On Tuesday, August 11, I will remember my sweet Kelly, and I’ve been remembering that magical morning three years ago and sadly our last hours together, but I’ll also remember the rest of our 15 years together.
I’m really not good with remembering dates like birthdays or relationship anniversaries, even holidays sometimes, but the dates that are marked with a memory manage to lodge themselves in my thoughts, and I even anticipate their arrival.
Where August had been a month with no dates that stood out for me it’s become a month of feline comings and goings, losing Lakota on August 1, Kennedy on August 6 and Kelly on August 11, and the arrival of Basil, then Smokie, on August 25. That’s only one month of dates; in all the years I’ve lived with and fostered cats each month is marked with dates that are meaningful to me.
I’ve dutifully recorded most of them in my day book though it’s mostly the dates my feline friends passed that I observe. By that point whether weeks or decades, we had shared a life, and the honor of accompanying a living being to the end of your journey together is not a memory easily dismissed. I remember at one point a couple of decades ago as the dates of loss began it accumulate feeling a little foolish about reliving these memories each year. That didn’t stop me, and as the years passed and there were yet more dates to remember I realized it was important for me to take that time and remember the feline who shared a life and a death with me, and remember the time we shared. One of the most important things I’ve learned about our grief at the loss of a pet is that our bond with them is in some ways deeper than it is with humans in our lives because of the unconditional way they love us, and the way they share our space.
Last week I noted Kennedy’s passing, this year being the first anniversary, though I missed posting on August 1 about Lakota because of computer difficulties, but I did not forget him.
Their passings in 2013 and 2014, though, are always a little bit of a conflict for me, leading up to Kelly’s date. I find I begin thinking about Kelly’s last weeks in July, and because, though I knew she was 19 years old and was not well, I certainly didn’t anticipate losing her on that day, each year I need to work through those last two weeks once again to help heal a little more of the grief I still feel in her loss. She unexpectedly collapsed that morning and the emergency hospital diagnosed seizures and neurological issues, possibly that her increasing inflammatory bowel disease had metastasized to her brain, or that the anemia and low body temperature indicated a mass that began bleeding internally. Each year I walk through it all and reassure myself that I noticed and reported many things to my veterinarian, that there was nothing I could have noticed to alert me to her collapse that morning, and even if I had noticed there was nothing I could have done. In the face of what did happen, I kept her well and healthy up to her last moments. I did have to have her put to sleep at the emergency hospital and I really prefer for both the cat and me that happen at home so they don’t end up frightened in a strange place in their last moments, especially Kelly, and I can focus on the cat and not on driving through my tears, but at least I could give her that final release, wherever it happened.
And even as I work my way along that same path once again and it leads to understanding and to memories of Kelly without guilt, as memories of other cats have crowded in on Kelly, I feel a little guilty yet again about memorializing them, and I’m also having a great time with this year’s foster kittens which might seem disrespectful. It seems as if I’m taking time away from her, and that leads to one of our biggest fears when we lose our animal companions—that they’ll be forgotten, that we will forget them ourselves. Of course, that’s not going to happen. My memories of Lakota and Kennedy are complex and deep for all their brevity, and kitten cuteness can only heal a broken heart, but Kelly and I shared so much more and she had a connection to each other cat in my home that there is no way other memories of other cats could ever dim the memory of Kelly in my heart.
It all seems so complicated, and grief can be very complicated no matter the subject of the loss, animal, human, even place or object. Sometimes we are surprised by the need to go back over and over and find we may still feel guilt over the loss, or we may just enjoy a lot of happy memories. But that’s why observing these anniversaries is important, even if it only happens quietly in your own heart. To love and be loved is one of our most important gifts in life, and love is complicated, it creeps into every part of us, so are our memories.
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!