On Losing a Beloved Pet

Our puppy turns 1 this month, and celebrating his place in our family has made me reflect on the losses we’ve had as well. This is a post I wrote more than 2 years ago, originally titled “When Death Becomes a Living Thing,” the night before our sweet cat Lola left us. Although our family had already suffered the death of another pet – spunky Maya, who died suddenly as a kitten (which was a horrible shock) – this was the first time we had ushered a pet through sickness, and had to make any decisions about her future. It was an awful experience, and one that is difficult to explain unless you’ve been through it. Here I tried to put it into words.

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Lola has never been the kind of cat you pick up and love. She is affectionate, but mercurial, not skittish but sometimes reproachful with her glance when things get too loud or too busy. She loves a good, long pet and drools when she purrs.

Despite her clear distinctions on person space, we’ve never stopped moaning over the temptation to rub her fluffy tummy. Not so fast, she seems to tell us every time we get close.

We adopted Lola when she was 6, so she had a life before us, and when Eli was born I wondered if her past had included babies. She was never alarmed by his cries, and only a few times did she lash out when he got in her face. Even then, she showed great restraint.

our cat Lola

Lola, our “Old Lady,” our 15yo girl, has been very sick for the past 6 weeks. It’s been a tangled knot trying to sort out what is wrong, how to treat her, where to go from here. After a long haul, today a specialist concluded that Lola has a tumor, and has widespread and aggressive oral cancer. It is affecting many, many areas at this point and is beyond any reasonable surgery or treatment.

Even without an official diagnosis, I think we all knew Lola would not be well again. A cloud began descending in earnest over our house about a week ago – a sort of knowing.┬áIt’s strange to live in that place where death – which is so often an ambiguous, far-off thing – comes and lives and breaths in your presence. The reality of it has been by my side for days now, and it is not as terrifying as it is quieting. There’s been a hush that is not heard, but felt.

And today, having already made the appointment to have Lola put to sleep tomorrow, it has moved from a hush to a hum. As Lola moves from room to room and even as she rests, I want to say I’m sorry, Good luck, I love you, Be well. Death is a living thing for us right now, and tomorrow – once Lola has gone – it will begin to recede, but it will take with it a little piece of what our life has been for more than 9 years, and leaving in its place life lessons, many fond memories, and a whole lot of love.

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I want to give you an update to this story. The day I brought Lola in to the vet, the office staff explained that a kitten had been left in a box in their parking lot, and after 5 months they had not been able to place it. They understood that it might be bold to ask (since I was literally handing Lola to them as they mentioned this), but they wondered if our family would be willing to give this kitten a home. I felt raw with grief, and politely declined. But the kitten stayed on my mind all day. When my kids came home from school, we went back to the vet to meet the kitten. She was a fiery little thing. Black and white, with a head much tinier than her body. We named her Alice and brought her home. She has been an amazing addition to our family.