I lost my companion cat, but found more than I expected

Me and my rescue/used cat, Gizmo, on his last full day.
Me and my rescue/used cat, Gizmo, on his last full day.

I lost one of my best friends Monday. My beloved “used cat,” Gizmo, had oral cancer – a tumor on his tongue that probably would spread aggressively – and had to be euthanized.

I hope it is not too selfish to say I learned something about myself in the process. You’d think at age 50 I would be done with that, but unfortunate circumstances breed opportunities we never wanted … do we turn away the lessons for bad timing?

At 12:15 p.m. I took my 11 ½-year-old cat, my buddy who had spent the last 8 ½ years of his life with me, to the vet, as I had arranged after getting the diagnosis on Friday. I wanted to let the rest of the family say goodbye to him. He had so much trouble eating by Sunday afternoon that I wouldn’t have waited any longer.

Our gentle and sensitive vet inserted a catheter for the IV medicine, then put him on a blanket on the exam table. I pulled up a chair so his head and mine would be at the same height, and rubbed his head, talking to him. He marked my face with the side of his, naming me “his” as he had done countless times before, and the doctor began the injection. Seconds later his head slumped and he was gone.

Only a few tears slipped away from me. In the waiting room, as I whispered that I loved him and I was sorry this had happened to him, I caught myself from disintegrating. He needed me to be normal, and I would be. I held together afterward, too, and that evening warned my husband, who had been in the same office when our first dog had to be euthanized, that I had not really cried yet.

A few people had commented on Facebook posts, a couple posted on my wall and a few sent me private messages. About 10 hours after the fact I saw this message:

“Hey Beth . . . I haven’t commented on any of your posts re: your beloved cat, but I just wanted to say I’m thinking of you. I can’t make anything better and I can’t imagine how tough this has been, but I’ve thought about you a lot over the weekend and today.”

Finally, I let myself cry, long and hard. I curled up on the couch, making sounds people shouldn’t make, prompting the Lab assistant to come and lick my elbow in an attempt to comfort me.

Most of my tears were for my beloved companion. This traced back to the first minutes I met him, when he bolted forward from his owner’s arms in their tiny apartment to bite me lightly on the nose, of all things, and John said he understood if I wanted to back out. I was freaked out but I understood I likely was this cat’s last chance, as no one else had been stepping forward after two public appeals to rescue him in this family move the new landlords would not allow him to make.

The first 24 hours were a heavy challenge – complete with hiding behind the bed, yowling and swiping with claws – but I never looked back. He became a true companion animal. If I went upstairs to change an alarm clock or put away clothes, he followed. In recent times, as I camped on the couch to work, he took up his station behind my shoulder (like the photo below).

Standard position: Me at work on the far right end of the couch, Gizmo at the intersection of arm and back.
Standard position: Me at work on the far right end of the couch, Gizmo at the intersection of arm and back.

In Gizmo’s last minute, we were as we had been so many times, with me nuzzling his head and him marking my chin in return. Seconds later he was gone, and there will be a hole in my heart forever.

Some of my tears, I have to admit, were for me. I have almost made a point of withdrawing from the physical world, growing more and more selective about my ventures into it. The volunteer obligation I have in mid-June likely will be my last for the year, as I turn partly toward my writing, and partly just away from a world I find draining.

But for this occasion, I was not withdrawn. I told people on Facebook, where I only connect to people I know in real life, about the Friday diagnosis. I posted a goodbye photo of me holding him Sunday (the one at the top of this post), and another note later Monday when I had been immersed in work and for a second looked up, expecting him to be there. I thanked my friends then for their support, saying it had meant a great deal to me.

What I did not say was how humbling it was. As much as I wish sometimes not to need people, on occasion I do, and they were incredibly quick to rush in with their virtual hugs.

“First time today I looked up from submersion in work and wondered where my cat was. Damn,” I said, around 6:30.

“I don’t care about cats, but I do like you a lot. Sorry for your loss,” a friend of 20 years replied. “It’s difficult to stop looking for them. Hug up the faithful lab assistant,” said another friend who never has seen Maggie in person, but is aware of the key role she plays in my daily existence.

One of my sisters pointed out that our late cats could pal around together now, and a friend told me about Saint Gertrude of Nivelles, “the patron of cats and those who love them.” (We Catholics, we’re into saints and intercession, so we only bother God with the really big stuff.)

I do not feel worthy of this outpouring, but I treasure it. As I crawl farther into my rabbit hole, I promise not to forget the people outside.

I asked, they answered. I don’t have to understand, just appreciate. And I do, from the bottom of my heart, I do.

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