Love and belly rubs

I am no stranger to grief. It comes knocking every now and then. Old grief and new grief. If you live long enough, you experience it knocking at your door everyone and then. It’s inevitable.

When grief comes to visit, it’s like walking at the bottom of the ocean. It makes me feel so removed from my everyday life, but at the same time, it’s familiar and comforting. I know that the depth of my grief, the murky, dark pathway we all walk before the sun shines again is one of the measures of love. It can take time to rise back up through those murky waters to the surface again. And down here, at the bottom of the ocean, it’s possible to feel all griefs, all loves, that have come before.

I have a squirmy black cat who’s trying to do his best to fill the roles of two cats right now. He tries to be my writing buddy – the cat who warms my lap in the morning. But we both know he can’t fill that role. He squirms and rubs his cheeks on my legs and wants immediate pets. His butt pops up every time I set my pen down to stroke his fur. It’s not the same.

Mochi and Guinness were best buddies from their first day home from the cat shelter in 2009.

We’ve both lost our cuddle buddy. Our Mochi, who was so soft and silky and always so still.

There is a gaping Mochi-sized hole in my life. I knew how much he meant to me. How much his love filled in all the corners of my life, much the way his fur covered my fleece clothing and collected in piles behind open doors. Stroking his fur each day was a balm. Feeling his weight on my legs as I wrote each morning let me sink into my thoughts. Each morning he’d roll onto his back in the middle of the kitchen floor as I bustled about making tea, and, with a little mew, let me know it was time for belly rubs. I needed morning belly rubbings as much as he did. But I think I loved his little kitty hugs and nuzzles most of all. He’d look up at me with those big green eyes, his body posture would change. He’d become light, wanting me to lift him to my shoulder, like a baby, where he’d nuzzle my ear, my cheeks, my glasses.

Mochi loved belly rubs on the kitchen floor — even on his last day, when he couldn’t eat.

I think that he took it upon himself to be my source of comfort in difficult times. Not long after I adopted him, I went through a divorce, and he would stand on my pillow, near my face, and sniff my tears. When my Mom died, I spent a night sobbing on the living room couch. Mochi came along and lay stretched out flat on my belly, his little head beneath my chin and his his legs wrapped around me in a giant hug. In that first week of the pandemic, when fear and uncertainty ran rampant, the world shut down, and there wasn’t enough toilet paper, he slept next to my pillow, occasionally inching his head up to my shoulder. A little 9.5-pound ball of furry comfort. On election night in November 2020, in the stress and uncertainty, I began screaming in my sleep. I awoke to what felt like a hand on my shoulder, but opened my eyes to find him staring into my face, his front two feet pressing against my shoulder. As soon as I awoke, he began nuzzling my face with his little kitty kisses.

Buddha-kitty kept everyone calm when the pandemic hit. Actually, life only gets better when your people never leave the house.

I know: He’s not a kid, Cindy! Well, not a human kid. I have often been told about the things I can’t know because I don’t have kids. And the people who would tell me those things might think it’s a bit crazy to write a blog post about a cat. But I’ve lived long enough to know that many of you do understand. This ball of fur became my baby when he came into my life at about the same time I gave up the idea of ever having human kids.

Mochi and Guinness on their last day together, February 21, 2022.

We held a two-day vigil over him at the end of his life, showering him with attention, and any treats he cared to eat. Though, there weren’t many. I think eating was painful for him, with that egg-sized mass that had grown in his belly. There were moments when I wondered: are we doing the right thing, sending him on his way before he got much sicker? He’d perk up for a bit, and I’d think: Maybe he has a few more good days? We lay in the sun for a long time, both of us on our sides, as I rubbed his belly. He purred. And Guinness cuddled up with us too. A big circle of love. Guinness would wash and lick Mochi until his white fur was gleaming.

The end came quick and quiet and peaceful, thanks to our house call vet, Dr. Melora. We surrounded him with love and lots of petting, then set him free. It would not have been so peaceful had we waited.

When he died, I could almost feel my Mom reach out and catch him as he leaped. I imagine him with her now. In an eternity of love and belly rubs. Or maybe he’s still here with us, still sitting at the foot of my bed as I write. Maybe my Mom is here with us, too. And maybe this brief moment when we’re all together is the eternity that we all imagine must be something else.

My Mom and Mochi, c. 2009, when Mochi was barely out of kitten hood. I imagine them cuddling like this today.

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