Notes on a Buddhist path

Homage to a Noble Cat

August 21, 2012 By | 16 Comments

If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat. ~ Mark Twain

Yesterday evening as the sun was tipping its brilliant countenance towards the horizon, Clause, my dear friend and most regal of cats, died in the warm embrace of my bedroom in the care of someone who was not me.

There are moments that seize us in suspended states of time, like a long forgotten moth held with tender care in the gold heart of ancient amber. Seeing it in that gallery of beauty one can almost sense the air catching under its wings, the sweet tug of sticky nectar and the scent of rain calling in the distance. I’ve had many amber moments since last night and I hold each of them with tempered observance and deep reverence.

I’m not upset that I couldn’t be with Clause when he died. I’ve known this day would come for quite awhile. Last week I wrote about our time together on that same bedroom floor, knowing he would be leaving soon, knowing I would grieve and feel the wake of his absence lapping against my life. I could see his essence diminishing and felt his wobbles and missteps with pained compassion. Where just days before he would move from my yoga mat to my meditation cushion, from the bathtub to the bedroom floor, from his spot on the sofa to his sheepskin rug under the dining room table, in his last days he chose the hidden womb of my laundry basket tucked into my bedroom closet or pressed his thin body into the cool wood floor nearby.

This past weekend stretched into four days for a joyful visit with a longtime friend. I told Clause and my other cat, Jack, about the trip and when I would be back. I reminded each of them how much I loved them, how much it meant for me to know them in this life. I asked Jack to watch out for Clause and to take good care of him and I shared with Clause my wish that he return as a human in his next life and that I may meet him again. Before I walked out the door I touched his face and said as much as I wanted to see him when I got back, I didn’t want him to suffer any more. He didn’t need to hold on for me. I watched him until his eyes met mine and I chose to see that he understood.

I love cats because I love my home and after a while they become its visible soul. ~ Jean Cocteau

He was not alone his final day. My friend, Dhar, and my angel of a building manager, Don, were looking after him. They could tell death was coming soon. Clause hadn’t eaten in a day nor moved from the floor. He lapped up a near full bowl of water from Dhar and then couldn’t keep it down. As much as he would fight being cleaned in his prime, he surrendered to Dhar’s motherly touch to clean him as a final gift of love. Don told me he was sitting with Clause in his last hour, assuring him I would be home soon, but he didn’t need to wait if he was ready to go. Laying on a fresh white towel he stretched out as if inviting the breath to partake of his body a few more precious times. He didn’t seem to be in any pain as he took his final breath at 5:02 p.m. Don met me on the sidewalk just outside our building at 5:48 p.m.

Stepping into my apartment I felt a room less filled with life, yet heavy with murky silence. I found him where he died, still stretched out on that soft cloud of terrycloth, a plastic bag tucked under his rear quarters to catch what liquids his body had given up. I touched him, held him, honoured him for going ahead of me. I waited for tears to arise and watched the ebb and flow of emotions and equanimity. I had watched his weight go from 18 pounds down to eight and seen his sturdy legs fold into spindles of sheer will and pride. For weeks on end I had offered up loving kindness in his name, finding comfort and peace in my Buddhist practice.  Holding his lifeless body against mine I released him to death’s patient hand and yet the tears did not come.

There are two means of refuge from the misery of life – music and cats. ~ Albert Schweitzer

I brought Jack into the room and watched as he inhaled the scent of his fallen friend and cleaned Clause’s cool black coat with his warm rough tongue. As the evening went on I read him prayers from The Tibetan Book of the Dead and bathed him in lavender water. At one point as I gently wiped the warm cloth down his body I heard a small exhale leave his chest and thanked him for the honour of witnessing his truly final breath. I carried him out to my altar and sat in front of him on my mediation cushion where I smudged his body with the smoke of sage fanned by the feather of an owl, a symbol of death and good luck. How fitting a gift from my friend before I returned home yesterday. How noble to brush its promise of sacred flight against the burnished fur of so blessed an animal.

Every now and then as the hours slipped by I wondered why he died when he did. Why not sometime over the long four day weekend when I was away? Why that day, that hour, just before I would walk through the door? There were no regrets in the question, no wringing of hands or crushing of ego; only a curiosity as one would ponder the reason behind circumstance and coincidence.

With Clause at my feet I closed my eyes and settled into meditation. My breath followed its way to his body, moving in and out of my chest until I could feel the tether of our heartstrings playing against each other. My thoughts awakened yet again: why had he chosen that time to die?

A moment later I heard an answer as clear as any I could fathom. It was a male voice, young, confident and free of pain.

If I had seen your eyes again I wouldn’t want to leave, and I was so very tired.

The words wrapped me in a glowing fragment of time frozen amber. A stunned gasp made way for the tears to finally crest my sorrow swollen heart. I picked Clause up and held him tight against me, sobbing until I could feel my body melting in warm welcoming grief. I buried my face in the crook of his neck and inhaled the smells of sage and death and peace at last.

I left him by the altar last night and asked for a dream, but none came. I slept well and met the day with one less cat to feed, one less litter box to tend to. I read him another prayer and we sat in silence again, my breath finding a cadence of its own beyond the strings of a faded heart song. I wrapped his empty black body in the whiteness of the towel that was his last bed and Dhar and I took him to be cremated. All the goodbyes were said and my heart thanked Clause for his life and the gift of his death.

Sitting here in the cusp of afternoon’s surrender to night, the silence has lifted its pall a bit, but I still slip into the golden seal of amber, waiting to hear his claws clicking down the hallway floor or his meow ordering his food to be served. Somewhere there is a field fresh with dew asking him to join the dance. Someday I will meet him there.

By Mary Oliver

Salt shining behind its glass cylinder.
Milk in a blue bowl. The yellow linoleum.
The cat stretching his black body from the pillow.
The way he makes his curvaceous response to the small, kind gesture.
Then laps the bowl clean.
Then wants to go out into the world
where he leaps lightly and for no apparent reason across the lawn,
then sits, perfectly still, in the grass.
I watch him a little while, thinking:
what more could I do with wild words?
I stand in the cold kitchen, bowing down to him.
I stand in the cold kitchen, everything wonderful around me.

Reprinted from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver. Beacon Press, Boston; copyright 2005.

(With respect and apologies to Mary Oliver for changing the cat subject in her poem from the feminine to the masculine. Clause would have approved.)

Image credits: First two photos by Tess Wixted (all rights reserved); final photo from a collection with Dhar Booth (all rights reserved).


  1. A comment from my friend and sangha member, Peter:

    Dear Tess, thank you for writing so beautifully about Clause and giving me glimpse into the depth of your kind heart. His spirit will stay close to home for 49 days, giving you both ample time to say farewell. May he and you — and all beings — be at ease.

    Now as a spirit
    I shall roam
    the summer fields.

    ~ death poem by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎), Japanese painter, 1780-1849.


    Thank you, Peter, for your beautiful words. May all beings be at peace.

  2. What a wonderful death, may all beings receive this kind of care, space , breath, freedom, Loving.
    All my acts of merit will be dedicated to Clause today and I know I will remember over the next 48 days to send some more.
    Lucky cat, lucky mama
    So much peace
    love and hugs toy you

    • Thank you so much Fawn for your words and your offer of merit in Clause’s memory. It was a wonder-filled death. I feel such spaciousness around his absence. Part of it comes from knowing he is no longer suffering and is at peace. Another piece of it is an exhale for me; half of my care giving has been relinquished with his death. The final portion lies in a phantom loneliness that is just beyond Jack’s death in the next bit of time. So much to feel and to observe as it arises. What a gift this life offers to us all in so many incredible ways.

      Love and peace to you, Tess

  3. Dear Tess: dancing with you in that “golden moment”….thank you for rekindling the memory….Such a Gift! love to you both, Lois

    • Lois, thank you for your kind words. There have been so many golden moments during my time with Clause and the present creates its own glow as the days slowly begin to move again. Love to you as well.

  4. Gifts from both the dying and the ones left behind. Such a cocoon of sacred love heals the world. Thank you Clause. Thank you Tess.

    “Goodnight my angel, now it’s time to dream
    And dream how wonderful your life will be”
    from “Lullaby” by Billy Joel

    • And thank you David. Such a beautiful lyric and a brilliant reminder of all that life holds for us now and in the time yet to come.

  5. Thank you for your beautiful words here, Tess. It sounds like Clause was a good friend to you and you to him.

    Thanks also for stopping by TED WORDS earlier today. I don’t know if you got to see my post about saying a final goodbye to my kitty recently. The URL is if you’d like to see it.

    Best wishes for an open-hearted time of transition.

    • Ted, thanks for your kind words. Clause was bigger than life in so many ways and continues to open my heart. Your Piper sounded like a true gift to you and your family. Here’s to healing transitions for us all.

  6. Lynn Marttila says

    What a beautiful homage to Clause (the Black Prince) Tess. I’ve just returned from Birken to receive and read your soul touching post. May you, Clause & Jack be embraced with loving metta as you journey together through the next 42 days.
    Hugs & pats,

    • Thank you for your heartfelt words, dear Lynn. I look forward to hearing about your time at Birken. Metta and hugs to you as well.


  1. […] I wasn’t home when he died and that was okay; we said our goodbyes before I left for a long weekend away to see a dear friend on a neighbouring island. I spent the hours following his death doing the things that need to be done with bodies that no longer breathe, offering up chants and prayers, sharing time with Dhar over tea and coming home to a half empty house to write about him and his exit from my life. […]

  2. […] been three weeks now since Clause died and I sense him less and less. I don’t hold the same expectation of him walking around a […]

  3. […] been three weeks now since Clause died and I sense him less and less. I don’t hold the same expectation of him walking around a […]

  4. […] months ago Clause died after a long and slow illness. Jack didn’t seem to go through the same mourning he did for Rosie. Perhaps because they only […]

  5. […] nearly a week now since Jack, my cat, died. This grief feels thicker than the last time. Thicker in the sense that I knew him for over 17 years; longer than my marriage, longer than most […]

Speak Your Mind


Site maintained by Synaptic Systems Inc. - Using the STUDIOPRESS Genesis Framework under WordPress