Last month, I said goodbye to my last childhood pet, Oliver. Last weekend, I said goodbye to my first pet as an adult, Ramona. They were both the most wonderful cats I could have asked for, and not at all like these terrible cat stereotypes people imagine. They were loving, friendly, outgoing, and playful, and watching them both die of cancer was about as sad as you would expect.
I have a dog, too. She’s lovely. She’s best friends with my neighbor’s cat, loves coming everywhere with us, has 700 followers on Instagram, and has never met someone she didn’t think was her new best friend. She just turned one (yes, we partially adopted her as post-2016 election therapy), so she’s technically an adult, but I have a feeling she’ll be acting like a puppy for the next three years or so. In short, she is nothing like a cat.
We often think of dogs as “(wo)man’s best friend” because our dogs come on all our adventures with us. Most of them hate being alone, so any time they can join us on a hike or a walk or a trip to the brewery, they’re down. They color all of our favorite adventures, and remind us to stop and smell the flowers (and this sign and that tree and this grass and also this grass and oh look a squirrel).
Cats are different, because we don’t bring them everywhere with us. In that way, they become the visible souls of our homes.
Ramona lived in eight homes with me in her short seven years, and none of them felt quite right without her. Unlike many cats, she adapted quickly to new surroundings, and let me know it was OK for me to do so, too. She ran to the door to greet me every day when I came home. She readily welcomed my future husband into our little family, and later her sister Beezus, and a bit more begrudgingly, her puppy sister Winnie.
In Tuscaloosa, she saved me from a tornado and a bad relationship. In DC, she reminded me it didn’t matter if people stopped talking to me as soon as they found out I was a teacher and not “someone with connections”. In California, she would sit with me on the porch overlooking the San Francisco Bay, breathing in the fresh air, reminding me to breathe, too.
Back in Alabama, she would help me adapt to a place I have never felt I fully belong. Even if the city or state didn’t feel like home, Ramona always made sure my home felt like home. She has been a witness to almost my whole adult life, and I was a witness to hers. She made good times better, and bad times bearable. Above all else, she brought me peace in chaos, quiet in troubles, and comfort in grief.
On Saturday, she let me know it was time to let her go. We took her to the vet, and as soon as they gave her the sedative, she snuggled into my arms. She laid her little head in my hand, and kissed my fingers until she fell asleep. I kissed her on her little nose, and whispered the only thing I needed to: thank you, thank you, thank you.
My whole heart misses her. Her cat sister, Beezus, keeps wandering from room to room looking for her. I don’t know if she realizes she’s gone forever, but I think she understands what I do: that this place is not the same without Ramona.
Nor should it be. Grief hurts because it recognizes all we lost, whether that loss is the companionship of a human or a pet. But grief also helps us heal, because it reminds us of the ways in which that person or pet’s mark on our life was permanent. Ramona’s life was a very temporary seven years. But the lessons she left with me—to believe in myself, to find peace and laughter in darkness, to trust when it seems difficult, to adapt and move forward—those lessons (along with around eight million cat selfies) will stay with me forever.
For anyone dealing with the loss of a pet, I highly recommend checking out the many resources available through The Argus Institute.