We had to say goodbye to our 14-year-old cat Morceau today. It came as rather a shock, as last week he was skittering around the kitchen like a kitten. But death can come like this, suddenly and without warning
I knew our cat Morceau before he was even born. In January of 2004, my son Emile’s godmother Sherna’s cat gave birth to a litter of kittens. Minutes after they were born, we drove to her house and experienced the wonder of the tiny, finely-furred bodies and closed eyes of the newborn babies.
We visited Emile’s godparents frequently, and we continued to enjoy the kittens as they grew. Emile wanted one of the kittens, and so we picked out a little orange and white bit of fluff. He had orange tabby markings over one ear and on parts of his body, and he had an orange ringed tail. We named him Morceau, which means a little bit of something in French. When he grew big enough to leave his mama, we brought him home.
We already had a dog and a cat, so I wanted to introduce the animals properly to ensure that the adult animals wouldn’t pick on this tiny kitten. I needn’t have worried. When we introduced Morceau to our 45-pound dog, Oreo, they shared a tender moment when their noses touched, then Morceau reached out a tiny paw and swatted Oreo on the muzzle. Oreo blinked. And our kitten was on his way to world domination.
If Morceau was a human being, he would be your rascally cousin Billy, always getting into mischief but somehow still the family favorite. As a kitten, he became the Destroyer of Toilet Paper. After coming home a few times to nothing but a cloud of shredded white fluff, I moved the TP out of range and he graduated to paper towel rolls. He learned how to open the cupboard where I kept the cat food, and I had to get a child-proof lock to keep him out of it.
He displayed a curious combination of brave and vulnerable. One day as I took a a bath, he climbed on to the tub’s edge and tried to put his paws through the bubbles. He missed, struggled, and submerged his bottom in the water before I managed to haul him out with one hand and dump his half-dripping form onto the bath mat. His mane fluffed out in indignation as he shook the water off of his body, leaving him looking like a small lion. A loud, high-pitched “meow” ripped the air and I couldn’t help laughing.
Later, when he started to explore the outdoor world, he would leap to the roof or up in a tree and mew piteously at me, as if to say “I’ve gone too far! Please help me out!” I would stare at him sternly and tell him, “You got yourself into this, you can get out of it.” And eventually he would be on the ground again, rubbing up against my legs.
Morceau did not live up to his tiny name. He had an outsized personality. He became a huge cat with long legs, tufts of fur sprouting from between his pads and a mane that grows large every winter and shrinks in the summer. He constantly shed his orange and white fur, and his favorite thing to do was to rub against your trouser leg if you were wearing black pants. It was as if he could smell the color black – he would come running across the house meowing on the way and blam! Your legs were furred.
He also had very clear feelings about suitcases. I learned quickly that if I did not want him IN the suitcase, I needed to close it when I turned my back.
He got beat up a few times in his middle years. One time I was petting him and discovered a cut under his armpit that went through the the muscle, and it obviously needed stitches. Since it was 9:30 at night, I took him to the vet ER, where they stitched him up. He was their only patient that night, which is why when I heard a loud growling sound, I knew it was him. The vet tech came out and informed me that they had put the cone on him twice, and he had twice managed to get it off. He told me with a straight face that they recommended he keep it on for at least 72 hours.
The vet tech brought him out in the cat carrier. Banging sounds emanated from within, and we looked in. He had the cone off again. The vet tech pursed his lips and took the carrier to the back, where I heard a blood-curdling growl. He returned and handed me the cage. “Here you go!”
Morceau tore the cone off once more before I made it to the car. When I got home, I put it on him three times in an hour. Each time he had it off in under five minutes. I decided to let him take his chances without the cone, and he did just fine.
He hunted a lot in his early years, and since we have a cat door, he would bring things inside, both alive and dead. Mice, birds, frogs, lizards, small rabbits, snakes. He has a very distinctive meow that means “I brought you something!” And we would curse and leap from our seats or our bed and race to find out what kind of trouble he had brought with him. I tried putting a collar on him. Actually, I tried five collars. He calmly walked away from me in each one, disappeared for a few minutes, and calmly returned sans collar. We finally found a harness with a bell on it, and that seemed to settle him down, even after we removed it because he got his back leg stuck in it while trying to escape.
When he was younger, he would leap through the air to catch a string or a ball. One time when he was little, I heard the tinkling of glass coming from the living room. I had visions of thieves breaking in, but then I heard the sound of his scrabbling paws. He had knocked several glass ball ornaments off of the Christmas tree and was playing soccer with them across the wooden floor until he broke them with his paw. He had a cat cube, and he still visited it when he felt playful. He also preened on soft objects when he found something that made him feel good.
He loved to lie down by my feet when I sit in a reclining chair, and he also liked to rub his face against my shoes. A few weeks ago I caught him sleeping on top of my shoes, a rather uncomfortable-looking bed.
Just before bedtime, Morceau would follow me into the bathroom and watch me finish my evening toilette. Then he would rub against my legs and meow, my signal to begin singing to him. I have a repertoire of songs that he liked, including “I can’t meow without mew,” “Red River Meowy,” “Goodnight Morceau” and “We Built this Kitty on Mee-ee-ow,” to name a few. He would listen and rub his face on my legs and sometimes he sand too.
At night he slept by my husband Curt’s head, and in the early morning he switched to my side of the bed to await the alarm clock. He stared at it until it went off. If it’s a day where I was sleeping in, he would give me what he considered to be a reasonable amount of time, and then he would poke me in the mouth with his paw, gently but firmly until I surrendered and got up.
Although he acted like a tough guy and can be obnoxious, Morceau knew how to love. When I had a total hip replacement in 2013, I spent about two months recuperating. During the long, lonely, painful days, he sat patiently by my side, purring, allowing me to ruffle his fluffy form. He followed us around like a dog, so my husband Curt joked that he was a “cog,” a cat who thought he was a dog. He liked to hang out with me no matter what I was doing – including yoga.
In other words, Morceau was a cat who was exactly himself in every way. He was a shoe-loving, song-singing, rabble-rousing, tough, obnoxious cream puff. And I loved every white and orange hair on his fluffy hide.
Which is what makes it so hard to say goodbye.
When the vet called Friday night, she told me that our attempts to resolve Morceau’s life-threatening problem were proving unsuccessful. My ornery, feisty, funny, loving cat was losing the battle he had been fighting for the better part of the week.
We brought him home Saturday morning so he could be comfortable at home while we said goodbye to him. I petted his soft fur and sang him to sleep.
“Goodbye Morceau, goodbye Morceau, I’ll see you in my dreams.”