Missing My Cat: Dealing with Loss Nearly a Year Later

by Cole Mayer
(Boise, Idaho, USA)

I had to put my cat to sleep last year. It tore me up inside, and despite months passing - it feels like a year, but is about 9 months - and adopting a kitten, the wound still hurts. My grandfather died a month later, and I was more torn up about losing my cat than my grandfather.

When I started dating my now-wife a decade ago, she introduced me to her tubby Bengal, Emma. Emma was a large cat - about 18 pounds of fluff and love. Without a doubt, she was the best cat I have and will ever own - including my new kitten (who is very sweet, but also less than a year old and loves to play at 4 a.m.). Over the 9 years I knew her, Emma adopted me as a new owner. She would plop down next to me, bend her head over backwards, stare at me with her big, green eyes, and expect me to pet her.

My wife and I decided to move to Idaho two years ago, which necessitated  a 12-hour drive with a moving van. Emma was with me, in my car, while my wife drove the van. Although medication is suggested for carsickness when traveling with a pet by car, it did nothing for her anxiety.

I had a 20-minute respite from the average of a scared, confused meow every 30 seconds, until my wife called me from the van and my Bluetooth picked the call up. Otherwise, it was 12 hours of meowing. It was a great bonding experience.

But we weren’t done helping each other. We had another cat, Mia, that was actually my mother-in-law’s cat. Although my mother-in-law was going to come out and live with us, she had to remain in California for work for nearly a year, keeping Mia with her. Although there was definitely sibling rivalry, Emma showed some signs of loss not unlike what pets show after a death in the family.

Emma sat with me through 9 months of unemployment, while she didn’t play as often and wasn’t as social for the first few months after the move. As I searched for a job, sitting on the couch, Emma sat there next to me.

Even before we moved, I was hanging out with the cat (and my wife, of course). Whenever I wasn’t at work, for the 3 years before we moved, I was at my wife’s house. Before I moved in with my wife, I spent much of my non-school time at my wife’s house, as well.

In mid-2016, Emma developed a horrible cough, not unlike hacking up a hairball, a few times a day. The initial diagnosis was feline bronchitis, essentially kitty asthma, but it never got better.

After a month of no progress, a specialist found a tumor was quickly cutting off her windpipe. The tumor was causing her to cough. She was still eating fine (eating was one of her greatest joys in life) but the tumor was growing. Its position, combined with her being 13 years old, meant the specialist felt the tumor was inoperable, as Emma wouldn’t make it through surgery. At best, she had 6 months, but that required an expensive surgery, and no real guarantee she would last that long. They found other tumors in her body - meaning the tumor was likely cancerous, and had already spread. The expensive surgery might fix her windpipe, but cancer could take her even sooner.

A few weeks later, we made a hard decision, and put Emma to sleep. Despite this happening nearly a year ago, it’s hard to write this. I doubt I’ll ever find a cat as loving as Emma, who was always excited to see me, ready to snuggle up to me and purr. Her decline was so sudden; it felt like a professional boxer getting in a free gut shot.

I mentioned how losing Emma still hurts more than my grandfather’s death, and I think it’s because of how quickly it happened. I had time to come to terms with my grandpa’s failing health. He had his first heart attack in 1997, and it wouldn’t be his last. He had six bypasses over the years, and someone with just a single bypass lives another 10–15 years on average. His health also faded over years, not a few short months. He rarely got out of his recliner, and his memory started to fail. My uncle moved closer to them a few years ago so that he could take care of them. It did not come as a surprise when I was told my grandpa was in the hospital and he wasn’t likely to leave. I had time to grieve, time to come to terms with my grandpa’s impending death. I knew it was going to happen sooner rather than later.

I miss them both fiercely. I won’t get to ask my grandpa questions about his time serving in World War II, which he rarely mentioned. I won’t get to look at his beautiful jewelry or rock hunting with him. I also won’t get to snuggle my cat, or play her favorite games with her favorite toys. It feels like my cat, who I spent every day with, was ripped away from me suddenly. My grandpa, who I saw only a few times a year, gradually slipped away, his health declining slowly but surely and giving me time to come to terms.

I wish I still had time to spend with both of them. Now, I’m cherishing the time I have with my new cat, Effie Trinket, while still celebrating the life of Emma - I see photos of her on my social media at least once a week. When summer comes, we’re planting a tree in the backyard, with Emma’s ashes scattered around it. She’ll always be close by.

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