It was so sudden when it happened. By the warmth on her body, I may have only missed it by a few minutes. We had all been watching a movie on the couch. She had been sitting behind my husband’s head, perched in her usual spot.
Sometimes, when she felt comfortable enough around us, she would give your hand or cheek a few tiny licks as a way of demonstrating her affection. Sometimes, she would grab a hold of my husband’s head, and full-on momma cat groom his hair. She had been doing that just minutes before the movie ended.
As we got up to eject the disk, go to the bathroom, get fresh drinks and the like, the cats usually take this opportunity to re-settle themselves on the furniture. I imagine that’s when Abby decided to go upstairs to our bedroom, where she often laid on our bed until it was time to go to sleep.
I came up in search of her a few minutes later. It was time to take her medicine, and before I got within a few feet, I jumped back. By the way her body was laid on the floor, I knew she was dead. Her tail was always so expressive, now lay lifeless. Her perfectly soft fur not moving, her eyes half open.
My first rational thought, after the initial denial that she was gone, was how unprepared I was to say goodbye. Having just returned from a week away where she’d had no other interaction than the pet sitter, in isolation from the others because we couldn’t be there to supervise, I was looking forward to the time with her over the long holiday weekend.
But now she was gone. I couldn’t get over the feeling that she died because of my failings in raising her. I made mistakes in training her, with respect to integrating the new cats and correcting her own bad behaviors. I was working on fixing the broken cat I had ignorantly created. The work we were doing with her was atonement to make it right.
I had thought she was happier, being more social with us and the other cats, and really responded to our efforts. Her tremendous fear of the vet was becoming too great a stressor on her heart murmur. With the prospect of taking her to the cardiologist, it proved to be a fear greater expense, in emotional toll and financial cost, than we were willing to undertake. Especially considering how stressful the simple prospect of taking her to the vet became, the ride alone could kill her. We didn’t want to risk it.
Instead, we determined that her stressful integration with the new cat was beginning to take its toll. We gave her a room in the house that was just hers, to use overnight for protection and during the day if she needed a time out or simply wanted to go to the bathroom in peace. She seemed to enjoy the arrangement, often preferring to spend down time in the room even when we were home, letting us know when she wanted in or out by a series of calls and gentle scratches on the laminate floor.
We did this most of all as a concession, an apology but not an undoing for taking in a cat that we loved and she didn’t particularly care for. To be frank, she had been displaying her same bad behaviors long before we moved to our current home and way before the other cat ever showed up. It was a problem that continued to plague us until she died.
When she was a kitten, we had only one other cat, Isabelle, who died last fall. Isabelle seemed bored, and we thought that we would get a friend for her. Abby thought Isabelle hung the moon, but Isabelle was too old for kitten stuff. A year later we got Ella, and Abby was in heaven. She had a playmate and a loving home and all was right with the world.
Abby loved to have her picture taken. I’d have no trouble taking amazing shots of her, as she seemed to know how to strut her stuff. The camera loved her, and in fact the very first picture I ever took that made me consider becoming a real photographer was of her.
Her fur was the softest you’d ever feel, if she would let you get close enough to touch her. An errant pat and she would grab your hand in her teeth for daring to be so bold. If you were lucky, she’d let you go. If not, she’d dig in with claws and teeth, to the point where she’d draw blood and scare the bejesus out of you.
There was a special way that I had to hold her, a balanced carry across my forearm, her weight a perfect trust of balance in my palm. I would often help her up to the ledge by putting a flat and firm open hand under her back paws so she could have a surface to bound from. It was a perfect rhythm and understanding between us, something I’ve never experienced from any other animal.
In spite of all the troubles she gave us, we loved her fiercely and wanted so desperately to help her, to give her a happy life and a safe place to call home. How often we were told by vets and friends that we were exceptionally patient with her, how a lot of people would have given up on her. We simply couldn’t.
Still, as much as I feel that I failed her, it is over. She is free of this life. She lived the last few hours of her life in what I imagine was happy kitty bliss. Her humans had come home, and she had gotten all loved up. I like to think that as she was on her way to snuggle up on the bed, it wasn’t the stress anymore, but happiness that was in her heart. And that it was so full in that moment that it simply burst. I hope that she laid her head down as she died and felt that she had been loved, truly loved, and that her moment as she slipped into the light was a peaceful one.