I’m sitting in my office, and I haven’t been able to be in here longer than five minutes since Monday, the day we lost our girl Gracie. So that feels like an improvement to yesterday, where I couldn’t even open my eyes without crying. Did you know that you can cry, even when your eyes are closed?
No one prepared me for this. I had lost a pet before: my childhood dog Ruby was euthanized in my childhood home, in my lap, when it was her time to go. Ruby crossed that rainbow bridge to the tune of Let Her Go by Passenger. I broke down a few days later in a Culver’s restaurant, having lunch with my mom, because that god-forsaken song had the audacity to come on their corporate radio station. Even still, this was different. Gracie was mine — I got her from my best friend’s aunt when I was eighteen, after I had jokingly said let me know if you ever want to get rid of her. I ended up adopting her shortly after that.
Speaking of the Rainbow Bridge, no one prepared me for how hard I would cry explaining that poem to my husband who had never heard of it. I always thought it was cheesy; a silly, that-was-made-for-someone-else,-not-me type of poem. As it turns out, death really does make you wish that heaven is real and the rainbow bridge is real and maybe one day we really will see them again.
No one prepared me for the funeral that was vacuuming Gracie’s favorite spots on the couch. No one told me that it would cross my mind to keep the fine, grey downy hairs and detritus that I was emptying from my vacuum cleaner. No one told me that it would feel painful to deposit the last physical bits of her presence into the trash. No one told me that I would pull her favorite blanket off the couch to vacuum underneath it, only to smell her on the blanket — a smell that maybe wouldn’t have been so enticing on Sunday, but come Monday some animal instinct had me wondering can someone please bottle that scent so I can smell it forever?
No one told me that, in my lowest moments of grief, I’d wander into the office where her litter box was and wish we hadn’t cleaned it before she died because I’m afraid the smell of her, good or bad, will disappear with her earthly body.
No one told me that I’d be incapable of even thinking about putting her food bowl in the attic. I’m sure I’m wildly unprepared for the day I bring it back down in anticipation for another cat.
No one told me about the guilt; the overwhelming knowledge that I’m crying more for my cat than any human I’ve lost, and why is that? Maybe I shouldn’t mention that to anyone. But fuck it, because maybe I’ll prepare someone now.
No one told me that watching our dog Jet sniff her litter box, her carrier, her favorite spot, would break me all over again; would make me whisper to him I miss her, too. Or ask him Where is the kitty? which elicited no reaction whatsoever — the knowledge he and I both possess that she is not here.
No one told me that just a few hours after her heart stopped beating, Jake and I would be on the couch in her favorite spot — our favorite spot, too — cracking jokes and laughing through choked sobs about her being pet by all of her dictator idols wherever she is now. We had always joked that she could manipulate anyone into doing anything for her, akin to many dictators of the past. This week, in America, this feels less funny. But we laughed anyway.
No one told me that our loved ones live on as ghosts in our house. I look out my bedroom door, waiting for her to quietly paw her way in and curl up on our bed to sunbathe until she decided to fall asleep and stay there for ten hours. I go into our hall bath and I’m immediately inundated with real-as-life visions of her, patiently waiting in the bathroom sink for me to turn on the faucet so she could lap the fresh, running water at her leisure. In that same bathroom, I glance to the floor and see her green eyes, so trusting, looking up at me in anticipation before I changed her bandages from a hotspot she had developed.
No one told me how hard it would be to clean up a gross hairball that I found behind the couch, as if me cleaning it was wiping away some memory of her in the scent of the enzyme cleaner that I held in my hand.
No one prepared me for the day it was time for her to go. How it would feel loading her into her carrier at home, and bringing that carrier back home without her in it. No one prepared me for how it feels to pull into the driveway and not see her tiny white body in the window. No one prepared me for the difficulty that was signing my name on the euthanasia authorization paperwork. No one prepared me for the love that Gracie’s veterinarian showed as she guided her through her last breaths — the tears that fell from her eyes, even if she had done this hundreds of times before.
I wasn’t quite prepared for the overwhelming gratitude we both felt for the times we know we cherished our time spent with her. We knew she was special and we commented on it nearly every time we snuggled on the couch with her. Now that she’s gone, we keep saying I don’t feel like I would’ve done anything different; we really did love her when we were with her. All of the times we said We will never have another cat like her hold both a somber and a happy place in our hearts. It’s true, even if we wish it wasn’t.
She lived the last day of her life doing her favorite thing: sitting in Jake’s lap, her favorite person on this planet, and purred softly while he had a rare day of working from home. If you knew her, you’d know that this is the place she’s the happiest, and I couldn’t have pictured anything better for her.
My uncle said it best: animals give us so many of our best days, and always one of the worst. And my sister said it well, too: we welcome these furry creatures into our lives and the happiness they give us when they’re alive far outweighs the tragedy and pain of losing them.