Saturday, January 1, 2011

Starting 2011 on a sad note: coping with the loss of a pet

Tigger and Pooh, December 1997
It was only supposed to be a weeklong fling.

It was the fall of 1997 and I was the new teacher on the block at a prestigious Southern private school. One day over lunch I happened to mention my affinity for the feline persuasion. Shortly after, a colleague asked if I'd mind cat sitting her two tabbies when her highly allergic boyfriend came to visit.

"Why not?" I told her. After all, I was feeling quite grownup those days. I had my first real job and my first real apartment (Look Ma, no roommates!). Surely I could handle the responsibility of a weekend with two furry friends. I expected they might scratch my furniture, and that was OK. I figured they might have an accident at some point, but that was not a problem. I bought food, litter boxes, toys and scratching posts. I was fully prepared for those cats. Just not prepared to fall in love with them.

But that's exactly what happened, and when they went back to their owner my "big girl" apartment suddenly felt hollow and empty. Fortunately, love was on our side and the owner's allergic boyfriend quickly became the allergic fiance. And Tigger, Pooh and I instantly became a family.

They were young, frisky, and eager to assert their independence, and so was I. Together we spent two years in Chattanooga, TN and I think we all helped each other grow up a bit. They gave me something to come home to in that unfamiliar, somewhat lonely town. I had a sense of belonging, or at least of someone(s) belonging to me. And while the three of us spent many a Saturday night curled up together on the couch watching movies (OK, it was figure skating), and I knew full well that I was just a few hairballs short of Crazy Cat Lady status, life with my girls was very good.

The next few years were tumultuous, bringing drastic changes in time zones, careers, relationships and more. Through it all, my girls stuck with me. At times they seemed restless, ornery, frustrated, and so was I. But when a tall, fair and handsome man walked into our lives, they fell instantly in love, and so did I.

Our family grew, and a few years later grew again. At first the cats, my original "babies," weren't quite sure what to make of the wriggling, noisy little bundle we brought home. They were confused, disoriented, out of their element, and so was I. But eventually we all let instinct take over and found our comfort zones. For me, that meant cuddling my baby boy most of the day and night. For the cats, that meant spending most of the day under my bed, then peeking out to see if the coast was clear for cuddling to make sure I didn't forget who they were.

We lost our sweet Tigger to kidney disease in the summer of 2008. Our little boy was about to turn one and was blissfully too young to have any idea what was happening. I envied his innocence and cried myself to sleep for weeks. Tigger had always been the outgoing, happy-go-lucky one, while her sister was the standoffish, silent diva. But in Tigger's absence, Pooh seemed to understand we needed a little more meow in our home and stepped up to the plate.

Pooh, December 2010
Pooh was with us until a just a few days ago, when heart disease took its toll. It just doesn't seem possible that both my girls are now gone- I keep expecting to see a furry head pop around the corner or feel a paw poke tentatively at my lap. It's hard to imagine that the loss of two such small creatures can create such an immense void in our home, in our lives, and in our hearts. Those cats helped usher in a new era in my life, so perhaps it's only fitting that I'm now beginning a new year, a new decade without them.

As is often the case with cats, the end came quickly with both our girls. One minute they were fine, the next clearly not. In those last moments, they gave out an unfamiliar, painful cry and could only be comforted by the touch of those they loved. And tonight, so will I.

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