The first day of spring 

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Yesterday in Atlanta dawned chilly, but by midday the sun was streaming in all its glory and the temperature was in the 70s — a perfect, shiny day.

I spent the morning in a frantic race to finish grading papers before class and take care of paperwork on the house we hope to sell.

And then I went to visit Gillespie. I hadn’t seen him since I took him for boarding at the vet a little more than a week before.

They brought him out at Paws, Whiskers & Wags and placed him on a table. He looked so sad, his head poking out of a blanket, furry and quiet and lifeless.

Maybe the sadness was me. I burst into tears.

Absurd, I know. He was a cat, not a human being. But I felt so lost and so helpless and so guilty — I’m sorry I couldn’t save you — for one who, in his own cat way, gave so much.

I don’t know how funeral directors do their jobs. I don’t know how people deal with open caskets. The Victorians took elaborate pictures of the dead with their families; I couldn’t even bear to take a snap with my phone. It seemed so … improper.

They say we love cats because they’re the size of babies and act like children, all mischief and adventure and innocence. But like most living things on this planet, they eventually grow old. The only thing that survives is time.

Gillespie is to be cremated today, his remains placed in a canister the size of a pickle jar. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Yesterday was the first day of spring. A time of hope and rebirth. It’s particularly beautiful here in Atlanta, with the dogwoods in bloom and the smell of honeysuckle in the breeze. It’s my favorite time of year here, and I will be sad to leave for different climes.

But life goes on. I turn 52 next week. Oscar is 9; Mulligan is 3. I’ve laid three cats to rest and will probably say goodbye to at least three more before I, too, shuffle off this mortal coil.

I know it will never get easier. Which is why I will, someday soon, head over to a shelter and bring home yet another pal. Hope springs eternal. It’s the least I can do for an old friend who once was a stranger, too.

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