Once upon a time there was a nice family who lived in sunny, Southern California. The daddy went away on a 6-month deployment with the Navy, and the mommy stayed home with the children, ages 7, 2, and 1. (Aren't they hilarious?)
One lovely summer day, the mommy and children were at a soccer game by the beach (yes, it was heaven, let me tell you). A young homeless woman carrying a cardboard box made her way through the crowd on the sidelines of the soccer field, and when she passed by, the mommy saw that the box was full of kittens. The young woman was giving them away. On a whim, with no daddy to consult (conveniently), the mommy said, “I’ll take two!”
That was September, 1995. We brought the kittens home and named them Lucy and Ricky.
Needless to say, the kids LOVED them.
From the get-go, the kittens slept with the children when they could, meaning, when I wasn’t locking them in another room so we all could get some sleep. (The cats, not the children.) Our youngest daughter, Molly, was still in a crib and both cats, especially Lucy, loved to get in the crib and snuggle with her.
I taught my children how to treat the cats and how to hold them properly.
There was no tail pulling or tormenting the poor animals.
When we’d only had the cats a couple of months, little Molly walked into the kitchen holding one of the them. She was holding him correctly, but when she put him down, he pushed off with his back legs, as cats are prone to do, and his back claw caught her bottom lip. It was ugly. It didn’t just split, but rather, her lip was sort of hanging off her face. Yes, really.
Eight hours in the E.R. and amazingly, only 4 stitches. Daddy was out at sea (again) and not available for consultation. So I did what any stressed-out mom might do: took both cats to the vet and had them de-clawed. Front AND back. So sue me. All I kept thinking was that it could have been her eye.
And I justified it by knowing that we are good pet owners, that we would not let our cats outside, and… well, IT COULD HAVE BEEN HER EYE.
Over the next few years, we acquired our dog, Shiloh, a corgi/beagle mix, and our German Shepherd puppy, Roxanne. The zoo complete, it seemed only right to pack up our herd and move from San Diego to Maine. The move took several months, what with staying with relatives along the way, sight-seeing, and the inconsequential fact that my husband was looking for a job. We really had no place to go. In fact, Maine didn’t become our obvious destination until we were well past the Mississippi River. But that’s a different story.
We stayed with my mom in New Mexico, where the cats were banished to her garage. We stayed with my husband’s parents in Rhode Island, where the cats were kept in the attic room with us, to protect them from the in-law cats, all of whom still had their claws. By the time we settled in Maine, neither we nor our cats had any idea where we were supposed to be.
During the course of all those months on the move, it became apparent that Ricky was top cat and Lucy was not the friendliest kitty on the planet. She didn’t like moving around, she didn’t like her brother, she didn’t like the dogs and she didn’t like us. She begrudgingly took the food we gave her, and she didn’t offer cuddles or purrs. Instead we got hisses, growls, and dirty looks. Ricky took to our laps and Lucy kept her distance. Ricky was friendly but Lucy broke our camera, shredded our toilet paper, and pooped under our bed. Ricky meowed and followed us around while Lucy stayed by herself.
It was sad, but I had bigger fish to fry. Between all the other pets, homeschooling, and the shock of the Maine winters, I figured the cat would work things out. And yes, the winters WERE a shock to me.
Not long after we got here, when Molly was about six-years-old, she told me she wanted her very own kitten. I informed her that we were not getting any more pets and that she could call one of our current cats her own. She reminded me that Ricky was pretty much my cat and that Lucy was mean. Well kid, that’s life. I told her to pretend Ricky was hers, but she wasn’t put off so easily.
After thinking it over, Molly chose mean, unfriendly Lucy to be her cat. She began hanging out with Lucy, talking to her, making sure she slept on her bed, and telling her how much she loved her.
The cat tolerated it for a while, and then at some point, when no one was looking, Lucy started to love Molly back.
Over the years, we marveled at how Lucy still hated everyone else in the family, but she was totally devoted to our little girl. She stayed in her room constantly and put up with things that even friendly cats probably wouldn't tolerate. Often Molly dressed her up in doll clothes and put her in a baby carriage.
As she got a bit older, she began dressing her up with jewelry, tiaras and ribbons. Lucy just lay still and let her do it, seeming not just to be tolerating it, but perhaps even enjoying it.
They even played games together. (This one cracks me up!)
And of course there were photo shoots.
She still hissed and growled at the rest of us – I was even afraid to pick her up (claws or no claws) but not Molly. She and Lucy had begun an amazing friendship.
As Molly grew and began making friends and having outside interests, she still claimed that Lucy was her best friend. Even as she hit the teen years, she still managed to dress up Lucy, take photos, and spend lots of time with her.
When life began throwing punches, as it ultimately does, Molly took solace in Lucy, who was always there for a furry shoulder to cry on or a hug. She waited on Molly’s bed all day for her to come home, share her secrets, and tell about her day.
Two years ago, as many of you might remember, our German Shepherd died suddenly, which was a terrible shock to us all. Unsurprisingly, our Molly clung to Lucy more tightly than ever, and began to express concern about how much longer she would be with us. We assured her that Lucy was only 12-years-old and that she could possibly be with us for many more years. With cats, one never knows, but these had been well-cared-for indoor cats.
To compound our shock, a month later, Ricky was diagnosed with kidney disease and given only months to live. Molly was frantic and begged me to take Lucy for a check up, just to be sure. So I did, and according to the vet, Lucy was fine and just as ornery as ever.
Five months later, Ricky died. Once again Molly took comfort in Lucy, which was not a surprise. The surprise, instead, was that now that our friendly cat was gone, we all looked to Lucy, as the only other cat in the house. And oddly enough, Lucy seemed glad to ease right into the spot of top cat. Within days she began meowing at us, as her brother had done, and within weeks she was seeking out our laps. At first, we were wary, expecting to be bitten or growled at, but it soon became glaringly obvious – Lucy was taking Ricky’s place.
That was the summer of 2008. By the time the autumn leaves fell, the transformation was complete. Lucy, while still not the personable cat Ricky had been, was friendly and fun. In her elderly years, she had finally found happiness. Lucy, while still Molly’s cat, had also become the family cat. We all fell in love with her after having her in our house for 13+ years.
This past December, at the age of 14, Lucy began putting on weight, though her diet hadn’t changed in years. We took her to the vet and discovered the sad news that she had tumors all throughout her abdomen and she was filling up with fluid – thus the apparent weight gain. Molly, now nearly 16, was beside herself with worry and grief. There was nothing to be done, so we brought Lucy home to live her last days. We were told that the fluid would eventually begin pressing on her lungs, and when it became too difficult for her to breathe, it would be time to take her back to the vet for her final visit.
We knew it could be days or weeks, so we tried to make her life as happy as possible. We fed her tuna every day...
And we cuddled and pet her every chance we got.
My mother-in-law even made a fleece catnip bed for her to lay on (which she loved).
My prayer was that she would get through the holidays. On Christmas morning, she sat on the arm of the sofa in the sun while the rest of us gathered around the tree. She was friendly and happy, though clearly more tired than usual.
After that, she seemed to want to stay on the sofa in the basement, where it was warm and quiet. She kept getting larger (from all the fluid) and her breathing was becoming more difficult.
All through the big New Year’s Eve snow storm, we watched and worried.
Some days Lucy hardly got off the couch and labored to breathe. Other days, she ventured upstairs, jumped up on all our beds, and begged for something to eat. We kept saying that the bad days would have to out-number the good before we made that final decision.
It didn’t take long. On January 6, it was clear that Lucy’s quality of life had so far deteriorated that she was just waiting to die. We made the hard choice that that day was to be the day. I picked up the girls from school early so they could spend a few last hours with her. Lucy was sweet, but clearly not feeling well. When it was time to get in the car, Molly, who loved this cat so much, held her in her lap and reassured her all the way to the vet. There was no need for a cat carrier, as she was too weak and the fight had gone out of her.
Our family was quickly ushered into a room where we all talked to and snuggled Lucy. Molly was heartbroken and was unabashed in showing her sadness. As a parent, there are few things worse than watching your child experience heartbreak. Each of her sobs struck at my heart and I almost couldn’t stand it.
The end, however, was wonderfully peaceful. Lucy, already cuddled in her favorite girl’s lap, simply closed her eyes, lay down her head, and slipped from this life.
It is a terrible moment to watch a life end. Whether it be human or animal, and whether it be peaceful or not, it is so final and staggering to comprehend. When the end of life comes due to a choice we have made, even with the best intentions and caring reasons, it is still a huge thing. Life is a gift and is so fleeting. It is a powerful and scary thing to make the choice to take a life. None of us in our family takes this decision lightly.
We all will miss Lucy and remember her fondly. She carved out a spot in our hearts, and beloved pets manage to take that part with them when they go. Our hearts can heal, but there is a soft place left that often hurts when it is touched. Molly gave such a big chunk of her heart that it will be quite some time before she is fully healed. I experienced a similar loss when I was just her age, and 25 years later, conjuring up the memories can still bring me to tears.
As a mom, I want to shield my children from these hurts, but that is impossible. If we love, we will also experience pain. As C.S. Lewis’ character said in the movie, Shadowlands, “The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal.”
A rotten deal, it sometimes seems, but we wouldn’t give up one day of those 14 years with our sweet kitty – even to avoid the sadness now. Not one day.
July 20, 1995 - January 6, 2010
July 20, 1995 - January 6, 2010
Copyright © 2010 - Paulla Estes