I said “goodbye” to my best pal last Thursday.
As you may recall from my second installation, my precious and hilarious eighteen-year old cat, Harry, went through a health scare two and a half months ago.
Despite the almost-misdiagnosis of multiple myeloma, my boy began what we called his “going out of business sale” a week and a half ago and last Thursday I helped him cross over to The Next Place, peacefully and sweetly. And, yes, very sadly.
The love and devotion Harry and I had for each other for eighteen glorious years was something I hope everyone can experience at least once in their lives. When I had to break the news to my friends and loved ones about Harry’s passing, most of my inner sanctum cried right along with me (what I’m finding out now is that Harry was everyone’s favorite; William was mostly tolerated for my sake). Then there were a few more detached reactions of “Well, you should be happy and grateful; he lived to be eighteen.”
To these well-meaning, more-evolved-than-I’ll-ever-be people I say “Thank you.”
And then I say, “F*** you.” (with all of the love in my heart, of course)
Because with eighteen full and wonderful years of my days and nights revolving around my boy, it sure as hell did not make it any easier or any more peaceful to be able to say goodbye. Eighteen years of living in my heart and soul, my house, and my checkbook. Feline longevity is truly a both a blessing and a dirty trick.
I am grateful to say that Harry’s last two months of enjoying (a la Arnold Ziffle) a completely raw diet (we did not keep the meat grinder thanks to a frozen raw diet by Nature’s Variety and Primal) and my being able to be home with him every day due to my lack of work opportunities, were eight full and beautiful weeks filled with constant love, many heart-to-heart discussions, and a lot of sleepless nights. But all of this was worth every dark circle under my eyes, the risk of salmonella breeding in my Tupperware bowls, and the ten pounds I lost because of the stress. (Note to self: When praying to lose ten pounds – be reaaaaalllly specific about how you’d like this to happen).
So, I now have a less cluttered dish drainer, more room in my freezer, and rock-hard, flat abs.
But I don’t have Harry.
What can I say? He was the love of my life, seeing me through every up and down, feeling my every pain and triumph, and letting me know what was going on with him, every minute.
I always knew exactly where I stood with Harry.
And it was because of this connection and silent understanding we shared that I knew when it was time for me to make “the decision” to send him off to the Rainbow Bridge. The decision to let him go was not a battle about putting him out of his discomfort and pain; I knew it was the kindest and most loving thing I could do for my boy. What made this decision so excruciating was that I knew that after I made it, I would return home and for the first time in eighteen years, he wouldn’t be there to help me get through it.
And I honestly had no idea just how devastating it would be to put the key in my front door and not hear the little bell on his collar bounding off of the sofa to greet me and be a good egg when I asked him, as I always did, “What did you do today, Hairzy Doats? Did you build sand castles?” As annoyed as I can only imagine he was over this goofy question through the years, he always humored me with a wink and a “meow” as if he was just happy to be asked.
Harry was the world’s best “improv partner.” Always present, participatory, and so eager to please. He was brilliantly smart, chatty, and from Day One, his eyes said it all. And they showed no fear. Ever.
Until last week. And that’s when I knew.
For a wonderfully bright and healthy cat to feel unsafe and frightened in its own home is not a way to live. Every day I noticed Harry losing the ability and interest to partake in the things he enjoyed doing on a daily basis. No more sitting on the windowsill, breathing in the fresh ocean air. No more balancing on his scratching post. No more peeking out of the bedroom window while balancing on his hind legs. No more playing with his favorite toys or enjoying the buzz from his catnip. And the thing that hit me harder than any of the others: no more jumping off of the sofa to greet me as I came through the front door. That’s when I knew, no felt as only a mother must feel, that my boy was winding down.
His morning ritual of climbing on my pillow, striking his Lion King pose (on my head), and nuzzling my ears for me to get up still happened, but he was unsteady and unsure on his feet. There was something going on that just wasn’t right and when he looked at me with those wise green eyes, it was as if he was saying, “Mom … what’s going on? I can’t get my balance.”
Fear. Terror. Trepidation.
None of these words had ever been part of Harry’s and my collective vocabulary. Ever.
I am so grateful that I was in tune with him and could feel the shift in his behavior. Many fellow pet- owning friends told me, “Well, as long as he’s eating and pooping, then it’s a good day.” How I wanted to believe this! Because he was, and for a couple of days last week, I hung my every hope and prayer on these two things still going right. But after getting the results back from his last visit to the vet and finding out that pretty much everything else in his shrinking, painfully spindly body was shutting down, I knew that although merely eating and pooping might be enough for another animal, it sure as hell wasn’t enough for my Harry. Not no way, not no how.
Because Harry sucked the juice out of every minute of his life – even his after his naps he’d wake up and start chatting as if he wanted to let me in on the awesome nap he just had (definitely his Mama’s boy). Merely “existing” was not an option of my boy. And the night before “the decision” I saw Harry curled up in his “loaf” position, just existing. And then I looked into those beautifully clear and oh-so honest eyes.
“Help me, Mom, please?”
This was not my cat; this was the .5 version of Harry.
So, I kept my word to my boy. James and I were with him at the very end and held him during and afterward. I made sure that my favorite around-the-house shirt was under his nose so he could smell his Mama all the way to Heaven. There were tears; James’ and mine, and the tears of the incredible angels at VCA Rossmore who all knew and adored Harry for the past two years.
It’s been nine days. The first five were among the saddest I’ve ever known. Even our house was mourning Harry and the absence of his incredible energy. I have three sets of wind chimes, and none of them rang until this past Tuesday. I heard my neighbors all around me and their chimes – all ringing as a sweet sea breeze would come by. But mine were still. And so was I. My house was suddenly just so very “beige” – that’s the only way I can describe it. Oh, and one other way: It felt like when you’re walking down a flight of stairs and you think that there’s one more step to go, and there’s not. Stop-start. Abbreviated.
Oh, wait – I forgot. He’s not here.
Oh, and then feeling like a homeless person on Venice beach by the way I keep catching myself talking to, well, no one. I checked in with Harry, I’m realizing, about everything. So when I’m getting up from my sofa and hear myself say out loud, “Mommy is going to take a shower now” that kinda makes me feel … uh, INSANE.
With every day I am happily reminded that “God’s mercies are new every morning” and with each day that passes and marks however many days it’s been since last Thursday, I feel a little lighter and more hopeful. I am giving myself the honor and luxury of mourning my cat/friend/child and all of the emotions I am feeling since he left. I think it’s important to do this. In fact, I know it is. When you went through the 80s and 90s and became a charter member of the Memorial of the Month Club while your friends were dying around you, you learn to allow yourself the time to feel what you need to feel until you can once again breathe deeply and not burst into tears every hour (not a good thing while driving – almost as dangerous as texting).
Someone once asked me, after my twenty-fifth friend had succumbed to AIDS, “How do you get used to it? How do you get through this – again?”
All I could come up with was this: You don’t get used to it; you just get more graceful at it. What took two weeks to cry over now takes maybe (if you’re lucky) two days. So, let’s hear it for progress.
One day, I know I will welcome into my life and heart a new companion and that Harry and Wills will lead me to the perfect new kid to brighten my life and for whom I’ll risk, once again, the curse of salmonella. But for now, I’m happy to just be and to relish every single memory of my boy until I can do so with a smile and, who knows, maybe even a good laugh.
There’s a beautiful scene in one of my favorite movies, Four Weddings and a Funeral. I always cried over this tender scene but I never really felt its message until I bid farewell to my BFF (Best Feline Friend) last Thursday.
“He was my north, my south, my east and west. My working week, my Sunday rest.”
This was Harry. This is love. And this says it all.
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