one year later

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One year ago today, we said goodbye to our sweet baby boy. He passed away very suddenly, without any warning. The day before we lost him, he asked Mr. Phish for snuggles and greeted me at the door when I got home from work. That night, we sat on the couch and watched the Olympics and then he snuggled into Tinky for his nightly face cleaning, purring up a storm. And then, he was just gone.

To say we were devastated is an understatement. For days and days, it was all I could do to breathe and stay upright. My memory of those early weeks is hazy, like I was underwater and everything was distant, muffled. The grief came in great, crushing waves, one after the other, relentless.

It was incomprehensible. Our Papa was gone. Our sweet, sunshiney love would never again greet us at the door or reach up to Mr. Phish and ask for snuggles with his tiny baby meow. It was a loss unlike either of us had ever experienced. Even now, one year later, I struggle to put it into words. It was not an experience I can properly explain–the loss was visceral, primal, raw.

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He was only seven, still in the late stages of his kitty adolescence, full of naughtiness and spunk. He had been to the vet just 10 days prior and returned home with a clean bill of health. He was sturdy, even a bit round. He was solid, safe, sound. Not like Genevieve, his fragile older sister with health issues galore and barely any meat on her bones. He was the anchor that held us all in place. And then he was gone. Just like that. We did all we could, stayed up all night doing tests and signing consent forms and praying and pacing and bargaining with God, but in the end, it didn’t matter.

Before we left the emergency vet, he was stable and waiting for the specialist vet to arrive for further tests in the morning. I asked to see him and I heard his purr as soon as I walked into the back room. I kissed his head and told him to be a good boy tonight. I told him that we would see him in the morning and that we loved him so very much. I promised him we would get things figured out and he would be home with his beloved Tinky soon. He purred and purred and purred and I kissed him again and he sighed a big sigh and looked into my eyes. I stroked his soft fur for a few moments, listening to his rumbly purr and telling him it would be okay. I told him again and again how much we loved him and how sorry I was that he wasn’t feeling good. And then I got up and went home. And a few minutes after we got home, the phone rang and he was gone.

I believe that he waited for me to say goodbye, that he probably died moments, if not seconds, after I left. Mr. Phish couldn’t bear to see him hooked up to the machines so he waited in the car, and he regrets it deeply. But we didn’t know. We couldn’t have known.

We returned the next morning to talk to the vet about what happened, and I asked to see him. Once again, Mr. Phish held patient vigil in the waiting room while I spent more than an hour saying goodbye to my precious boy. I told him I was so sorry. Sorry that we couldn’t fix it, that we didn’t know he was sick, that I didn’t take him to the vet sooner. Sorry that he didn’t get to say goodbye to Tinky and sorry that he would never get to meet his baby brother. I cried and cried and stroked the soft fur of his cheeks. I told him we would take care of his beloved Genevieve and that he would always be with us. I held him and rocked his cold, still little body and forced myself to breathe in and out, in and out, in and out.

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Losing Papa knocked me down in a way that I had never experienced. And I stayed down for a good long time. Even today, a full year later, I can barely breathe as I write this. And it’s taken me four full separate attempts, spaced days apart, to get these words out. Many people in my life didn’t understand my grief; even Mr. Phish and I grieved the loss very differently. But Papa was part of our daily life, our day-to-day routine, so we had to relearn how to live without him. Coming home, making dinner, even our getting up and bedtime routines had to change. One night, I sat in my car in the garage sobbing for more than an hour, unable to bear the thought of walking into the house and not seeing his little face peering around the corner, loudly scolding me for being so late. There were many bad days. Even one year later, there are still bad days.

But there are better days, too, when I am able to smile and think of him. When I sit on the deck having a conversation with the wind, hearing his little voice in the gusts and knowing he is there with me. So much has changed in the last year, but our love for Papa endures. We keep his picture and his ashes on the mantle, and I light a candle for him nearly every night. I had a necklace made with strands of his fur (and of Genevieve and Isabelle’s) so that he can always be with me, close to my heart. We can talk about him now and when the tears come, they don’t last as long.

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I live life differently now, acutely aware of how excruciatingly painful love can be. I didn’t have a freaking clue before–but I’ve learned this lesson over and over in the last year. When you open your heart up as wide as it can go to love someone, and then you lose them, it can damn near kill you. But that kind of love can also save your life, which explains why we love again, even when life hurts us. Why we feel compelled to go rescue two scrawny, sick kittens even as we mourn the loss of our last kitten love. Our miraculous hearts are capable of holding great pain and great joy at the very same time. And so we go on.

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I miss my little Boppa boy every single day. I miss him every morning when I feed the other kitties and every night when I get home from work. I miss him at bedtime and snack time and on the weekends. I miss everything he brought to our lives, the things he did that made our family ours. I miss saying his name, calling him by one of his 59 nicknames, scolding him for chasing Tinky, watching him snuggle in to have his face cleaned at bedtime. He was a wonderful companion, and that’s what I miss the most: his company. He was such a social, outgoing boy, always following me around and sticking his little nose into everything. Wherever we were, he was right there, too. The girls are far more independent–they do their own thing and rarely feel the need to hang out with us. They tend to prefer the quiet of the back bedroom or the bathroom counter over the bustling chaos of the kitchen and living room. But not Papa. He was always right there, in the middle of the action. And I miss the company.

Even a full year later, I still have days when I can’t believe it happened, that he’s really gone forever. I suppose that’s part of grief. It is still sneaky, showing up when I least expect it. I have made room for it in my heart, in my life, and in that way, I have made peace with it. I don’t suppose I will ever fully get over losing Papa, and I’m okay with that. He was one of the most remarkable kitties I’ve ever known and we are so grateful that he was ours for seven and a half years. We know how lucky we were. He taught us to be parents and to open our hearts even when we were afraid. We are better people because of him.

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Rest in peace, darling boy. You are missed beyond words.

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6 thoughts on “one year later

  1. Dear Christine, I have thought of you so many times this past year…and wondered how you’ve been. My heart is broken, again, reading your words and innermost thoughts. In so many ways, we are soul sisters and the empathy across the miles runs deep. For the love…the love we share with our fur-babies is inexplicable to so many mere mortals but, once you know it, it can never be undone. I am deeply moved by your sentiments and, while happy to see a post from you, seriously saddened to feel, yet again, that there is nothing I can do to help. Please know that I am sending love and a big hug your way. And, if you’re ever in Michigan, I have some fur-babies who would like to try to make you feel a little bit better. With love and deepest sympathy, Aimee

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  3. Wow! I have sobbed while reading your post! Losing a very special kitten only three weeks back have made this very close to home for me! Thank you for your wise words, even though we have paid due to missing our loved ones we have the capacity to keep on loving!
    I am sorry for the loss of your boy and I am sure he loved very much by you and your family!

    • Irene, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. I hope you are finding some peace. We still miss Papa every single day. Some days are ok, some days are not. I would give almost anything to have him here with us.

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