My cat Lily died in my arms last Monday evening. We were sitting around watching the hockey playoffs on TV, Lily curled up in her little wicker bed on the floor beside me. Suddenly, I heard an unusual, low-pitched “meeeooow” like I’d never heard before, a small cough, two deep sighs, and then nothing. The vet believes that “her heart just gave out” due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most common form of heart disease in cats. Sometimes there are no signs and sudden death is the first, and last, hint of any problem. That trip to the vet was a blur. My daughter Larissa (that’s her on the left showing off Lily’s frog costume last Halloween) and my son-in-law Randy were right there with me.
Later, after a weepy final visit with my Lily in the vet’s office, we were back at home over rhubarb crisp and tea, and they quietly removed Lily’s toys, food and assorted cat stuff so I wouldn’t have to deal with them the next morning.
Let me tell you a little about my Lily. After my heart attack, I found out that owning a pet happens to be very good for heart patients. In fact, being a cat owner could actually reduce your risk of another heart attack by nearly one-third, according to a 10-year study by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute. And even having a purring cat on your lap can lower your blood pressure.
So off we headed to the local animal shelter, where we adopted the world’s cutest cat.
Lily was what’s called a dilute calico breed, a lovely goldish-grey multi-colour longhair with green eyes. She was the world’s funniest cat, good for hours of endless amusement as she tossed her stuffies up into the air to re-catch them. She was also the world’s most affectionate cat.
Without exception, everybody who met my Lily said they’d never encountered a cat who so openly loved snuggles and cuddles. She had a way of nosing her sweet little face into your neck or gently placing a paw onto your hand (especially if you were typing on the laptop) that would simply break your heart.
I really loved that about her.
But she was also the world’s worst cat:
- She was an incorrigible furniture scratcher, despite having not one but two perfectly good scratching posts at her disposal. Her early-morning wake-up call involved the unmistakable sound of her going to town on the red leather La-Z-Boy chair in the living room. Nothing gets you leaping out of bed faster than that horrible sound.
- She was a one-cat wrecking crew. Besides that red leather chair, she had completely destroyed the dark satin bed skirt and one half of the (microfibre-covered) slipper chair. My favourite Espe purse. My beloved El Naturalista green shoes, made in Spain. Any magazines left lying about were shredded beyond utility. And I couldn’t have fresh flowers in the house anymore because she’d whack over the vases in search of the water.
- Like all devious little felines, she had an unerring ability to identify visitors who are allergic or simply don’t like cats. Those were the ones she could not and would not leave alone, preferring to leap repeatedly onto their laps for an impromptu snuggle. Once, when I was having coffee at the kitchen table with my (allergic) friend Marlline, Lily even jumped vertically from the floor straight up, directly onto Marlline’s HEAD, all 3.6 kg of her. Ouch . . .
- Lily somehow knew that when she felt the need to hork up a gigantic hairball, doing so on the off-white bedroom carpet would make a much better mess compared to the kitchen floor. She’d run over to the carpet to do so.
- She was a longhair cat. What more can I say? As my cat-loving friend Gail says: “No outfit is complete without cat hair!” And every item in my wardrobe seemed to sport lots of it. I carried lint rollers with me 24/7.
I really hated that about her.
So how do you possibly say goodbye to these wonderful/annoying little furballs? Whether it’s an elderly or ailing cat whose time has come for that final trip to the vet’s office, or a sudden loss when a cat just disappears into the neighbourhood as our old cat Lucy did one night (or dies in your arms like Lily did), a pet’s death can be an unspeakable loss.
The University of Guelph’s Pet Loss Support newsletter suggests:
“Allow yourself time to grieve. You may be able to begin grieving soon after your loss, or you may need a few weeks or months before you can do so.
“Remember the wonderful times with your pet, and all the special, unique things that he or she did. Find a way to express your grief. This could be in the form of talking about your feelings to someone who understands how special our animals are, expressing your feelings on paper, or finding a special way to memorialize your pet.”
Thank you, my loving little friend Lily, for those wonderful years of your funny-insane-affectionate self.
“Say not in grief she is no more,
But in thankfulness