A Farewell…

This is a humor blog. This is not, however a humor post. I’m not feeling very funny today. It’s pouring down rain and my heart is broken. So if you’re having a horrible Monday, you may not want to read further. If, however, you’ve been following this little subplot of my life, it’s time to settle accounts. 

Our pets take up such a significant amount of space in our lives. They command certain physical space– the corner by the air vent, the backrest of the couch, an old Easter basket. But it is the amount of emotional space in which they reside that is shocking to us. We don’t realize how much space in our hearts and minds they occupy until all of a sudden the space is empty. It’s like a vacuum. It tries to pull into itself everything around it. And I’ve often wondered why.

We know that people take up space. We feel their presence and we feel their absence. When a person falls ill, we know that their passing will hurt like a punch in the gut. Wait. We know that their passing will hurt like a continuous, ricocheting throttling in the gut that will only stop when we fall down and accept our loss. And then it will punish our backs. That’s how moving on is. We acknowledge the loss of our loved one and feel a brief moment of relief, of peace, and yet, there is the unceasing pain that comes from behind us as soon as we move on. For a time, this is it. This is life. And then we keep moving forward to the point that we still feel the loss acutely, still notice the absence, but the throbbing pain lessens and lessens, until we can think of them without wounding ourselves. Grief is slow like that.

But what about our departed pets? How does one prepare for that? One doesn’t.

I think there is something innately selfish about our relationships with our animals, and it is entirely unintentional. We care for them, we see to their needs, we provide for their health and well-being. But what do we expect of them? Everything. We expect their entire lives. We expect life expectancies to be met. When a cat is brought home, if a cat’s average life expectancy is 16 years, we expect to get our 16 years. When a Labrador is purchased, we expect them to live to be the full 12-15 years that is average for their breed. This is not to “get what we paid for” in terms of money. This is to get what we paid for with our hearts. We expect 17 years and we expect to get our emotional worth.

We don’t demand that from our human family members. We understand the risks of the universe: cancer, car accidents, forces of nature, the unexplained coincidence. But we are selfish with our animals. 

So what happens when your cat gets diabetes and has to be put to sleep at 7? It rocks your boat. It turns you upside down. It dicks with your expectations and makes you question if it’s worth it to have pets at all.

I still think it is. I will always think it is. Because as much as we give our pets, we are given so much more by their presence. We are humanized by them. They teach us how to love, how to give care. They remind us to laugh. They offer company to the lonely, comfort to the sick, and happiness to all. They become members of the family,  and no matter how much you try to tell yourself that “it’s just a freakin’ cat,” when they are gone, you cry like a baby and feel a little bit more lost.

I know that cats are not people. Dogs are not people. And while I am acutely aware that losing a pet pales in comparison to losing a spouse or parent, it still hurts. Like a bitch.
People get obituaries because they have life stories and people that survive them.

Cats don’t get obituaries because they aren’t people.

But cats (And dogs. And all of your other pets…) have life stories. They have lives, after all, do they not? And they have people that survive them, do they not? Of course.

We lost our sweet boy, Fred, yesterday. And we are heartbroken. But I, for one, take comfort in the fact that I had 7 years at all with such a magnificent cat.

So here it is:

***
Fredrick (Fred, Freddie, Mr. Fred)

Born: Late July, 2005.

Died: September 16, 2012

The family found Fred in their grandma’s neighbor’s garage. She thought he was a mouse at first and almost threw him away. He was not a mouse (obviously), but a week-old kitten that had been abandoned by his mother. The family took him to the pet store and bought the emergency bottle kit and fed him. The vet cautioned them that he probably wouldn’t make it, that he was too young and too weak and that most kittens abandoned at that age don’t survive. But a week passed. And then two. And then another two. And Fred opened his eyes and they fell in love.

Fred was a miracle kitten.

About this time, the family found the rest of his litter in a garage two doors down from where Fred had been found. They adopted his sister, Ethel.

Once, when Fred and Ethel were kittens, they were playing with a string toy. The mother and one of her daughters came into the kitchen to find that Fred had somehow wrapped the strong around his neck and was strangling. They were convinced he was dead. They pulled him free and stroked his neck. And he sprang up and pounced on Ethel.

Fred was a miracle kitten.

Two years into his life, Fred was diagnosed with feline diabetes. The vets told the families that the vast majority of cats with this diagnosis are put to sleep within a month. Most of the remainder don’t live more than 2 years past the diagnoses.  Fred was, apparently, not “most cats” and had not one, not two, but 5 more birthdays.

Fred was a miracle cat.

Days after the mother’s mother passed away, Fred spiraled into a diabetic coma. The vets told the family he wouldn’t live. They fought for several days to save him. He came out of it, shook it off, and carried on.

Fred was a miracle cat.

Fred brought countless laughs to the people who visited the family. He liked to give kisses and be carried around like a baby. He liked to ride around in sweatshirts. He enjoyed the company of others. He was a social fellow. He never met a stranger. He comforted the family when they lost family members of their own, he laid with them when they had the flu, he sat with them when they had their weekend coffee and did the crossword. He was a good boy. He enjoyed food, his fellow animals, and his family. (Not in that order. Though…maybe in that order?) 

Days after the oldest daughter got married, Fred went into another diabetic shock. The vets worked hard and he pulled through. 

But here’s the thing: even miracle cats have finite lives.

Fred was put to sleep due to complications arising from his diabetes. His pain is over. His suffering is done. And he can rest now. Truly, and really, rest.

Fred is survived by his owners caregivers Michael, Susan, Katie, and Kara. He is also survived by his sister, Ethel, and his canine compatriots, Rigby and Lola. Memorial will be ongoing. Donations should come in the form of stories of your pets.

***
When we had to put my sweet Mr. Max to sleep, a friend sent me a message that helped me through. I’ve worked it out and made it my own.

Pets are like library books. We check them out, we borrow them for a time. We read them and we fall in love with their stories and their essence. And then the time comes, as it must, in libraries and life, when we must return them to their shelves. And we mourn. And we feel lost. What will we read now? But we have to return the book to check out another. There are so many books to be read. There are so many pets to be loved.

I’m not saying that we’ll hop right out to the store to get another cat. But we had so much love to give to Fred. And Fred had so much love that he unconditionally gave to us. I have a feeling that Fred would want us to give another animal a chance to feel that love and to love us as unconditionally in return as Fred did. A dear friend, talking me through this, told me that in order to have hellos, we must have goodbyes.

I promise you, tomorrow, that I will have funny things to say about our sweet boy. I’ll tell you about the time that he shit all over me at my sister’s regional Cross Country meet. (Yes, I promise it happened and I promise I’ll tell you.) But for now, I just need to say my hellos and goodbyes.

Goodbye, Mr. Fred. We will miss you always. Say hello to Max for me. 

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Comments:

  1. So sorry to hear about your precious Fred. I can totally relate as we’ve lost two cats in the past two years. They are truly part of your family. Fred was blessed to have a home with so much love. Sending you guys hugs from IL.

    • Thank you, Jen! It such a hard thing to go through. It’s wonderful to have the support of dear friends and family. But from my stalking I see that you’re about to get your own Mr. Max! Congratulations! 🙂

  2. So sorry to hear about beautiful and sweet Fred. Even with his health problems, he was still able to enjoy life with the wonderful family that did everything they could to take care of him! He couldn’t have had a better family! 🙂 Your post breaks my heart, because it makes me think of my fat orange tabby, Evan, who we were lucky to have in our family 16 years! It’s so hard to part with a pet, especially when it’s almost like you grew up together as siblings. He will always be with you because he is a permanent part of your life and story. I hope Fred runs into Evan in kitty heaven! While Fred is a fashion-forward pretty boy, and Evan is a lazy slob who’s name should have been Garfield, I think they’ll be great pals! Love you and hope your day gets better!

    • They will most definitely be pals! If for no other reason than they will need to help each other run away from Max, haha. He LOVED to chase cats. Thanks for the story about Evan – I never knew y’all had a cat! Love you and hope you’re doing well! Email me a life update, sometime! 🙂

  3. Oh Kate,
    It sucks and I’m sorry. We lost our first dog, Maddy, 3 years ago. She was a Basset Hound with loads of personality. Her decline was awful. Just awful. She was in our wedding –walked down the aisle-/and so much a part of us as a couple. It was like losing a child. So, I get it. And send love to you.

  4. sweet baby kate,

    auntie bev is in alberta, having a little cry for fred. you take as long as you need to get your sad out. but there will be times in your life when you will most need some love and then you will feel the comforting weight of him in your lap – this is how real love is

    i will tell our cats, hope, karm and daisy, of fred’s passing. they will be glad to hear he was good and noble cat.

    xx

    • Thank you, Auntie Bev. I’m getting the sad out, as much as I’d rather bury it. But I know that it’s not healthy to bottle it up. You made me cry a little with that really lovely thought about feeling him when I need comfort. I think you’re right – thank you.

      Please give Hope, Karm, and Daisy a snuggle for me.

      xx

  5. I am not ashamed to say I cried through this post. I am so very, very sorry for the pain mixed in with the sweet memories that you’re enduring. It’s never fair! It’s never the right time.
    There are no words I can say that will help lift any of the pain, so I’ll just leave it with this…*hugs*

    • Thanks, Chris. It’s bittersweet. But I’m glad he’s not suffering anymore. He’d had a really rough few months and had been in the vets office almost as much as he’d been home. It’s never the right time. I was talking to a friend about it the other day and I said, “I know it’s the right thing to do.” And she replied, “Sure it is. It’s the right thing to do. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.” I don’t like that he’s gone, but that’s my issue, not his. I really appreciate your support and kindness – it means so much. Hugs right back to you. Give those kittens a snuggle for me! 🙂

  6. Bless your heart. It’s important, I think, that you wrote this. We humans need rituals that mark our grief — whether a cat or human passes on. For so many, pets provide an unconditional form of love unlike any we’ve known. May you find peace and comfort … but, as Chris said, words fail in times like these. So, here’s my “offering”: My cat, Misty. I got her when I was 23 and very alone in my life. She used to sleep on the pillow beside me. She liked to be held like a baby. She would stare into my eyes and reach one paw up to my face, as if she were stroking me. She was with me through many trials and joys. At 9 years old, she got cancer and passed on a January afternoon, in my arms, at home. The night before she passed, I reached down to pet her in the night (she slept on a heating pad at the foot of our bed by then because she got cold). She reached her paws up and played for a minute. That’s what I remember. Hours before she left this earth, she gave me that. I hope your happy memories of Fred sustain you.

  7. Thank you, Terri. I really appreciate this. We do need rituals. I wrote through the deaths of two grandparents and a dog. It looks like I’ll be writing through the death of a cat. Thank you for your “offering” – I hope that wherever they are now that Misty and Mr. Fred can say hello.

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