A bittersweet holiday

I want to say it’s been a great summer so far.  The weather could have started off better, I do feel like we essentially lost the first several weeks of summer because it felt more like fall with how dark and dreary and rainy it was.  BUT the weather has definitely perked up, and we’ve already managed to check several things off our summer bucket list, including Canada Day at BVM, a friends’ birthday party that all 3 kids were invited to, an adventure at Rocky Point Park enjoying the spray park, playground, and a trail walk, as well as outings to other parks in the area several times over, the Saturday Market to buy some goodies, more carousel rides, bike rides, the annual community fair (with James’ dad joining us as he was staying with us for 3 nights), Lion’s Park in PoCo, backyard hula hooping and a new, bigger kiddie pool for the kids to put the slide in to make our own backyard waterslide - which they LOVE!  (And oh, what an adventure it was to bring the big pool home in the van with all 3 kids underneath it!!)  We even went to Cultus Lake today and hit up Dinotown, which the kids enjoyed immensely.  The sun is finally here and even though in moments it can seem ‘too hot’ I seriously can’t complain because I’ve been wishing for this weather for so long it seems.  It’s James and my 9 year wedding anniversary tomorrow and my parents are watching the kids so we can go out on a date, and we have fun things planned for almost every day for the next week, and oh did I mention James is on holidays until next Wednesday?!  Life should seem pretty good right about now.

And it does...only our kitty cat Fiona died last Thursday, July 21st and I feel as though a part of me died with her.

Which is CRAZY for me to say because I will fully admit that there were times when she drove me totally insane.  I became not-a-cat-person after having twins, for some unbeknownst reason but it’s true, I really can’t say cats are anywhere near my favourite animal anymore.  And Fiona threw up like she was bulimic for the entire duration of her time with us (she was 17.5 years old when she died, but lived with us since she was 6).  She scratched parts of the carpet that we’re going to have a hard time explaining when we decide to move out of this place.  She would moan for no good reason during nap and bedtime and wake children who would otherwise have kept sleeping.

But even though at certain moments I may have felt annoyed with her, I never stopped loving her, and I did enjoy her cuddles at times, because she was such a good-natured cat and loved attention, rarely ever used her claws on anyone, not even when I was using the clippers to shave her long hair down to a #1 length, which in turn made her even more cuddly and clingy because she craved our warmth as much as our love.  Oh what I wouldn’t do to feel how soft her freshly groomed coat felt, or even her plush fur once it had grown back in.  I loved her ‘Cindy Crawford mole’ (the little patch of black fur that adorned her otherwise white left cheek) and how deep her green eyes were.  I miss suddenly wondering where she was in the house and going on a search for her, for worry she may have somehow escaped when one of the kids left the screen door open for a few minutes.  And there I’d find her, curled up on our bed, of course right by MY pillow, always!  I miss the way she used to always sleep with Andrew at night, which stopped when he got his new loft bed since she couldn’t scale the ladder, but she still always had a soft spot for Andrew and he for her.  I miss seeing her out of the corner of my eye while I worked in the kitchen, and she decided it was time for a little snack.  I want to hear her little teeth crunching her kibbles, and the sound of her tongue madly lapping up a drink of water, freshly poured into her little bowl several times a day.  I want her to be curled up on the opposite end of the couch RIGHT NOW while I type this, because she would either be there, curled in a ball sound asleep, snoring softly, or over by the piano chair (omg, my heart just sank thinking how when we put the heat on again in the fall, she won’t be in her spot sleeping by the warm vent), or even laying down on her favourite step in the middle of the staircase.  I want to hear her little feet padding down the stairs, which she ALWAYS did after everyone else was tucked in bed for the night.  She seemed to go up and check out that everyone was quiet and then she’d come down the stairs and look at me, then saunter off to have a snack or do her business, before finding her spot for the evening.  I would even take the frustration of trying to keep the curtains closed while she weaved in and out, searching for rats or whatever it was she ‘stalked’ through the closed sliding glass door every night after dark!  It drove me NUTS when she did that because I was forever having to come up with ways to keep the curtains closed, but I would be happy to be dealing with a slight annoyance for a couple of minutes to have that little fluffball back in my life where she clearly belongs.

I knew it would be hard to lose her, but I forgot how badly grief hurts.  And yes I KNOW it could be far worse grief, as someone did remind me, thank you very much but of course I am well aware that there are worse kinds of grief than the loss of a ‘pet.’  At the same time, it’s all relative, and when you see your pet as part of the family like we do, it really is painful when they’re no longer there.  I didn’t even realize how often I spent time with her, since I felt like a lot of the time I was ignoring her since ultimately I’ve got a lot going on with 3 kids and once I had all of them, I didn’t have the same amount of time to devote to a cat!  She obviously still had a huge impact, and DID get a lot of attention that I guess I was just so used to giving her that I didn’t really think about it anymore.  She was just always there, and I think maybe I took that for granted.

Last night I found when I lay down on the couch and stretched my legs out, I was being mindful of her potentially being at the other end, since she often would be, and then my foot touched something soft and furry so without thinking I stroked it with my foot because in my mind, it was Fifi, and this was a common thing I would do with her.  A second later it hit me that obviously it wasn’t her, and the kids had left a plush stuffie right in her spot on the couch, and for a second my mind had forgotten.  Then it just hit me all over again.  Earlier I would have put money on it that I heard her drinking her water in the dining room, to the point that I had to go check, and could still hear it in the room even though looking at the spot where her food and water dish had been was obviously empty.  Those things cause so much turmoil in my heart and in my head.  Sometimes my eyes just well up with tears but I can fight them back and move on.  Most of the time I start sobbing immediately and feel like I can’t breathe because I can’t accept that she’s gone.  I am not a crier AT ALL (a few sentimental tears here and there and maybe twice a year a ‘big cry’ and I’m good!) but wow, now I feel like if a pin dropped and it somehow reminded me of the cat, I’d be a blubbering fool!  It’s so out of my comfort zone to be this emotional, but I know it’s healthiest to ride the waves because I have to feel the feelings to get them out of my system.

What broke my heart the absolute most was Andrew having to face grief for the first time in his life.  He had been on a camping trip with the mil and we weren’t even able to reach them (not that we would have put a damper on their trip but I could feel time ticking and knew there was only so much left, and the timing of the camping trip was kind of stressful as a result).  Before they went on the trip I really started to notice that Fifi didn’t seem like herself, and we could tell she was ‘winding down’ because she felt very bony and wasn’t as active as she usually would be (not that she was very active, but still).  Some of her routines had started to change, in particular I’d noticed she had stopped weaving in and out of the curtains at night altogether, and often wanted to just sleep in our bedroom (or outside the bedroom door) instead of downstairs (although she still slept downstairs a fair bit, too).  I had told the kids that we needed to prepare ourselves as best we could (yeah, right, like that’s possible…) because Fifi was no spring chicken, and when Andrew asked me how long she had I said I would be surprised if she was still with us at Christmas time, but maybe she would be with us for that long, I really didn’t know.  I obviously couldn’t imagine her NOT here for Christmas, but in reality I could see how old she was starting to look, and I knew that wasn’t the greatest sign.

Unfortunately, she went from ‘maybe Christmas time’ to no longer being with us 5 days later.  Which is so harsh.  I just wasn’t expecting this outcome so quickly.  But she basically stopped eating and drinking, and became so lethargic.  I tried syringing water and wet food (which she never liked her whole life but she just wouldn’t eat her kibbles anymore) into her but she even started to paw my hand away when I tried to give her anything (which is quite a sign from her, since pawing with no claws out meant business for her!!)  We had decided that we weren’t going to spend exorbitant amounts to ‘save’ her not because we didn’t love her and want her to improve, but because we knew from past experience with other family cats that she wasn’t going to be saveable.  We may have been able to prolong the inevitable for a week or two but I doubt much longer than that, and even if we could have, it would have meant force feeding her and likely also pumping her full of medication.  I just couldn’t do that to her, even though right now in this moment I selfishly wish we HAD gone that route because I wouldn’t be feeling the pain of losing her if we’d done that.  I honestly don’t feel it would have been the best thing for her given her age - if she’d been way younger and this had happened we’d for sure have tried more options, but even the vet said that she’d had a great, long life and was so lucky to have been as healthy as she was for so long.  It was her time, but that just doesn’t make it any easier for me.

Anyway, when Andrew got home from being away for 4 days/3 nights, the longest he’s EVER been away from us AND with zero contact the entire time, he was so excited to tell us all about his trip and we let him, and then I suggested he and I go sit outside in the backyard for a bit and chat some more.  I didn’t know how to start the conversation so I didn’t, and instead let him keep chatting about his time away.  He mentioned how he’d gone to visit some family friends that we all know, and then said how he had enjoyed seeing them, but that it was also kind of sad to be at their house because their dog had to be put down the week before, and he noticed how empty the house felt without the dog there since he’d always been there.  ‘Like how I feel about Fifi,’ he said, ‘I just couldn’t imagine her not being here.’  That’s when I knew I couldn’t hide it from him.  I said something to the effect that unfortunately Fiona wouldn’t be able to be with us forever, either, and he asked me when I thought she was going to die.  And I had to tell him that she had a vet appointment for the next day at 5:00.

As soon as Andrew looked at my face and could see that I wasn’t kidding, he burst into tears and was inconsolable.  I held him for a long while, and we cried together, and I did my best to explain why it had to happen.  He eventually stopped crying and sat in his own chair again and swallowed hard.  He said, ‘I want to talk to you, I REALLY want to talk about this, but I just can’t.’  He would start crying again if he tried to talk.  We went upstairs and he saw the state Fifi was in, and I could tell by his reaction that he knew just those few short days had changed her in a big way.  He pet her for a long time and gave her lots of love, and he cried, and cried, and cried.
He and James and I talked more about it after the girls had gone to bed.  (They were also told what was happening, but at their age they’re lucky enough not to be able to process it the same, so they weren’t quite as bothered by it).  We did our best to explain why euthanasia isn’t murder (even though it feels like it, at least to me, when you’ve had to be the one to make that most difficult decision, I feel TERRIBLE for pulling the plug on her, even though I know keeping her alive was worse for her) and we just chatted about her in general and about how much we loved her and would miss her.  My heart ached so badly for Andrew because he was feeling such a whirlwind of emotions and I knew what they were and I wanted more than anything to be able to make them go away and make him feel better, it’s my JOB to make him feel better and usually I can do it, so it broke my heart to know that I could only console him, but not actually take away his pain.

He sobbed so hard and for so long that Margaret came up to him and gave him a hug and a kiss and said, ‘It’s all right brother, I tried telling you at dinner she was going to die but you didn’t listen!’  LOL!  Emily had a scared look on her face and asked me why he kept crying and I said because he was going to miss Fiona so much.

We had several moments where we were all spending time with her together as a family, and I thought that was really special.  She eventually would  get up and wobble over to a spot away from everyone, because she couldn’t handle so much attention.  When it was time for us to take her my parents stayed with the kids, but it was just downright awful when I had to hold her near the kids for the very last time for them to say goodbye, and then come home a little while later empty handed.  Andrew has said so many times since, ‘I just can’t believe Fifi is gone.  This house just feels so empty without her in it.’  And that couldn’t be more true.

Saying goodbye to her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Looking into her eyes for the last time, stroking her soft fur knowing I’d never feel it again.  Smelling her.  I love her so much, she was a part of this family.  I even always signed her name on cards for people and drew a little paw by her name.  There is a sticker version of her on our car!  So many little reminders of her are everywhere, and in the corner of my eye I literally JUST SAW HER SEVERAL TIMES.  Every little sound the house makes - I used to attribute all of them to her and now I’m wondering what in the AF are all those noises I’m hearing if they’re not her?!!!  This house is scaring me now!  I need my guard cat back!

Andrew mentioned how Fiona was there from day one for him, that he’s never not had a pet before.  That hurts.  I know the feeling because I’ve never gone very long without one in my life, either.  And we adopted Fiona before we even had kids.  She was one of my babies, my fur babies, and I will love her and miss her every day forever.

So this summer has had some wonderful moments, and I expect it to have many more.  It’s just that it’s all a little bittersweet at the moment, while we figure out a new set of routines and a way to cope with our loss.


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