We let our sweet girl go this week.
Topaz, our Abyssinian cat, was one month shy of 17. Despite seeming to be one of the healthiest cats ever throughout her life, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer just before Christmas and we were told it was just a matter of months.
At first it was only a rough day here or there, where she didn’t want to eat and couldn’t settle into restful sleep. Then it was a day or two a week, and then it was the good days that were the less common ones and we knew it was near her time.
Knowing that if we took her to her vet we wouldn’t be allowed to be with her at the end, we made contact with a mobile vet who was ready when we decided it was time.
And we decided it was time this past week. She had a rough weekend, unable to eat, folded into a loaf but never quite sleeping. The vet had said that he was only able to make it out where we are on weekends, and we were worried that another week would be too long. With the tumor pressing under her eye, she was at risk for seizures or an infection, and that she seemed hungry but couldn’t eat easily made every day a worry. So we decided we’d make the call and have the vet come the following weekend.
Then he said that he could only come on Thursday, and losing those last couple days was a small hurt.
Then, of course, on Wednesday she was bright and energetic – she curled into a ball and slept deeply, she ate and drank easily, and walked all over us to demand cuddles and ear-munches. I wondered if that meant it wasn’t time… but decided I was too afraid for her for what might come.
The vet was coming early, so we woke up at six to have that last hour with her before he arrived. We held her and munched on her ears. She purred and cuddled.
And then the vet was here. She was given a sedative first, and quickly – she was so little – fell deeply asleep, her tongue poking just a bit out of her mouth. We each took a turn holding her while she drifted off, and then in just minutes it was time for the second injection. We set her down so the vet could give the shot safely, then I bundled her into a towel and held her while slipped away. I couldn’t tell exactly when it happened, she was so deeply asleep when I picked her back up. Aidan and I both took off our masks to give her furry face one last kiss and we sang a song we wrote about her when she was a kitten. The vet came back inside, listened to her chest, and told us she was gone. We held her just another few moments, then Michael picked her up and took her to the waiting vet to take her little body away.
I don’t really know how to do grief with a pet. I’ve never had a pet die. I’ve had very few pets in my life, and all of them before now needed to be re-homed because of a major life change that made it impossible to keep them. And while that was sad, I knew that my pets went to loving homes and happy lives. They continued beyond my time with them, and that is an easy loss to bear.
Topaz was with me for 17 years. I adopted her when she was 12 weeks old. I’d met an Abby a few years before and fell in love with the breed. My new boyfriend (now husband) was a passionate cat lover, I was living alone in an apartment with my son only with me half time. I decided I wanted a pet, decided it would be an Abyssinian cat, and found a local breeder. She was nine or so weeks old when I picked her out, then brought her home a few weeks later.
She was the best cat ever. She was already litter box trained when I brought her home, ate dry kibble so I avoided smelly wet foot. She was active and playful, cuddly and sweet natured. She and Aidan bonded quickly, playing tag throughout the apartment and sleeping on him when they’d played her into exhaustion.
She’d run to the door whenever I came home, eager for affection and play. Life changed forever once she grew big enough to leap onto the counters, and thus began a 17 year war (that I lost, soundly) to keep her off surfaces where we did not want her. Despite bolting off the counter the instant I yelled or got up to chase her – communicating clearly that she knew she wasn’t supposed to be there – I’d still come home to avocados knocked to the floor and kitchen sponges abandoned in the living room. Once, in the rental Michael and I moved our families into together, she waited , watching me not only until I left the kitchen but until I sat down before walking casually back into the kitchen to jump onto the counter and attack the sponge. The deterrent we tried at the time was jailing her under a laundry basket for a few minutes every time we caught up there. This was only the most recent in a long line of punishments that never, ever worked. She was so fast that I almost never actually got her with the spray bottle. Adding vinegar just caused a never-ending craving for fish and chips. Putting foil on the counters was a far greater pain in the ass for us than it was deterrent for her. Laundry basket incarceration was one of the few things that she actually disliked, but I don’t know if her kitty brain ever made the connection that it was some sort of consequence as it didn’t seem to change her behavior one bit.
The only dark spot in her otherwise idyllic kitty existence was when we adopted Nimbus. We thought she was lonely. We were wrong. Or, if she was, Nimbus was not the answer. There was a brief period before Nimbus grew larger than she where there was the occasional cuddle or group play. But once he was bigger than she was their relationship dwindled, deteriorating from a spat once or twice a week to daily aggression when we moved into the little Bay Area apartment full time after the fire. A permanent solution was necessary then and Nimbus – as the more social, loves-everyone-but-Topaz cat – was adopted by a young man who’d lost his own beloved cats the year before.
So her last few years were peaceful and stress free. And her last minutes – while gut-wrenching for us – were completely calm and painless.
I think it is normal in the first hours and days of loss to reduce the world down to the last few moments, the last contact, the last glimpse and all the never-agains. And I think part of moving past that is to try and remember the totality of the life lived. So this is why I wanted to write her history down. To bring my mind to the wonderful, play and cuddle filled years and not just the pain of the goodbye and the not-yet-finished re-writing of our life and home to one that does not have Topaz in it.
So here are some more memories.
Once, in the rental, she escaped to the crawl space under the house and we tried to lure her back with warm sushi.
She would find small, soft things (her fake mice toys, a felted rock, a tiny stuffed animal) and bring them to you, meowing while they were still in her mouth to demand praise and gratitude for her impressive hunting-of-inanimate object skills.
She broke so many things – testing gravity on a daily basis to make sure it was still on.
In the last four or five years of her life should would only drink from dripping faucets.
She would meow at me when I sang. I don’t know if she thought she was participating or if it simple editorializing. But it was definitely annoying.
She hated when we were outside without her.
She didn’t like offerings of salmon or chicken, but would happily steal grapes or cherries out of a bowl (although I think that was to play hockey with).
Once, while entertaining a friend and her date at Michael’s townhouse, she made off with multiple slices of salami from the hors d’oeuvres platter while we were distracted.
Sometimes she’d meow at you and what she wanted was for you to pick her up and carry her around. So one of our jobs was clearly kitty-palanquin.
I’m sure we will have pets again – Michael would be heartbroken if we didn’t. But the Topaz-shaped hole we feel right now will never quite be filled. She was an amazing cat, and a wonderful pet. Our lives were better because she was in it, even if right now all we can feel are the sharp edges of losing her.
I think there will be more as I process more. But for now I just want to remember her good and happy life.