It’s Christmas and my daughter is heartbroken. She’s only 9 so it’s not a boy that’s causing the splintering of her generous, caring, beautiful heart. It’s the cat. He got run over. T is devastated.
Every single parent promises to keep their tiny bundle of loveliness safe from harm when they deliver them into the world, what a fools promise that is. We are setting ourselves up for a fall right from the word go. The worst thing about all this is the fact that I feel wholly responsible for the utter devastation my little girl is currently going through.
It was me who caved in and agreed to give a home to two tiny kittens back in the summer, against my better judgement as we live just off a fairly major road. It might just as well have been me who rammed the car into our lovely, affectionate, too-pretty-to-be-a-boy tabby cat.
T has never been comfortable with animals. Indeed, quite the opposite, T has been petrified of animals. She would make us cross the road when she saw a dog coming, her legs would turn to stone when she saw a cat walk into a room she was in, she would stand a couple of metres away from a fence if a horse happened to be in the field next to it. Her idea of hell was going to a petting zoo. T was definitely NOT an animal person. Over the years we have cajoled and coaxed before finally, this year, getting to a point where T was thinking it might be quite nice to have a pet to look after and love. So when a friend’s cats had kittens we took the plunge and brought Coconut and Malteaser into the Life of Ryrie.
Lovely Malteaser wasn’t just a pet cat.
Malteaser was a miracle worker.
Malteaser was the focus and love of T’s little life. During the initial couple of weeks, where she struggled to be in the same room as the kittens, and couldn’t bring herself to touch them, S and I considered whether we were being foolish and should try to re-home the little scraps of fluff. But then a change came about and T turned a corner. Malteaser was picked up, put down, picked up, kissed, put down, picked up again and, well, Malteaser was loved. He was the love of T’s young life.
And now he’s dead.
Someone drove into him. Then left him in the gutter.
My neighbour happened to be popping over to ours and on his way over spotted Malteaser in the road so was able to let us know what had happened. I will be forever grateful to our neighbour for coming to get me. Cats are different to dogs in many ways but not least because you don’t have to notify the police if you run one over, which seems to something of an oversight in section 170 of the Road Traffic Act of 1988. Even T has commented, in that non-nonsense-isn’t-it-obvious kind of way that only innocent children can, that of course cats should be included in section 170 because they are the animals that won’t be with their owners if they get hit. Obvious huh?! Anyway, if my neighbour hadn’t come and got me we might not have known what had happened to Malteaser. We could have had weeks of worrying about him, wondering where and why he had gone, and my daughter would not have been able to say goodbye.
Sadly the location of our house meant that we tried to prepare the children for the possibility of the cats being hit by a car, making it part of our pre-pet-owning discussions. But how can you prepare a 9 year old for the news that their beloved cat has been killed when they have no experience of death, no concept of the reality that this involves? The day after it happened T returned from school and asked if Malteaser was back. Man, that was a tough question to answer.
I know that the death of a pet is something of a rite of passage for young people to go through but this first, raw grief is surely the most dreadful, heart wrenching emotion to witness. T loved her pet so fully, so whole heartedly. Malteaser couldn’t answer back, or tell T she was stupid or fat, or the myriad of other insults so called ‘friends’ have said to her. Malteaser was, in just the 6 short months he was living with us, T’s best friend. Her buddy.
As a parent how do you protect your child from the emotional trauma that comes about following the death of a beloved pet? Don’t have one in the first place? But in saving them from the devastation of loving and losing a pet, they are denied the unconditional love and total joyousness that owning a pet brings. It is a tough call. Surely it is, in the words of Tennyson, “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”?
I know that this experience is ‘good practice’. At some stage my children will mourn loved ones, be that grandparents, parents, uncles, aunties and this sad footnote in their childhood will, in some way, prepare them for their future losses. But bloody hell is the timing shit (excuse me). A few days before Christmas, resulting in the only request on T’s revised Christmas List to be the one gift Father Christmas simply cannot fulfil. Instead she will receive a poor substitute for a purring bundle of furry softness, a book filled with photos, of Malteaser – the Miracle Cat.