say it’s all in the cards and I’ll add, don’t worry about a thing. We have free will and make our own choices. The cards just reveal the possibilities and consequences of our actions.
9. The Art Of Beauty Is Thinking Outside The Box
I’ll let you chew on this quote. In my opinion, Clyde was a big, black beautiful cat with soulful eyes and thick tail. His true beauty while external extended to his heart and soul. He’d always been a sweet, shy cat according to Letty. Oh to have known him in the fullness of his youth but who is to say he was any less beautiful in old age. It’s got me thinking how I view beauty as I’m aging. Is it just me or has everyone aged faster in the past year?
10. After the storm, The sun returns.
Clyde loved watching the weather. He intently watched the winds swirl, rain fall, the clouds move, the sun set. He didn’t mind getting wet and I embrace the same love of weather watching. No matter how crappy the weather, I know the sun will return. I often sit near the front door as Clyde did, bundled up in cold weather to watch the sun set with a cocktail or hot cocoa. At this time of the year, the days are getting longer and brighter. I like to think Clyde would approve. Yes to sun bathing again soon!
11. Find comfort in unexpected places
Cats are creatures of comfort but according to their own rules. At the old house, Clyde slept on a pillow above my head but in the new house he preferred a bookcase cubby beside the fireplace. I made it as cozy as possible and didn’t fault his preferences. The massage table with soft pillows and blankie was his favorite place in his final months. Comfort is as individual as a fingerprint. In the past year, I made many decorating changes in the name of comfort and I know Clyde would approve.
12. Fall Down Six Times, Get Up Seven
Clyde had diabetic neuropathy which was well managed until the final few months of his life. That and arthritis made walking wobbly at times. He rarely sprinted anymore but it didn’t stop him from wanting to take his daily walk. If he toppled, he’d get back up. You can see the determination in his face. He’d say, “Pick yourself up, God Damn It! Keep going. It’s not the end of the world. Things will get better.”
13. Celebrate Every Season
Clyde would go outside in any weather but he was no fool. Remember comfort ruled. Despite the pandemic I found it more important to celebrate and honor every season. The front door was prettied up with flowers and seasonal ornaments. Solstices and Equinoxes observed. Any reason to celebrate was good enough for me. Another day I’m alive and well, yay! I loved the ritual of lighting the Christmas tree every evening so much the tree is still up. My favorite decorations are the ones I painted of all our cats including of course Clyde.
14. To Tan Or Not To Tan?
As Clyde enjoyed a sunny summer, his coat turned a rusty hue from melanin. I’m normally not big on sun tanning but we used to hang out together in the garden catching rays. The only difference being I’d wear sunscreen.
15. Older Wiser. Nice And Naughty
This was taken a month before Clyde died. His fur was getting scruffy despite daily brushing. He was rarely a naughty boy but had he wanted to, I’d say go for it, life is too short. The prospect of death looming puts everything into perspective. Have that extra piece of cheesecake. Call an old friend. Go sky diving. The last year has taught me to say no more and do more of what gives me joy. We don’t need daily Covid death tolls to know life is short.
16. Party As If It’s Your Last Party
This was our last party on the Winter Solstice of 2019. Who knew it would be our last social gathering for the foreseeable future. It was Clyde’s last party too. He hung out with the guests and in his bookcase cubby (see him?). Being deaf was bonus. He wasn’t bothered by the noise and music. It ended up being a lovely send-off party for Clyde with family and friends saying good-byes. I’m not expecting you to party in any fashion, just carpe diem okay?
17. Remember The Clear Light of Your True Home
Clyde took a sharp decline last January. After a heart-stopping night where I thought he’d died, we knew his time was ending. On a stormy January day a vet arrived and said he was dying and it was kinder to euthanize than have him suffer a few more days. It made practical sense to use the massage table I covered him afterward for the night. The next day the storm cleared and a blinding light streamed in Clyde’s favorite window. The fitting quote is from The Tibetan Book Of The Dead. The sound of Tibetan Buddhist chants and prayers filled the room. Herbs and incense wafted in the sunlight. As a shamanic practitioner, I guided Clyde with his spirit guides to the next part of his journey.
As so many of us are grappling with death this year, I truly believe Clyde’s death made it easier to navigate a year of loss. It was never clearer that death is a beginning and not an ending. It’s a one way return ticket home.
18. Leave footprints worth following
There will never be another Clyde but he’s inspired me and many others through my book and outreach on social media to adopt black cats.
19. What is named and remembered lives
After we buried Clyde in the garden I wrote his name in stones before his headstone was ready. Ritual is a powerful and meaningful way to grieve. There were ups and downs like in any grieving process but by fully sinking into it. By spring the stones had moved by the wind and scattered but his name remains etched in my heart.
20. Remember, you are sovereign.
It’s tongue in cheek to depict Clyde as a king but it’s his final message. All cats know this and embody it. We are all sovereign at our core. Empowered kings and queens who don’t follow like sheep but have self-determination. It’s time to reclaim our personal power, to think for ourselves, discern truth from fake news. The world is changing and positive transformation is afoot but only if we choose it.
Thank you for being a part of my journey. As we enter the 10th year at Cat Wisdom 101, changes are inevitable, but as always there will be life lessons from cats.
Stay tuned, stay well and much love always,