After hitching north for several hours, I caught a local bus the last bit and entered Kotor, Montenegro. A short 10 steps after exiting the bus on the edge of old town, I saw a young black and white kitten lying on a tree stump. He did not look well. He was not interested in food or water. I couldn’t leave him lying there. I picked him up and tucked him in my extra bag I carry for shopping trips. His back end was quite wet and messy and he smelled very bad, like dead fish. I tucked him inside my fleece vest to warm him up while I figured out what to do.
I walked through old town, well hobbled really, bad knee pain, found a room, dropped my backpack and headed back out, caught a taxi to the nearest vet who was closing in 30 minutes. I told him the story of finding this little guy and he wanted to talk more about where I lived in Ladakh. I normally love to talk about the place but I really wanted his attention on this kitten. Poor little guy was given numerous shots, vitamins, antibiotics, fluids, and not sure what else. The vet also gave me some special moist food and a small syringe to feed him with. I thanked him profusely. He only charged me 5 euro and called me a cab back to old town. Once I got into the room, I set up a pillow and clean towels and my water bottle filled with hot water and tucked him in to warm him up. I gave him a couple tiny bites of food and watched him closely. Very quickly I could see he was going down hill. At some point, I knew he was dying.
Until that moment, I had thought I would nurse him back to health and take him along with me traveling until I could find him a good home, maybe in Albania or Greece, or maybe even carry him with me to Ladakh.
I named him Kotor.
When I realized he was dying, I figured the only thing I could do was hold him, let him be loved and held against my warm body. I tucked him in my arms and just watched him as he began to die. His cries became weaker. He began with the death stretches. He had turned onto his back so I was able to watch his face and eyes, see the thumping of his little heart and watch his chest rise and fall. I held him. For at least an hour, watching pupils as they would dilate and get large over and over. His eyes became unresponsive to my touch and he no longer blinked, but still his heart beat and his breathing steady. His little mouth slightly open, a beautiful face, cute little nose, delicate mouth, gentleness. He radiated gentleness. It seemed he was no longer conscious and yet his heart continued. I stroked him, spoke to him, told him he could let go, thanked him for the brief time we had, told him it was ok. His body began to twitch more rhythmically. I watched him take his last breath, his heart beat stopped and it was over. I continued to hold him in case it is true that the soul lingers near the body. I just wanted him to know he was not alone, that he was loved, and wished him a happy journey.
Death is so real, such a gift really. To be present for the ending of a life.
We are so focused on living, avoiding death, avoiding aging, avoiding the reality of our lives. We are constantly getting older, these bodies will get ill, wrinkled, weak, we will experience pain, we will experience loss of loved ones, loss of everything and everyone precious to us, we will die, everything dies. Nothing is permanent. Not this moment, not this happiness, not this sadness, not this problem, not this WiFi, not this day, not this body.
I have been privileged to witness and share in death on several occasions. I held my brother's hands as he died. I was curled in my mother’s bed holding her as she died . I was rubbing my grandmother’s head, singing to her as she died. I have been able to be with several animals as they died. Despite what is so conditioned in us, I find it such an amazing and rare gift. There is an acute awareness of the present. It is all we have, this breath this moment.
So little Kotor, your presence and death, though a few short hours, was tremendous. We connected and shared something precious, your death. I am sorry you are gone and not here to share my journey, but glad that I was able to be with you, hold you, love you until you took your last breath.