Death Becomes Me

My beautiful tabby cat, Sammy, would great me most mornings with a subtle bite to my cheek. The other mornings it was a swift paw, always claws out, across my nose.

Then one day he was gone.

I searched the entire house calling out his name.


“Sammy, where are you?”

“Come here Sammy, I’ve got food.” Tears streamed down my face.

I searched outside and around the neighborhood.

Using my trusty, half-broken coloring crayons, I made “Lost” posters with a caricature of my cat. My crude drawing was more like Garfield than Sammy. Yet I was proud of myself. I taped my five hand-made posters in my immediate neighborhood.

All too often I had seen other signs in my neighborhood of missing pets. I always wondered if the pets were reunited with their families.

Two days later the phone rang.

My seven-year old voice whispered, “Hello?”

On the other end a sad voice said, “I think I found your cat, Sammy.”

I screamed with joy and said, “Where? Can we pick him up?”

“Uh, well about that,” said the person on the other end.

“I found your cat on the side of the road. It appears he was hit by a vehicle.”

There was a long pause and then I heard, “I’m sorry but your cat is dead.”

I don’t remember the high-pitched wail that purportedly came out of my seven-year old mouth.

But I do remember is the sound of my father picking up his car keys. Normally that jingle meant he was off to work or we would be going someplace together.

I remember the sound of my father walking down the stairs and the closing of the door to our garage.

I remember the sound of our Chevy Caprice Classic diesel station wagon purring gently for my father, just like Sammy purred for me.

Then he was gone.

Pacing around my dining room, my seven-year old mind didn’t have much concept of time. I heard the garage door open and the sound of the diesel engine stop. What seemed like eternity, in reality was about 15 minutes.

Instead of coming inside the house, I heard my father rummaging around the garage. A few moments later, I saw my father walking through the back yard. In one hand, he was carrying a shovel. In the other hand, a garbage bag.

I intently watched him as he dug a hole in the waning moments of sunlight. He then placed the garbage bag in to the freshly dug hole. He then covered up the garbage bag in the freshly dug hole with the freshly moved earth.

Finally he came in to the house. He explained to me that when he greeted the caller, the caller indicated someone saw a truck hit Sammy.

After a few more minutes of crying, suddenly my grief turned to curiosity about what would happen to Sammy once he was buried. I asked, “Would worms eat him? Could he come back to life like a Zombie cat? What about that whole nine lives thing?”

My father just smiled and wiped my nearly dry tears from my cherubic face.

I wish I had seen Sammy before he was buried. Perhaps just to say goodbye, but years later I learned that sometimes we should remember our loved ones for what they were in life, not what they were at the end of life.

With the death of Sammy, as a seven-year old I became fascinated with death. How little did I know at that time, but years later I would spend time working in the death care industry.

I cared for the dead, just like my dad cared Sammy and me.

Like father, like son.

Tales from The Morgue is a series of short stories about my life working in the death care industry. From the death of my cat, to working in funeral service and the largest medical examiners office in Minnesota. All of these stories are real and to me were surreal.

As published on Medium.