Digging takes enough energy to make it kind of therapeutic, I’ve decided.
Those were the words I texted a friend who was checking in on me. His timing had been good, as I needed a break and to hear from someone who cared so that digging the grave would keep from getting too dreary.
The grave was for the seventeen year old, black, large framed, 22 pound house cat, Taz. While he started out as my brother’s cat, since he was the one who found the litter of large, weaned kittens in the irrigation pipes he was setting up at work.
Yeah, my brother had called me and asked me to come help catch them and bring cages and gloves and the like, and I did help him catch the feisty guy, I had other cats at the time, and my brother was the reason the cat was caught. Sadly, all the siblings, including a pretty steel gray one got away.
And Taz was very aggravated and unfriendly the first night. But leaving him in the cage, in a small side bathroom where nothing could bother him, coming in to check on him and get him nice food didn’t take long to make him into a very loving cat with the family. I honestly don’t remember if it was overnight or two nights. I think it was just one, though.
Things were not always pleasant though. He was bound and determined to be the alpha male feline of the place, and jumped the other cats almost every chance he got. Even neutering them all to reduce the hormones didn’t take that attitude away from him.
He, like all the cats, was an indoors/outdoors cat, and would go out and make sure and chase all the wild tomcats away. Which, as large as he was, was not a problem. Sure, he’d get the rare injury, and during one of the cold early winters of his life, he managed to freeze the tip of one of his ears off in a straight line, but it always seemed like he wore the rugged look with pride.
As my brother went off to college and the city to work and I moved back home, he could not take the large framed feline with him so left most of his pets with the parents and I ended up helping care for Taz and so it became my bed that he would got to whenever he was spending the night in.
When I got sick, he would make sure and lay on me and purr so I stayed in bed to heal.
When It was chilly, he would make sure he lay between (or on) my feet to make sure they stayed warm and the blankets didn’t get kicked off. He also liked to keep my feet warm as I typed at the computer.
When my brother and his wife moved back next door, Taz wold often walk with me down to their house. Didn’t go in because of the large dogs there, but seemed determined to keep me company as I walked there, and – many a time, the way back. I suspect that depended on if he found something interesting or not, but mostly, he appeared before I got too far back through the pasture between the houses.
He was a large framed cat, but had such a tiny sounding meow from such a strongly built feline. One expected more of a roar from his looks, so the soft meow was even more shocking.
His purr, on the other hand, absolutely rumbled the room he was in when he was content and happy enough to purr, which was very often.
Certainly, he was starting to show his age, and seemed to be having trouble, even with assistance from me washing the area and treating it, with he left ear. He was getting kind of stiff and slow moving until he got started, but still seemed happy and able to do what he wanted, so I was kind of preparing myself for losing him, but it was still a level of surprise when I found him curled up in the garage where he passed away during the day.
Last night was hard. This vibrant, loving cat I helped catch over a quarter of my lifetime ago, and gotten used to being in my life almost every day was gone.
The rest of the family is all out of state. I was the only one around who could pick his remains up off the floor. Oh, how he hated it when I changed garbage bags, I had thought as I picked him up in one. I am not ashamed to admit that’s when I started crying. Hell, got a few tears now as well at that memory. But it was dark and too cold to take him out and bury him then, so I found a box — took two tries to find one large enough– and set him up off the ground for the evening so that the calico could still eat out there if she wanted to. I’d say it was too late to bury him as well, but I didn’t get to sleep for many hours after that.
Certainly, I wasn’t ready to have done it yet at any case.
So last night I mourned him.
I remembered all the good times, letting them power over the bad.
I was thankful that he had been in my life for so many years.
I was happy that we had given him a life that was surely much longer than it would have been if he had remained wild, and likely, as much as he purred and rubbed against his people, I know he was a much happier cat than if he’d been alone.
My family and he all had richer lives for having shared them.
And today, after a ten hour workday, I came home and decided I needed to take care of finding a place to bury Taz, The weather turned nice today, and the soil was still freshly moistened from the rain a few days back, so conditions were ideal, and the garage wasn’t going to stay a preserving 40 something degrees Fahrenheit.
So I found the shovel and went out around the yard, then into the pasture to find a good location. It was at this point I texted my friend that it was kind of a dreary feeling going out to do this.
First potential site I looked at had too many roots too soon and just didn’t seem to agree with being dug up. I know that sounds kind of odd, but I’m okay with making a decision like this based on a feeling.
The second one, I figured would be similar, but didn’t get that feeling. I figured there would be more
roots, but actually didn’t have too bad a time with them. The sandstone rocks, on the other hand, were something to deal with, but those, I could pile on the other side of the hole from the dirt and use to mark and help secure the grave after, so I didn’t let them stop me.
And it was after I had gotten a good start on the grave at that second site that I made the comment about digging being therapeutic.
I’m not sure if it is just the fact that it was a lot of work. Breaking the soil and pulling it out of the ground with the shovel, digging around the six inch or larger rocks and getting them loose enough to pull out by hand, the physical activity certainly brought up a sweat. I might look up later to see if the hormones and chemicals the body produces during exercise has effects that would account for calming down emotionally in a guy or not, but not tonight.
It might also have been the simple fact of having set myself a goal with challenges and accomplishing it successfully. North East Kansas soil is not the worst to dig in, but it certainly took effort to get the sandstone rocks out of the hole and keep it large enough and get it deep enough. But I managed it, and that was something to feel good about.
Or it may have simply been working with the dirt.
I was a kid who played with mud, building and guiding the flow of water. I drew in the dirt and enjoyed getting dirty. As I grew older paying attention to plants came and went, but whenever I have worked with the soil either to plant or to landscape, it has been – for lack of a better term – grounding. Perhaps for the two other reasons of being physical labor and setting and accomplishing constructive goals. But whatever the reasons, it brings me a level of calm and solidity.
So I gained a level of calm digging the grave. I was able to go back to the house and get Taz’s remains and get them there. I was able to set his body in the ground and bury it.
It was hard, yes. But I managed, and set the stones over the grave to help protect it. As I did all of this, I thanked him for sharing his time with me and remembered all the good times and shed a few more tears.
I know I’m going to miss him still.
I am even as I write this.
Taz was a large part of my life for most of the past seventeen years.
It will take time to get used to him not being there. When I came in from work, at first glance I thought the black space heater sitting by the hallway back to the bedrooms was Taz sitting there welcoming me home after his long day of sleeping on my bed.
It will be hard for a while, but I will honor our time together by remembering the good and being thankful for sharing our paths. Continuing on my own path with those treasured memories is the best I can do, I feel.