One of the first things my father said to me upon learning that Dylan and I had adopted a kitten was a reminder of the commitment a pet requires. I know my mom mentioned the length of that commitment early on, too: cats can live 18-22 years, after all. I wasn’t concerned; it was hard to be when looking at a fluffy black and white kitten with bright green eyes. Besides, responsibility and commitment are kind of my deal. In hindsight, it might have been better perhaps to warn me of the possibility of having to let go before I was ready.
I was prepared to feed, pet and love Thomas for as long as he was my kitty. I was even prepared to forgive him when, as animals do, he ruined furniture and clothing with his claws. I was prepared to clean up messes and make concessions when he grew neurotic about the litter box being ultra clean. It was sometimes frustrating, but I had agreed to take care of Thomas and I knew that taking the good with the bad was part of the deal. This January when Thomas became seriously ill, I was prepared to spend what savings Dylan and I did have to restore his health. I fed him through a tube; I drove to visit him at vet-camp; I woke in the middle of the night to care for him.
I’ve always remembered my promise to do what was best for him. Dylan and I are steadfastly loyal and loving to each of our cats. Somehow, I thought this guaranteed us a happy ending; but then, without warning, the blow came: Thomas had cancer. Cancer we couldn’t stop. Cancer we couldn’t fix. Cancer we couldn’t wish, weep, or love away. I’ll admit it. As sturdy as my understanding of my commitment to Thomas had always been, I was not ready for this.
I’m devastated. I’m heartbroken. I’m angry. But I am not prepared. For me, this is an issue. I like to be prepared. I like planning, punctuality, and endeavor to be as prepared as I can for any situation. My cats have always been a piece of this planning, because I’ve always included them in our future. Maybe we’ll take a trip next summer? Guess who’s already making mental cat-care arrangements? We’re thinking of installing wood floors? I’m wondering how best to manage our cats during that process. Because I’m a planner, it is more difficult for me to accept change. Losing Thomas is a massive and terrible change. No bright side tempers the sadness or eases what I must make peace with: now that all is said and done, Thomas is gone. He brought so much happiness to our lives and now there is an empty ache in his absence.
The last two weeks have been some of the toughest I’ve experienced. We found out about the cancer last Monday. Suddenly, years of time with Thomas became months. There was talk of surgery and chemotherapy and weekly vet visits. How could we possibly know what Thomas would want? Thomas has been a source of joy in our lives for eleven years: a kitty that has made it more palatable to return home from vacation, easier to shrug off a bad day, more fun to snuggle into the couch on a snowy day. Thomas shared our home and life since I was twenty years old. Now, when it was most difficult, was the time to honor our promise to him and make the decision that was right for him. As the week progressed, we realized that we did not have months, or even weeks. Thomas could not be made to suffer because we were not brave enough to take that final step. Saturday evening, we helped our friend move on.
It has been hard for me to talk about Thomas, and not only because the hurt I feel is palpable. It is more because in many ways, Thomas was not really my cat. While I was the one that wrote the check and signed the paperwork, somewhere along the way an allegiance was made between Dylan and Thomas. I can only tell you it happened early on and it was heart-warming to witness. People make a big deal about man’s best friend; a boy and his dog is a well-tread theme. I lived for eleven years with a boy and his cat. Thomas rode around on Dylan’s shoulders, greeted Dylan at the door, sat on Dylan’s lap, slept by Dylan’s side, and was most content in Dylan’s company. For his part, Dylan loved Thomas without reserve and would have taken him everywhere with him, had that been the sort of thing cats tolerated.
Thomas owned a piece of my heart, though I was not his boon companion. He was my first pet as an adult. His clever little face greeted me each day as I returned home. Now there are empty spaces and moments that used to be filled by him. As time marches on, as it has a habit of doing, I am sure that things will start to seem better. That I will stop weeping in public. That music won’t seem so sad. That the house won’t seem so empty. That two cats will seem like enough. But for now, I am just incredibly sad and trying to slowly undo the knot of grief left in the wake of our loss.