Sophie's Sudden Death Proves to Be Too Much of a Burden for a Bachelor in Poole to Bear So He Elects to Join Her in the Great Void
"He was devastated when she died and phoned me in the middle of the night. He slept with her for three days until he couldn't stand the smell any longer. I tried to persuade him life was more than a cat, but in his case it wasn't."
-- Adriana Van Dijk
Not a great deal is known about the private life of forty-four-year-old bachelor Michael McAleese other than that he lived alone in a flat on Hillcrest Road in the Parkstone section of Poole in Dorset. He was unemployed and his mother had died a few years earlier and those two reversals undoubtedly contributed mightily to his sense of social isolation.
He did love cats, however, and whenever his landlady, Adriana Van Dijk, was away he would take care of her cat, Sophie. He became so attached to her that Van Dijk ultimately decided to give her to him.
"As soon as Michael saw Sophie he seemed to fall in love with her," Van Dijk told the Bournemouth Echo on May 8th. (See "Cat Owner Took His Own Life after Beloved Tabby Sophie Died.") "She had the sweetest nature and they totally clicked. She was like a child to him."
As authoress Suyin Han knew only too well, when it is right love can be A Many Splendored Thing. Like all things in this world, however, it also is fleeting and mortal.
For McAleese, his happiness ended on December 8th when thirteen-year-old Sophie suffered a stroke and died in his arms. Without counterbalancing psychological support systems in order to see him through this tragic loss, his life quickly spiraled out of control.
"He was devastated when she died and phoned me in the middle of the night," Van Dijk confided to the Bournemouth Echo. "He slept with her for three days until he couldn't stand the smell any longer. I tried to persuade him life was more than a cat, but in his case it wasn't."
The first clue that McAleese's life was hanging in the balance came when he confided to an unidentified man that he was planning on committing suicide. Despite that desperate, last-minute appeal for help, there is absolutely nothing in press reports to indicate that the man, who had stopped by in order to collect Sophie's corpse for cremation, even informed the local mental health crisis team.
Additionally, there is not any evidence that either McAleese's sister, Juliet Willmore, or Van Dijk lifted so much as a finger in order to help him get through this excruciatingly painful period in his life. If any of them had cared just a little bit about him, the denouement to this story might very well have been altogether different.
On December 13th, McAleese posted a moving video of Sophie on YouTube that he entitled "This is in her memory. She was such a wonderful little cat. This is a montage tribute to my beloved Sophie cat. I loved her so much and still do."
It is unclear what has become of that video since all that remains of it is a thirty-nine second snippet entitled "Cute Calico, Sophie Cat, Drinking Milk." In its description, McAleese gave a vivid indication of what he was going through when he declared: "I have never felt such pain and heartache."
Eight days later on December 21st, McAleese was found dead as the result of an overdose of drugs that included Secobarbital. A book on how to commit suicide along with several notes of unspecified content were found beside his lifeless body.
With his tragic death, McAleese thus became the second man in England to have killed himself in 2011 after his cat either either had died or mysteriously disappeared. Earlier on March 28th, fifty-eight-year-old Alan Jordan of Daventry Terrace in Treadworth, Gloucester, hanged himself after his cat disappeared.
Although like McAleese he was unemployed and lived alone, the similarities end there. Specifically, Jordan had a personal physician and a crisis intervention team from 2gether Trust at his disposal who were supposed to have been helping him to cope.
"He was severely depressed, a problem which had come to a head three weeks before when he lost his cat," his physician, Jonathan Unwin, told an inquest held shortly after his death in Cheltenham. "I contacted the mental health crisis team, who arranged to see him at home, and started him on antidepressant tablets."
The response from both Unwin and 2gether Trust was woefully inadequate, however, in that Jordan previously had attempted to take his own life on at least three different occasions by overdoing on paracetamol (acetaminophen), hanging himself, and slashing his wrists. His tragic death was rendered all the more senseless when his cat returned home a fortnight later. (See Cat Defender post of January 2, 2012 entitled "With No Reason Left to Go on Living, Treadworth Resident Takes His Own Life after His Beloved Cat Disappears.")
Critics can scoff and dismiss McAleese and Jordan as just two more crazed cat people but to do so overlooks the petit fait that their families, friends, the professionals whose job it was to help them, and society as a whole failed them miserably. Under such dire conditions, it was completely to be expected that they would turn to the only living creatures who cared so much as a jot about them.
Not surprisingly, when their cats either died or disappeared they were left with nothing to hold on to and fell into an abyss of hopelessness from which neither of them was able to recover. In hindsight, it is difficult to see how any other outcome was possible under the circumstances.
The often repeated prejudice that animal lovers are social outcasts and people haters also does not hold up under scrutiny. After all, the same charge could be leveled with even greater currency against shekel chasers, killers (policemen and soldiers in particular), drunks and dope addicts, hedonists, sports fans, scholars, religious adherents, and others.
Once all the lies and pretenses are scraped away there is precious little humanity to be found anywhere. Under such perverted circumstances, the capacity to love cats and other animals is a decided improvement over man's baser pursuits.
None of that in any way helps McAleese, Jordan, and all those who are still capable of forming tremendous emotional attachments. Love most assuredly is a gamble but so too is all of existence.
The dangers and the pain are real but when all is said and done it remains arguably the noblest sentiment that any man or animal ever can hope to experience in this crazy world. McAleese's life ended much too soon but at least he had the good fortune to have been loved by Sophie and there can be little doubt that his last mortal thoughts were centered on her.
Souls perhaps more prudent have counseled that lovers should parcel out their affections in much the same fashion that a miser spends his money. That is a totally spurious argument because as Thomas Hardy so eloquently put in his 1876 novel, The Hand of Ethelberta, "a lover without indiscretion is no lover at all."
Photo: Bournemouth Echo.