A month ago, we lost our cat, Biz. The time since her death has felt odd: There’s a vacancy in my heart and in our home. A once busy household with a herd of four pets has dwindled to two, after we re-homed our basenji two Thanksgivings ago.
The grieving process has surprised me: Most days I’m feeling OK, then I glance over at my male cat Sidney (a.k.a. Sids), and worry that he’s lonely, missing his sister, a kitty he’s known since he was only a year old. They grew up together. They played and they fought and they ran with each other these past 10 years. I had a flash instinct to bring home another cat — whiskers on kittens are one of the favorite things, after all, and would instantly lift my mood — but I’ve decided that I need to fully process this emotion. And Sids will be just fine. He’s always been fiercely independent, as many cats are.
Biz was no ordinary cat, though. She was my light, pure and loving and sweet and rarely naughty. She was always by my side. She’d lay on my lap when I watched TV, by my feet when I’d cook, and alongside my leg when I’d sit to read in my blue chair. With my fertility challenges these past few years, she was my baby substitute. I’d cradle her and tell her so, in an odd voice that I’d never use in public. (Pet owners: You know the voice.)
I slept poorly the night she died and spent the following day working quietly at home, all the while wiping the constant stream of tears from my face. I walked through the house slowly, sitting frequently to wail. Kyle made all the meals and kept up the chores for several days while I took a diminished role to deal with the wave of emotions. I couldn’t answer personal emails or talk on the phone — I wanted to be alone and allow myself to feel. After five days, I felt a lightening in my chest.
Time heals, as they say.
Still, my energy has been low. With the loss of light at Daylight Savings, our recent frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall in Minnesota, not to mention the busyness of the holidays, my environment and circumstances are partially to blame, and I’ve heard similar complaints about dwindling reserves of energy. Usually, I’m quite skilled at multitasking; these days I can only accomplish three or four big tasks each day. (Although, that still seems like a lot after I typed it, and Experience Life readers may recall how multitasking throws you off focus, and digital multitasking, in particular, has been connected in one Michigan State study to feelings of sadness and anxiousness.)
Life coach Lauren recommends letter writing as part of the Handel Method, and I’ve found this assignment very comforting (I’ve scripted letters to my body, my family, ex-boyfriends, old friends, and my younger self). Lauren calls it the “Dear Issue” letter, and challenges clients to write their first letter to fears, but even in writing to another person, place, or thing, your unconscious barriers can be revealed, as you’ll see in my letter below. (Read more about how to write a letter from Lauren here.)
So here goes…
I always knew you were special. A cat that would come running when called, a cat that often acted like a dog. From a kitten, you were always sweet, and your purr always loud. I knew I favored you, but only because you were so damn cute. And so good.
When I suspected diabetes and confirmed it with the vet, we got in a car accident on the way home. I injured my wrist and totaled my car, and I felt like we were bonded: two broken girls. I knew you’d need special care, but I loved you so so much, I was willing to administer insulin shots and check your blood-glucose levels with a monitor. I was willing to experiment with your food and give you extra attention.
I was willing, but I don’t know if I was truly able.
I was getting sick, too, gaining weight, losing steam, and feeling moody all the time. But I ignored my health to focus on work and my family and my pets. I did my best to keep you in balance, but with the stress from Ladybird and the space she took up at our old home, you never were able to relax. You weren’t safe, and I knew it, but I wanted to love you all so I kept trying to get Ladybird to like you and stop chasing you. But I knew you feared her. I knew your life was scary. I ignored it because I was selfish and just wanted to keep my pets.
Once she left, you changed. You regained your playfulness. You resumed you role as my constant companion. I know the move was stressful and you hated the car rides in your kennel, but once we finally made it to our new home, you seemed at peace. I didn’t realize it was the beginning of your end.
In the weeks before you died, I felt like something was wrong. You were quieter, keeping your distance from me. You spent a lot of time near your food dish and litter box, or laying flat on the ground instead of in my lap. When you did come close, you seemed to be purring louder and breathing faster. You started begging more, asking for food and attention. When you crawled into my lap, you’d press your face against mine. You were moving slower, stopping frequently to rest. You were acting strange, but with your diabetes, I figured your blood sugar was off.
You knew something was wrong and you were trying to tell me, but I ignored it. Or maybe I didn’t know what else to do. Maybe I had done all I could for you.
Still, I cared for you and wanted to help, so I called the vet to inquire. He recommended that I check your blood-glucose levels when I got home.
But when I got home, you were moving even slower. At one point you stood up and Dad noticed your legs had swollen. I started to worry that you were retaining water and going into kidney failure, so we rushed you to the emergency clinic.
As soon as we arrived, you were struggling to breathe on your own. I needed to know what was happening, so I asked the vets to intervene. They tubed you, took an ultrasound, then came into the waiting room to tell us that they were doing chest compressions. The ultrasound revealed an enlarged heart, and in the vet’s opinion, it was congenital and not tied to your diabetes. “There was nothing you could have done,” she told me. “If you would have brought her in a few weeks ago, we would’ve given you the same information — only then you would’ve had to choose to put her to sleep or wait to watch her die.” The vet said that, even with medical care, you would have a poor quality of life and only a few days to a week left of life.
I shook my head as she spoke. I told her to stop and let you go. I let you go.
When they brought your little lifeless body to me, wrapped in a blanket, I screamed. I wailed. I apologized over and over again to you. I’m so sorry, Biz, I’m so sorry. I failed you. I tried so hard for so long to keep you healthy. I wanted you to grow into old age and die at 18 or 20 like other cats. Ten years old is too young to die!
I failed you as a caregiver. I couldn’t take care of you — my sweet, easygoing cat with diabetes. How am I going to take care of a human child? Am I ready to be a mom if I can’t keep my cat alive?
You died of an enlarged heart. Dad says your heart was so big because you loved me so much. If size is an indicator of love, then surely my heart has shrank since you died. There will never be another cat like you.
But then, you knew that. And I know you felt loved. Maybe you felt too loved. Maybe you left my world so I could make space for a baby. Maybe this was part of your kitty plan all along: Challenge Mom with my special needs, make her love me to pieces, then go when she starts cradling me and calling me her baby, so she can give that love to an actual baby.
You were a smart cat.
Thank you for being wonderful. Thank you for teaching me how to be selfless, how to care for a creature with unique needs, how to listen to the messages from our bodies and trust my instincts.
Thank you for being in my life.