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My blind tabby cat was my little lion. His death has taught me about human grief

Noodle was a rescue cat
Noodle was a rescue cat

Noodle had already used up a good many of his nine lives when he came to live with me. A big-hearted, blind, long-haired tabby, with a Disney Prince face and fluffy pantaloons, he soon worked out the layout of my small East London flat. 

'What happened to him?' friends, visitors, handy-men would ask as they waved their hand in front of his huge open eyes, as he lay flopped on the rug like a dog. 

Rescues are mysteries. The story I was told was that Noodle had been hit by a car. An accident that had left him with a snaggle tooth and, it was presumed, completely blind.

From the off, Noodle taught me a lot about resilience. He embraced new people and situations by stepping out boldly into the unknown. Life was a gift for him; something I had lost the gusto for. 

When I first spotted him on the Cats Protection League website, it was a terrible photo, his face artfully obscured, mid-turn. If it had been a dating app, I would have known it meant he wasn’t very good looking. But his profile said: “Noodle doesn’t let being blind get in his way”.  I had to meet him.   

I told my housemate that I was "only going to look". I entered the pen in the centre in Archway, north London and the volunteer softly said she’d leave us alone for five minutes. Noodle wasted no time climbing into my lap and purring like a drone: I started to cry. Something I had struggled to do recently.  

Boudicca with Noodle

Six months earlier my dad had died of cancer. In those months afterwards I had attempted to reorder what cancer had scattered of my life like nine pins. 

I gave notice to a stress-inducing housemate. I split up with an unsupportive boyfriend. I felt numb. And then I got a cat.

“I don’t think I could get a pet, knowing one day it will die,” said a friend. But I already knew the pain of loss. 

I never quite got used to the novelty of having a tiny lion man, prowling around my flat. His confident strut, and that purr that never dulled from the day I got him meant he was a powerful presence. He loved to be in my arms. He never struggled; we held each other. 

Noodle greeted me at the door every night and led me around the house. Until two weeks ago, when he didn’t. I knew immediately something was wrong. And when I found him and put my right hand on his flank and knew that all life had left him, I screamed and screamed. I’m still screaming inside. 

I still feel him behind every corner. I leave the bathroom door ajar out of habit, so he can get to his litter tray. Except the tray is no longer there. I miss him when I am heading home and when he doesn’t wake me up in the morning. I can still feel his weight in my arms, but I will never again dance around the flat holding him. I am trying to remember what it felt like to give him a big Labrador-style pat and ruffle, and not that last, cold touch.

In the end my little lion proved too fragile. A kidney infection; a common killer for boy cats that can come on quickly as the result of a bladder infection. He was about six years old.  

Noodle was a veteran of Telegraph feature shoots, such as this one about zen cleaning Credit: Geoff Pugh

This Saturday, I will collect his ashes from the vets. In the time between having and losing him I have cried for days on and off. I've tried to flatten my grief out, aware that despite the kind words of friends and acquaintances (my cleaner sent me a lovely message), Noodle was a cat, not a human. Did he feel the same way towards me? Does it even matter if he could? 

But although he was "only" a cat, and not a human, my grief has been as powerful as any I have known. And I know I'm not alone. Which is why, to mark International Grief Day (August 30) Cats Protection has launched a new telephone service called Paws to Listen, which provides a sympathetic ear for people who have been affected by the death of a cat. 

When he was alive I’d often joke about writing a best seller: 'How my blind cat taught me to see'. What Noodle taught me after the trauma of my father's death was how to reconnect with my emotions. And he's still doing that now. When I push him to the back of my mind, I might think I'm being strong, but I’m robbing myself of an opportunity to simply be. 

In his book The Examined Life, the psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz says: “Closure is just as delusive-it is the false hope that we can deaden our living grief.” And he’s right. I can be with my pain. The grief is a reminder of the love I still have for Noodle, for my father. Grief is the price we pay for love, and a needed reminder that we are alive.