On September 3rd, 2022, my beloved little cat, Sven, died in a traffic accident. I wanted to pay tribute to his life, so I have written a eulogy for him. I have also made a video reading my tribute over footage of the most special boy I have ever known. Both the text and the video are in this post.
This is the video tribute I have made for Sven. The text version is below.
He was such a special boy. I hope I have done him justice.
On September 3rd, 2022, my mobile phone rang while I was at work. “Hello, is that Mr. Lawes?” they asked. “I’m calling from Vets4Pets in Penrith. Are you the owner of a cat named Sven?”
Hearing those words, my blood ran cold. I knew how the conversation was going to go. I’d had a bad feeling all day. Sven had stayed out the previous night, which wasn’t unusual for him. We don’t have a cat flap in our home, so we tend to leave a window open for him, so he can go out playing at night and then come home when he’s ready. Sometimes, he would stay out until approaching lunchtime, before coming in meowing, wondering why his breakfast wasn’t immediately ready. Him not being home first thing when I got up for work wasn’t that unusual. For some reason though, be it the grey, overcast clouds, my own lack of sleep, or seeing him barely avoid a car a few days earlier, him not being home that Saturday morning left me unsettled.
I went to work, and when my partner woke up and text me good morning, the first thing I asked was about Sven. She said she hadn’t seen him, and I asked her to leave the window open when she went to work, to make sure he could still get in even if we weren’t there. Later, when she text me to say she was off to work, I didn’t ask about whether Sven was home. I knew he wasn’t, because if he had returned, she would have said he was home and having his breakfast. The overcast clouds grew greyer, and the knot in my stomach tightened.
I don’t answer phone calls at work. I barely answer phone calls at all. I live with my phone on silent, and if I see somebody ring that isn’t one of a select few people, I tend to let it go to voicemail and ring them back later. When my phone flashed up with a number I didn’t have saved, but which had our local area code as the first five digits, my first thought was to ignore it. That gnawing feeling inside told me it had to be answered.
“Have you seen Sven today?”
I don’t know why that question had to be asked. I don’t know why it was relevant. I don’t know why I went on a ramble about when he had left the house, and how we were at work, and how there was a window open for him, and how he often goes out at night and doesn’t return until the next day, and how I had left for work early and my partner had left for work later on, and how I hadn’t asked her if he’d returned before she departed. I think I was trying to delay the inevitable, to fill the silence with so many words that the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t speak, knowing that when she did, my heart would break. Eventually, I had to let her tell me what it was she had phoned me for.
“I’m really sorry to have to tell you this. Sven was involved in an accident. He was hit by a vehicle on Junction 40, and he has sadly passed away. There was nothing we could do.”
On May 28th, 2020, a female cat in the Castletown area of Penrith gave birth to a litter of kittens. On August 6th, 2020, my partner left our home and returned thirty minutes later with the runt of that litter. After some debate, her name choice of Homer and my name choice of Sherlock were both shot down by the twins, who banded together, persuaded their mother, and left me outvoted three to one. Our little kitten would be known forevermore as Sven, affectionately referred to as the Special Boy.
Sven came to us in unusual circumstances. Our home had been invaded by a rat, and after my brother came around to chase it out of the house, he went home and returned with one of his cats, so we could leave it downstairs to protect us in case the rat came back. Seeing the way my partner and the kids played with my brother’s cat, seeing how my partner’s face lit up when the cat sat on her lap, it was such a beautiful thing. “Why don’t you email the landlord and ask if we can have a cat?” I asked her. “I’m already writing an email,” she said, “and my sister knows someone who has a kitten to rehome.”
All my life, I’ve had dogs. For the prior 26 years, my time was split between my house, which had first Barney, and then Mr. Blue and Bella, and my best mate’s house, where he lived with his wonderful dog, Bollox. I’d never minded cats, but I was unashamedly a Dog Person. When I held Svennypoo for the first time, I knew that I would never refer to myself as a Dog Person again, because this little furball, held against my chest, had stolen my heart.
Everyone told me kittens were playful and full of adventure, and our Sven was no different. I’m someone that gets hot while sleeping, and I prefer to leave my feet out of the bottom of the quilt so as to regulate my temperature. I didn’t sleep much that first few weeks, because I’d keep being woken up by shooting pains in my toes from them being attacked! That soon developed into a game, where my partner and I would move our toes around under the quilt and Sven would dive on them, and we had so much fun watching him try to eat our feet while the quilt rendered his attempts at chewing fruitless. We laughed as he peeked around the curtains, and later as he figured out how to use his claws and started to climb up them. He started climbing onto the top of the doors, too, and sometimes he needed help down, but it never stopped him from climbing up again! I could sit and watch him play with his toys, including his favourites - Teddy, Fishy and Hedwig - for hours. Hearing the kids laugh while they played with him was so special.
As he grew older, we approached the day when we would have to let him outside. It was a day I was dreading, because he still seemed so young, and all I could imagine was that he’d run away or get lost and not come home. Even so, I knew he was never meant to be a house cat. He just had so much adventure in him, so much eagerness to explore the world. On the day he was due at the vets to get neutered, my partner’s son was so worried about him. While we were getting ready, he came downstairs with his special red blanket all folded up, and asked if we could put it in Sven’s travel box for him. It was the sweetest thing, and it made the journey to and from the vets so much easier for Sven. The travel box doubled up as a bed in the living room for him, and that red blanket stayed in his box from then on, and he curled up on it with Teddy all the time.
When the day came to let him out for the first time, my heart was in knots. We’d had him out in the garden before, giving him supervised access to get used to both being outside and being around our neighbour’s two dogs. It worried me how the dogs would react to Sven, but – like seemingly everyone he came into contact with – they loved him. They would get so excited whenever the Special Boy came out to see them, and over the next eighteen months or so, they would spend so much time playing together. When the older of our neighbour’s dogs passed away, Sven would comfort the younger, often popping into next door’s house through the window to see her and curl up, and sometimes try to pinch her food! That first time Sven was set free, though, I didn’t know what to expect. Seeing him climb up on the shed rooftops opposite before disappearing over the wall, I just wanted to run to the other street, find him, and bring him back. “Just leave him,” my partner said. “He loves us, and he’ll come home when he’s ready.” When he jumped back over the wall, ran through the neighbouring yards and back to us for his dinner, I felt a massive weight fall from my shoulders. He must love us. He came home.
We started letting him out more frequently, eventually leaving the cat flap open for him to come and go as he pleased. Every time he went out, my stomach would be churning. Every time the flap rattled and he announced his return with a big meow, my heart would lift. He would always come home, despite being afforded complete freedom, and that made me feel very special. Over time, we heard stories of what he was doing with that freedom, and they made me chuckle. Sometimes, rather than jump through the gardens to get to our mid-terraced back yard, he’d go and howl on our other neighbour’s door until she opened it, then he’d run through her house, out her back door and in through our cat flap! Sometimes, he’d not want any breakfast, which I could never understand, not until we caught him coming out of the alleyway opposite and the neighbour asked if he was our boy. It turned out he’d befriended the three cats opposite, and would sneak out in a morning, run up the alleyway to play with them, then steal their breakfast!
Then, there was the time he didn’t come home for twenty-four hours. He was still quite young at this point, not even a year old. At first, we were staying calm, but as it got to late afternoon, we put a post on Facebook asking if anyone had seen him. The response we got was huge, and it was so special to see so many people looking out for Sven. After traipsing around Castletown for hours, we went home as it was getting dark, and about ten minutes later the cat flap rattled and the big meow signalled the Special Boy’s return. The stories we heard that day, about him being spotted chasing rabbits up Thacka, about him going to the bottom allotment all the time and staring at the chickens, about the people who came into contact with him on a regular basis, it was eye-opening. We thought our Special Boy stayed in the neighbouring streets, but the depth of his adventurous spirit surprised us all.
Of everywhere, his favourite place to visit was my partner’s allotment. It started with him following us down one day, staying a little back, but always keeping us in sight. When he realised the allotment was somewhere my partner regularly spends her time, he loved it. He’d run around it for hours, playing in the mud, nibbling the plants, chasing the birds, and meeting all the other people down there. On days when it was raining, and there was nothing to be done down the allotment, Sven would still come home with muddy paws, and we knew exactly where he had been. He made a lot of friends down there, and it got to the point where all you’d have to say to him was ‘allotment’ and he’d get as excited as a dog gets when their lead is brought out of the cupboard.
Of course, the original reason we’d got him was to ensure no beasties got into the house after the carry-on with the rat. It’s fair to say he wasn’t the best at defending his territory. Don’t get me wrong, there were far too many occasions when I’d get up in the morning and walk downstairs, only to step in a dead bird he’d left at the bottom of the stairs. It was mice that were the real problem. See, our Sven, rather than kill them, he liked to play with them. He’d bring live mice home, then start throwing them in the air like a toy, only for them to inevitably run off and hide behind the furniture. The amount of times we had to capture mice and set them free was ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as one time when Sven just refused to try and catch it. I went to the fridge and cut off a little lump of cheese, which I placed in front of the bureau desk the mouse was hiding under, hoping it would lure him out. Sven came through to help - at least, so I thought. He walked over to the bureau desk, bent over, licked the cheese, then swallowed it whole, before trotting off upstairs to sleep it off! I couldn’t believe it, and my incredulous reaction still makes my partner and the twins laugh whenever it is brought up.
Perhaps the funniest story of Sven was when the kids were in the bath. He was still young, still in his hyper-curious phase, and he followed my partner into the bathroom when she went to see to the twins. He jumped up on the side and walked around to the back of the bath. I could see what was going to happen, we all could, but there was nothing we could do. He started sliding his paw down towards the bathwater, just a little at a time. Suddenly, he slipped on the ceramic and fell into the bath! He was completely submerged, then shot out half-a-second later and went careening across the house, getting water everywhere! We managed to catch him and wrap him up warm, and he never again tried to get into the bath.
The big moment for Sven was when we moved house. We went from a little two-up, two-down mid-terraced house to a three-storey end-of-terrace home that is probably double the size. When we brought him round, it was so wonderful. He had so much space to explore, and he loved exploring it. We were just around the corner from the allotment, and he would be down there all the time. The landing and the stairs up to the bedroom on the top floor have wooden bars to prevent anyone falling, and he’d rub up against them and stick his head through them and keep an eye on everything. We’d often find him curled up on the top floor landing, next to the bars where he could see everything that was going on. The lack of a cat flap frustrated him, but we left our big window open for him to get through, and he enjoyed that freedom. He’d often want both the living room and dining room windows open, so he could jump in one, check everything was fine then jump out the other and go back to his prowling. After a year and a half in a small house, he now had so much extra space, and he absolutely thrived in it.
Of course, it was too much space for just one cat, and a couple of months after moving in, we brought big Denzel home from the rescue centre. Naturally, they were both wary of each other at first, but they quickly adapted to each other’s presence. Before long, they’d spend their nights wrestling and their days snuggled up together, and they’d often go outside to play with the other cats nearby. They had their own little club, about four of them, and they’d run backwards and forwards up the alleyway, scrapping and chasing and having so much fun. I often wonder if the reason Sven would come in one window and go out the other seconds later is because he was trying to catch one of his pals from behind. The other cats would come in our garden looking for Sven, and then off he’d go, back to being the leader of the pack. Sometimes, he’d stay out all night playing, and he’d only come back when it was time for breakfast, and it was so lovely knowing he had adapted so well to the move.
His relationship with Denzel was so special. Here he was, a big, older, lazy boy who was quite nervous, and there was the younger and crazier Sven, forced to share living quarters he’d had to himself for twenty months. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but they brought out the best in each other. Sven somehow became even soppier than normal with us, while Denzel – who is more than happy staying in the house and back garden – would go out to play in the alleyway if Sven was there. One time, Denzel was out, and we encouraged him to go exploring and spend some time outside. Four hours later, he hadn’t returned. That length of time is normal for a cat to be away, but not for Denzel. My partner and I went out searching the streets, shouting his name, and couldn’t find him anywhere. It got dark, so we went home and trusted he’d come back. Sven went mad. He was running around the house, trying to find Denzel. He meowed at us until we went back out for another fruitless search. When we again returned home, he refused to come inside, and went off down the street. Twenty minutes later, we were stood at the back door and big Denzel jumped over the gate and ran in the house. Seconds later, our Sven appeared at the gate. He looked at us as if to say, “That’s how you find my brother,” and then he came inside and snuggled up to Denzel for ages. I’ve never known anything like it, but I’ve never known anyone as special as Sven. I don’t know if I ever will again.
On Sunday, September 4th, 2022, my partner and I left the house and walked to the vets, barely a word said between us. We collected our special boy, and as we walked home, she had to walk ahead of me because she couldn’t cope with me talking to him. We dug a grave in the garden, then took him out of the box we brought him home in, and we said our final words while stroking his soft, fluffy cheeks. We lay our special boy on his red blanket, wrapped him up with Teddy and some other toys, then we lay him to rest. My partner has been growing a peony plant, and we took that out of the pot and buried it in the ground above him, along with some flowers from my Grandma’s house that I’m hoping will take root.
The next morning, the twins came back from their dad’s house, and we told them the news. We held each other. We cried. We railed against the unfairness of it all. Then, we took them to see Sven’s grave, before taking a big stone from the garden and going back inside. We painted a big heart on it, and we wrote a special message from each of us for him. Then, we went back outside, and even Denzel came outside and over to the grave, for the first time since Sven had been placed there. To the song ‘Now We Are Free’, from the soundtrack to the film ‘Gladiator’, we lay our Special Boy to rest.
What he was doing on a motorway roundabout outside of town, we’ll never know. The rabbit I saw on my way back from work suggests he was on the chase, and this time, his bravery got the better of him. The driver didn’t stop to help, nor did they inform anybody what happened. It is only because of the kindness of a stranger, who gathered our Sven up and took him to the vets, that we know what happened to him at all. But that was our Sven. Everybody looked out for him, everyone loved him, and because of the compassion of those who helped him, he was able to come home, where he will now stay with us in the place he loved, where he belongs.
I miss my Special Boy so much. I’ve lost so many souls in my time, far too many, yet none of those losses have hit me quite like this. I am bereft. I go out into the garden every day to talk to him. First thing in the morning and last thing at night, I go to the back door to speak to him, to say good morning and goodnight, to tell him he is loved and that I hope he rests well. When I go to bed, I feel him jump up and curl on my legs. When I walk up the stairs, I stroke between the bars, where he would stick his head through. When I sit on the sofa, I lean my head in towards the arm, where he would jump up and rub against me. I look up to the windows, hoping he’ll jump through, knowing he never will. We went to McDonalds the other day, and I broke out sobbing because I was having chicken, and whenever I went out I’d always wrap up some chicken or some gammon fat for him, and now, I never will again. I’ll never again order extra toppings on a takeaway pizza just so I can give them to him. I’ll never get home from work and hear him come running, meowing his head off because he wants his breakfast, but waiting to give me headbutts and affection before eating it. My Special Boy is gone, and it breaks my heart, and it feels so wrong. I miss him so, so much.
Our Sven was just two and a half years old. He should have been with us for another fifteen years, and yet, he is gone. They say the brightest flame burns the fastest, and never has that phrase been truer than for our Special Boy. They say cats choose their own homes. Sven was popular, he was friendly, and he made cameos in so many people’s lives. Then, he came home. Sven chose us – not just once, but every single day. To be chosen by a soul so special, to be loved by a heart so pure, is one of the greatest honours and privileges I will ever know.
In the Sandman, Neil Gaiman wrote, “You get what anybody gets – you get a lifetime.” Our Sven spent his lifetime having the time of his life. I’m so grateful I got to share it with him, and I will cherish his memory for the rest of my days.
Thank you for choosing me, Sven, and for choosing all of us. Thank you for loving me, Sven, and for loving all of us. You were a good boy. You were the best boy. You will always be the Special Boy.
Farewell, my friend.
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