This fall, in the bleak and rainy days just after Thanksgiving, two members of my family died. The first, a great aunt, passed on after lingering for years in a nursing home. Her funeral was sad in that the only mourners, other than her sister and the immediate family, were an elderly couple who once lived next door.
The other death was my cat of thirteen years, Aristippus, who died alone in a kitty hospital while my parents were away.
Aristippus was a remarkable cat. All cat owners think their cats are remarkable, but Aristippus made a lasting impression on everyone she met, perhaps because she was never much of a cat. Aristippus saw herself as a person who for some reason was treated like a cat day after day until it drove her mad. To her dying day she never stopped insisting (quite loudly) that she was NOT a cat and to please stop picking her up and making silly meowing noises and locking her in the basement with an actual cat (her sister Grimalkin).
She and Grimalkin were famous largely for the adventures they had while her masters were away. There was the time she stayed the weekend at a friend's apartment and uprooted all of his potted plants. There was the toilet paper incident and the deep fat fryer incident. There was the time she managed to knock over a lazyboy recliner (I never did figure out how she did that one). Her sister usually performed the stunts, but a bewildered Aristippus usually got the blame.
She had, as I said, an effect on people. Those who did not like cats to begin with often used Aristippus as Exhibit A. But those with a place in their heart for cats would become more and more fascinated upon each new encounter. She was always frantic, was terrified of the outdoors by day but drawn there by night, would speak directly with humans in a most un-cat-like way, and would make a beeline for any available lap, especially mine. I was very fond of Grimalkin, but still regard Aristippus as my most eccentric friend.
It bothered me at first that I wasn't able to make it back to Idaho before she died. What I wouldn't give for one more hour of lap time with Aristippus! But then it occurred to me that I was placing undue emphasis on her final days. Those days were no more or less precious than her days as a kitten swinging from our curtains, or the days spent bouncing along the highways of Montana.
In truth, we had thousands of days together and most of that time was, in retrospect, well-spent. The lesson here, trite but true, is to spend well your time with any friend, not just at the beginning or the end of the relationship, but during those casual "middle days." When the friend is lost, for whatever reason, you can weigh all the days together, from beginning to end, and it is the weight of the whole that will matter, not the regrets attached to any one part.
There were books I didn't write and chores left forever undone because of all the hours I spent with Aristippus. Looking back, I am proud to have spent my time so well.