I was twenty-five when I went to the no-kill cat shelter in town and met the cat who lived in the office there. He had been there for a year, and the first thing the woman who worked there said about him was: “He bites.” I don’t know what it says about me that I decided I loved him almost immediately. He was huge and furry with green eyes and a pink nose. He was four, and his name was Elroy.
I stuffed this yowling angry dude into a carrier and brought him home. It wasn’t long before we bonded over what I believe was his acute sense of humor. He loved to roll around on his back on the ground and stare at me upside down. He was 18 pounds and most of it was fur. He enjoyed sitting in my green chair like a person and also had a habit of hiding behind curtains and CHARGING out at top speed which was both hysterical and sort of terrifying.
My “joke” with Elroy was always that he didn’t like anyone but me. When some friends came over and met him for the first time, he turned and bit their two-year-old on the arm. (Thankfully, her sweatshirt protected her and she was fine.) He made a habit of attacking my mom almost every time she visited. He did not enjoy people walking by him quickly. If you ever visited me in the course of the fourteen years I had Elroy: Sorry, he probably swatted you, bit you, or tried to attack you in some way.
Every night we would put our dogs to bed in their crates and then Elroy would come into our bedroom yowling his whiny meow at us, climb up and lie next to me while I read or looked at my phone. If I didn’t pet him enough, he would lick, then bite, my arm a little. I called this our “buddy time.”
He passed a lot of birthdays and seemed to be doing better every year. I would tell him all the time he could “feel free to live forever!” That was cool with me! But I tried to prepare myself for the fact that he wouldn’t. As he hit 16, 17, 18, I would lie with him on my bed sometimes and talk to him and tell him I loved him and I hoped he would never get sick, that he would just pass away peacefully and we would all be fine. I really wanted to believe it.
On April 1st, 2016, he turned 19 and was still running around and being his feisty self. Maybe not climbing up onto the tables like he used to. Sometimes he seemed a little slower, but he would chase the dogs and bop them on the heads; he always ruled the roost.
Then one night in early May I noticed the dogs acting strangely when they went into our guest room. I went in and found Elroy under the bed. His eyes were very dilated and far away. He was taking slow breaths every minute or so, and he wasn’t responsive when I petted him. I called Bob in and lay down on the floor beside my buddy. I told him not to linger, it was okay. I knew he was going. Bob was asking me to pull him out, to do something . . . but there was nothing to do. I knew that, by the time I could get him to the vet, chances are he would already be gone. He was nineteen years old . . . he had had a long happy life. He was doing what I had always asked him to do. He didn’t get sick . . . it was just his time. He died about ten minutes later. I petted his toe tufts and gave him kisses. We buried him in our back yard.
I wish that trying to prepare myself for this made it easier. I have thought about death and dying and grief for as long as I can remember. I know there are some people who never think about this — I am both incredulous and envious of that. I don’t think we can ever really prepare ourselves for someone we love leaving…and that is what makes it so painful and overwhelming. We all know that logically this will happen. Being alive on this planet means eventually someone you love will die before you. But you can’t trick your heart into feeling it before it happens, or not feeling it once it does.
After Elroy died, my heart was broken. Most of the spring was a tearful blur; I felt a weird guilt about being so sad over MY CAT. It helped when I thought about it in terms of time — Elroy was the longest relationship I have had outside of my parents. There’s no one else I have lived with for fourteen years. I was twenty-five when Elroy came home and almost forty when he died. It’s a big chunk of my life.
I picture grief as smoke that permeates the air, filling every crack. You think you have found a safe space away from it . . . you think it’s finally cleared. And then out of nowhere it’s tickling your throat and stinging your eyes — you’re right back in it. I have looked for all kinds of CURES for it, but I haven’t found any yet. What helped me the most was talking and crying. (And crying. And crying.) and I’ve read a lot of things about grief and searched out many quotes. Some helped me to feel justified in being devastated over the death of a pet. But I also know I don’t need to explain it because anyone who has had a furry friend and family member leave understands.
I never thought I would be That Person, but six months to the day after Elroy died I got a tattoo of him. He’s my catnip king forever! It helps that I know that he loved me as much as I loved him. I was always the only person who could pick him up and the only one he’d let carry him around without biting. He sought me out every night for our buddy time, and he tried to sleep on my pillow as close to my head as he could. I miss his loud purring in my ear which made it impossible to hear anything else. All of those things are bittersweet, and that’s comforting. As much as anything can be when you’re grieving for a dear friend.
One poem I read in all my grief searches was “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver, which ends like this:
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Emily Morris lives in Boston with her musician husband and her insane and adorable dogs. She’s currently drinking too much coffee, watching movies she’s already seen, or bleaching her roots. Find links to her everywhere on the Internet at https://about.me/prettycrabby.