How One Tiny Cat Left Very Large Empty Place in My Heart

Early Thanksgiving Morning, some years ago, I received a phone call from my vet. I was told that I had a decision to make. I’d taken my kitty girl in for a checkup two days before, and was told they needed to keep her. Just for a few tests. Maybe overnight.

And here it was, the phone call I’d been dreading.

My little companion of the last eleven years was nearing the end of her time with me. She’d reached a place where we could no longer help her — a place where trying to keep her any longer would have been unkind.

I called a cab and headed across town to the vet clinic, fighting for calm, but already knowing what was to come.

It was a very gentle passing. We sat on the sofa in a quiet room, a special room the clinic provided for such goodbyes, away from the noise of the outer office.

Sarge pushed her head into my hand, rubbing her little face against me as she always had. I sat holding my little friend, talking quietly and stroking her soft fur. She curled up in my arms and purred. I cradled her for a time, then we released her from her pain.

I held her close for a few minutes longer, tears running down my face. Then I said a last goodbye to my sweet kitty and gave up her empty shell.

There’s a very large hole in my life since her passing — much bigger than you would think could be left by such a small cat. All four and a half pounds of her. I hadn’t realized how much I depended on her just being there.

She’d been the last link to my former life. And she’d helped me make the transition from being partnered to being alone, from a having secure home to facing an uncertain future on my own.

She was my touchstone — my little friend. Already ten when I came into her life, she immediately adopted me — became my constant companion.

© Elle Fredine

Curious, playful, eager to investigate any project worthy of my attention.

She was particularly drawn to the arts. Drawing, painting. Anything involving pencils, pens or paintbrushes.

She taught me art can be highly collaborative — woman and cat, creating together. She loved nothing better than to wait until I was in the middle of a sketch. Then she’d attack the pencil or pen, grabbing with both paws, or batting it and pushing it across the page. Or she’d steal my erasers and chase them around the floor ‘til she lost them under the furniture. Then loudly demand I retrieve them for her.

She also loved computers. Chase-The-Cursor was always good fun, and she was always careful not to scratch the screen, only using her velvet pads to try and trap that pesky black arrow. My keyboard was a favored seat. Especially when she felt it was time for me to stop working and pay attention to the cat.

She taught me about giving out of love. Every so often, she would reward my hard work by leaving a gift on the keyboard. A little something to demonstrate her affection. To let me know she was doing a good job of keeping us vermin-free. After I’d found the corpse and applauded her prowess, she would retrieve the dead mouse or vole and take it back outside to dine. Well, she knew I wouldn’t eat it. And then I would Clorox the keyboard.

She gave me a reason to hold it together when I felt my world had ended.When my partner of nine years decided to move on and, devastated, I’d rather just have given up, Sarge needed me to keep going.

She became my reason to get up in the morning (she loudly insisted on having her breakfast on time). She was my reason to come home at night. And she’d be sitting in the window, or waiting on her perch by the door.

And even though I would have liked to keep her with me longer, her time was done. She’d stayed as long as she was able, and I will always be grateful for the many good years we had together.

But even in death, my little friend was still teaching me. I learned some difficult lessons about grieving, and how to deal with my loss.

The first thing I had to root out was the terrible, lingering doubts. Wondering if her vet and I had exhausted every available, humane option.

I’d managed to squash down those nagging thoughts for a few days, but as I was boiling down the bones from the Thanksgiving turkey I hadn’t had the heart to eat, a vagrant whisper drifted through my mind. “How Sarge would have enjoyed this.”

Sarge’s favorite perch in the sun © Elle Fredine

Sarge adored turkey. I could almost feel her little paws patting my leg and hear her urgent requests for just one more scrap of breast meat.

I burst into tears. Standing at the kitchen sink, strainer in hand, doubled over a sieve full of bones. Sobbing into the turkey broth. I realized I had to do something.

I called the vet. I spent almost half an hour on the phone with her. She went over Sarge’s chart with me, explaining all the “numbers” and test results.

She was very kind.

She reassured me that given my kitty’s age, almost twenty-two, and her now-chronic blood condition, it really had been time to let her go.

She told me I could call their office any time I needed to talk. She’d lost a kitty the year before and knew first-hand what I was going through.

She also gave me a run-down of several options which I’m passing along, in case anyone reading this is looking for a positive way to re-channel some of their love.

She suggested a pet bereavement support group. As well, she passed along the names and numbers of several rescue societies where I could make a donation in my Sarge’s memory, or volunteer to help with the rescued animals at one of the shelters. They’re always looking for caring volunteers.

I also learned that I could foster rescued animals — give them a temporary home until a permanent placement could be found. Fostering helps to remove some pressure from the rescue society to provide for the animal, and the rescued animal can experience a loving home while it awaits adoption.

Knowing there were things I can do — positive steps I could take — made such a difference.

But the sense of loss is sneaks up at the darnedest times, blind-siding me while I’m thinking about something else. I still miss her.

Our pets accept us as we are, whatever mood we are in. It doesn’t matter if we’re wearing old sweats or having a bad hair day.

They don’t judge us — they just love us. It is enough for them that we feed them, and love them, and that we are there.

When we lose that unconditional love and acceptance, we loose a part of ourselves. We’ve lost a special friend — one who we cared for and who cared for us. And now we don’t have them to care for anymore.

Sarge left a very large hole in my heart — an empty place in my chest, though maybe it’s not completely empty, because it still hurts a bit. When my little friend died she took a little piece of me with her.

Sometimes it feels like she took the best part.

© Elle Fredine

 

Writer-songwriter-poet, educator, with thirty plus years directing and designing for the theatre, Elle recently completed her second novel and is working on a series of short stories. Visit Ellie at ElleFredine.com.
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Writer-songwriter-poet, educator, with thirty plus years directing and designing for the theatre, Elle recently completed her second novel and is working on a series of short stories. Visit Ellie at ElleFredine.com.

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