It’s a rare find, a friend who can take one of the saddest events of your life and turn it into something special. Something to be treasured and remembered. And yet, Laura did just that.
I have endured great losses in my life, not the least of which was the death of my mother, at age 50, of ovarian cancer, so I am no stranger to the pain and sadness of loss. However, I write today of loss of a different sort. This is not a story about death. Rather, this is a story about loss of companionship. Companionship of the four-legged variety. And if you have, or have ever had a cherished family pet, then you will understand that there is an inexplicable bond that forms between man and animal. And if you have ever had to say good bye to your pet, then there is no doubt you will relate to these feelings of loss. And this loss must still be grieved.
Bailey was a Christmas gift to me from my husband twelve years ago, before we were even married, or engaged, for that matter. I loved his grey markings and white nose. His white paws and impossibly-soft white belly with just a touch of creamy beige the color of Baileys Irish Cream, which is how he came to be named. I took to the kitten immediately, so much so that, despite my husband’s severe allergic reaction after we got him home, I pretty much refused to give him up. And therein lies the irony, that four moves, five homes, three provinces and four kids later, my six-year-old son’s allergies would be the reason we would have to give Bailey up.
This is the hard part. This is where the separation of man and beast occurs. I always assumed Bailey would be with us until the day he died. I never dreamed I would have to choose between my cat and my child.
After twelve years, you can be sure I was very attached to my feline friend. In fact, ‘friend’ does not adequately describe the bond we shared. Bailey was my little shadow, often getting underfoot. He would follow me around the house, literally waiting for me to sit down so he could hop up onto my lap. (Mind you, he wasn’t fussy in this regard. Any unsuspecting guest who dared to sit for a visit would often find themselves with the cat on their lap.) He was unusually social and loving for this usually-independent species. He did not tolerate change well and thrived on routine affection.
When I began spending more time in my home office it became increasingly difficult to work at the computer with a cat on my lap so I brought in one of Bailey’s cushions and there he would curl up at my feet while I typed away. When he was a kitten he would insist on sitting on my lap while I was on ‘bathroom duty’. This habit gradually evolved into him simply pawing at the door until I let him in where he would then sit at the sink until I turned on the faucet. (Because obviously this water tasted better than the water in his bowl. Why do cats do this?)
Most of all, I relished his company when I crawled into bed and he would do his little ritual of finding a comfy spot, either at my feet or beside me, kneading it to death and settling in for the night. His purring and snoring was soothing, especially on the nights my husband would be away on business. This is, perhaps, when I miss him most.
Bailey has been gone for a week. We found him a perfectly loving home with a lovely, spry, elderly woman who had bought all his favorite foods and had catnip-laden toys ready for his arrival. He cried the entire hour-long ride there but immediately set forth to explore what he did not know would be his new home. The catnip occupied him as I said my good-byes. I’m told he didn’t eat that first day. Like I said, he doesn’t tolerate change very well.
I’m torn. I am saddened by our loss and racked with guilt over ‘abandoning’ our cat. And though, in my heart I wonder whether or not I made the right decision, in my head I know that this was an inevitable choice for the health and well-being of my son (and, ultimately, my husband.) It would be impossible for me to knowingly subject him any longer than necessary to the very thing causing him so much discomfort (we had ruled out other allergies/sensitivities which, after much trial and error with remedies did nothing to alleviate his symptoms.) But I also feel a little as though I don’t have a right to be so sad because, after all, he is still living and I don’t want to diminish the intense sadness that people feel when their pets have died. One Twitter follower recently had to put down her 15-year old dog, Mickey, and was devastated at the realization she would not be bringing him home again.
My own selfish feelings aside (and I definitely took this harder than the rest of the family) I can’t help but wonder if Bailey even has the capacity to process what has happened in some basic, animal-instinct kind of way. How much does an animal really understand, anyway? Does he miss us? His home? Does he think he might return here? Would he recognize us again if we visited? Certainly he has no idea how much he is missed.
In the meantime, though, I will be able to look through the amazing photo book of memories that my friend, Laura, put together with the assistance of my husband (ironically, not Bailey’s biggest fan) and delivered this afternoon. I can’t even begin to tell you what lengths my husband must have gone through to delve through my hundreds of photo folders to find these pictures spanning years. And what an incredible feeling to know that I have a friend who’s got my back. Knowing how difficult this transition was, with one simple, thoughtful gesture, she turned a tearfully, heart-breaking moment into a tearfully, heart-warming one.