From ancient Egypt where cats were mummified and sometimes buried with their owners, to the Salem Witch trials, cats have long been associated with death. A quick search of the Internet will turn up all sorts of superstitions linking cats with the afterlife, the sick and dying. The bond between cats and humans is more than just providing food and shelter – this bond can persist even as one or the other is dying.
Cats in nursing homes are not uncommon these days. Oscar, a cat who lived in a Rhode Island nursing home from 2005-2022, is credited with accurately predicting 100 deaths. Oscar would choose to nap with people a few hours before they died. He was the subject of the book, Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat, authored by geriatrician Dr. David Dosa.
My eldest sister was suffering from cancer and entered the hospital in the end of September this year. She was too weak for chemotherapy and chose to spend her final days in her home. During her hospital stay, her Siamese cat, Myrddin, was cared for by family nearby. He seemed somewhat shy with people when he arrived at his interim home and was gradually starting to come out from his refuge under the bed in a guest bedroom when I visited a week later.
My sister was released from the hospital a few days after my visit and asked for her cat when arriving home from the hospital. He was brought to the house and after a short acclimation period in the guest bedroom, was brought to my sister’s bedroom. I worried that he would hide but he seemed to know just what to do – he jumped up on the bed, sitting on her and kneading her stomach.
She passed away early in the morning a few days later – Myrrdin woke family staying at the house who found that my sister was no longer alive. He went back to stay lie next to her until hospice arrived.
The bond between cats and humans is more than just providing food and a warm place to sleep. We don’t know why cats like Oscar choose to nap with the dying. As for me, I am so glad my sister had the comfort of her cat at the very end of her life.