To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

In April 1992, I had come home from living in the Midwest, having just gotten out of failed relationship. I wanted to get some cats, but I was going to wait until after my parents took a trip, because I would be staying at their house to take care of my grandmother.

We had a family friend who was a vet, and his wife was a specialized teacher that I’d had in grade school. She was visiting my mom one day, and I excitedly mentioned to her, “Tell your husband that I’ll have two new patients for him soon!” I explained to her how I wanted two cats, but was waiting until after my parents’ trip.

Shortly thereafter, in May, I received a call from the veterinary hospital asking me if I wanted to adopt two kittens. Apparently, someone had dumped a box of kittens at the veterinary office; the vet wanted to adopt them, and mentioned them to his wife, who immediately proclaimed, “I know exactly who would want these cats!”

Those cats turned into my cats, Pyewacket and Howling Mad. I must admit, when I saw Howling Mad, I thought, well, he’s a grey tiger, but he needs a home. You see, I didn’t think a grey tiger would be anything special—there were lots of grey tiger kitties around.

They were so funny–I would come home and find the comforter in the hallway of my apartment, because they would tussle with the comforter during the day. They were my babies. The funny thing is, HMC always tried to assert his dominance, even as a kitten. He’d sit on the stairwell newel by the door and bat my head when I arrived home from work. I had to make sure he knew that I was in charge of the house.

I moved to a different apartment, which they loved to run through. Then I moved to a house. There were some problems—Howling Mad had to be separated from his sister for about a year and a half because he was attacking her (we had many cats running around the neighborhood, which I believe provoked my cats into fighting). That summer he was allowed to go outside. I lived one house from the corner of the block, and he would wait for me on the corner until I came home, and then bound in front of the car when I got into the driveway. (Needless to say, this scared the bejeesus out of me!) Fortunately, he and Pye became buddies again, and I didn’t allow him to go outside anymore. Oh, the howls I heard because I wouldn’t let him out!

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I took many pictures of my cats. HMC was amazingly photogenic. He seemed to pose for the pictures. Of course, he was the king of his castle. No one ruled above him. When Pye slept with me, HMC would always come over and try to sit on top of her. The funny thing is, when I got my dog, Pye was nonchalant about it, while HMC would run away from the puppy.

Soon, my beloved cats became geriatric. Pye particularly had kidney problems and had bad arthritis. She always wanted to be in my lap, or under the covers next to me. Sad to say, when Pye passed, HMC did not shed a tear.

That same year I met my husband. When my husband became a part of our family, HMC adopted him without reservation—after all, this was just another human to adore him! In fact, they adored each other. HMC ran around the house howling like a maniac. He often demanded to be catered to. He even had gotten into a game with the dog. He would walk around the dining room table until the dog barked at him. Of course, the dog would earn my disapproval, which HMC reveled in.

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We were quite amazed when he reached the age of 20, and then 21. HMC was like the Energizer Bunny—he just went on and on! But then he was having problems with his mouth. The vet managed to wiggle his loose tooth out. We had to take him to the vet’s again after his third eyelid showed up, and the vet mentioned that he might have a tumor in his head that knocked the tooth out.

Since that time he slept more and more, and was sneezing a lot. His face was changing shape. He favored one side of his body over the other (toothless) side. When he would lay down next to me at night, he circled around and around, and his head had a tic to it. Thursday, October 24, my husband called me at work to tell me that HMC wasn’t eating. This was odd—he always ate. No matter what, HMC was always voracious. My husband also mentioned that he was having problems walking.

On the way home, I called the vet to make the appointment. It takes me an hour to get home from work. Thank God for my friend who talked to me the entire hour on the way home. She saved my sanity.

I had an hour with HMC before the appointment. I wrapped him up in some towels, and I took him outside. The sun was shining, and the breeze stopped long enough for us to enjoy the warm sun. I held him, pet him, and smelled his fur.

I know ya’ll know this: It’s a hard thing when you are in charge of an animal, to make the just and right decision that it’s time to end his suffering, that it’s time for him to go. Dean Koontz said it best in one of his books, The Darkest Evening of the Year. He said it about a dog, but I think it applies to all animals that are entrusted to our care:

“Dogs’ lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog, and there’s going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can’t support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price.”

If you are not aware of the beautiful “poem,” The Rainbow Bridge, please read it here. It is a homage to beloved animals.

My beloved HMC—my beloved, complicated little being—we will miss you so.

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Title quote is from Claude Campbell.

P.S. I may continue this blog. We were going to wait a couple of months to adopt more kitties, but my husband wanted to go to the SPCA this weekend, and we have put a deposit on two 6 month old kittens, to be picked up Tuesday evening.

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