#oneaday Day 966: Rest in Peace, Willow

This is Willow. She was lovely and cute and adorable and liked to bite people a little bit too much. She was a scaredy-rat but was slowly starting to come out of her shell. The first day we got her, she just sat in her box, too petrified to move, but over time she became more and more confident and started to assert herself more. Her cagemate (and possibly sister) Lara was very much the dominant one in their relationship, but Willow very occasionally managed to come out on top — more so as she grew older, larger and more confident in herself.

Willow died this morning. I feel like we had barely had time to get to know her — we’d only had her about two months or so — before she was snatched away from us far too soon. She’d been ill for around a week — she’d been out of sorts and dirty — but we’d been told that rats were prone to this sort of thing at times, and she’d probably get over it.

Unfortunately, she didn’t. Last night, she was very shaky on her feet, but was at least walking around, unsteadily getting food and drinking water. When I came down this morning, she was lying on the floor of the cage, unable to support her own weight. I put food and water in front of her and she couldn’t summon the strength to take it. Her sister was fussing around her, trying to clean her, obviously trying to liven her up. It was heartbreaking to see. Rats can’t talk, but all I could hear in my imagination was Lara whispering “please don’t die, please don’t die.” I was saying it to myself, too.

Half an hour later, she was gone, lying peacefully on the floor of the cage in silence. I don’t know if rats feel emotions or not, but her sister looked sad, and was sitting in her little house, keeping away from the body. She looked at me with sparkling eyes and I just broke down in tears. Little Willow was gone, and poor Lara was left all alone.

I buried Willow in the garden and left Roger the squirrel, a garden ornament who had taken up temporary residence in our living room, guarding her. She’s at peace now. I hope she didn’t suffer too much.

I’ve often found the subject of death to be an interesting one to write about creatively — if you follow my “Creative Writing” category you’ll find plenty in there — but I find it a terrifying prospect to deal with in real life. Not the prospect of dying myself, mind — that doesn’t occur to me — but the prospect of having to deal with bereavement. Today was a potent reminder that I have had to deal with relatively little tragedy in my life compared to some people — but at the same time, a lack of experience in dealing with death makes it all the more difficult to know how to respond when it does happen.

You may feel that a little rat is not worth mourning or grieving over — particularly when we had so little time together in the grand scheme of things — but I get very attached to pets, regardless of size and species. It is perfectly normal and healthy to mourn the loss of someone or something that has been a “fixture” in your life, something you came to expect to see every day, which is why I feel great sorrow at Willow’s passing.

Rest in piece, little rat. We loved you dearly and hope you’re in a better, more peaceful place now. If you see Kitty wherever you are, I hope you’ll be friends.

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Pete Davison

Southampton-based music teacher, writer and enthusiast of Japanese popular culture.

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