Dear Little Cat:
I'm not sure I ever fully explained to you the blessing you have been to our family. You came to live with us 17 years ago as just a little thing. My daughter picked you out from a cage of several little kittens like you at the shelter. I'm not sure why she chose you, but I'm glad she did. You turned out to be much more than just a kids' pet -- you were their friend.
See, that was important. Because here's the rest of the story. We'd just moved here from a place far away. That was miserable enough for the kids, but what made it worse was that during the preparations to move, their cat just up and left. Apparently she didn't like the idea of moving any more than any of them did. So all four kids came here missing not only every other thing they'd left behind, but their cat too. They eventually got over everything else they missed, and you helped them get over her.
You grew up with them, and you taught them. You helped them experience the responsibility of taking care of someone else besides themselves. You purred when they treated you kindly, and nipped when they didn't, offering them a perfect example of consequence. You were this quirky little constant presence, even as their own lives evolved.
Eventually they grew up, moved away, and then it was just you and us -- my husband and I. We were growing older together, you leaps and bounds faster than us. You eventually turned your back on hanging out on the deck and chose the garage as your sanctuary. I thought that was odd, but not too out of character. So I fixed you a towel in a box on a shelf and there you lived, with your food and water dishes nearby. The seasons came and went as your world shrank to eating and sleeping. Your favorite pastime was draping your body over the hood of the warm car, leaving fur balls to be sucked into the air filter, much to my husband's annoyance.
A little warning went off in my head last winter when your fur started falling out in clumps. You got pretty run down, and I began to panic. But spring came and you rebounded. You still ruled your roost from your throne box, accepting with dignity the morsels of tuna and other delicacies I periodically brought to you.
All that changed last week when you failed to jump up into your box. Instead you laid on a piece of cardboard in the corner of the garage. Puzzled, I put your towel there for you, as well as your dishes. Sadly, that wasn't necessary, because in the next two days you ate no food and drank very little water. The couple of messes you made were too much of a sign to ignore. I phoned the vet; he said to bring you in. I spent the hour between the call and the appointment hour sitting next to you on the garage floor. I watched you shifting uncomfortably; you were clearly in pain. And it hit me like a ton of bricks that you were leaving.
Struggling to ignore that, I gently patted your little head and talked to you. Mostly I thanked you. Thanked you for being such a funny little friend to our family. Thanked you for being such a constant in their lives. Thanked you for understanding my reaction to the dead hummingbird gift you brought to me, and for never doing that again. Thanked you for letting me spill my secrets to someone I knew would hold them. Thanked you for your patience with us.
The vet's counter was cold, yet you crawled off your blanket to crouch on the hard surface. When the vet came in, you barely looked at him. He, however, studied you with a practiced eye, then turned to gently ask me, "Are you sure you want me to examine her?"
I was grateful for his question, because it let me decline what would have been a troubling, invasive experience that would end the same way anyway.
"No." And then I lost it.
Vets' education surely includes a chapter on how to help people help their pets get past their pain and suffering. I found tremendous support from him and his nurse. I held you one last time, once more aware of how thin you'd become, once more aware of your trembling pain.
You slipped away quietly with my hand on your little head and my voice in your ear.
I stayed in that room with you for a little while. I think your spirit hovered around, maybe giving me the same final hug I'd just given you before heading off to that cat heaven of catnip fields and very slow mice.
You are a memory now. My husband and I made a pact that there won't be another cat to take your place. No cat could. And yet, you left this tremendous void, and I'm not sure how to live with that.
But thank you Little Cat. God speed.
You can contact D. Louise Brown at email@example.com