Once upon a time there was a cute little orange “Tabbysinian” kitten who found his way into our lives. His papers said he was a Rudy Abyssinian, but his face was much softer than what you might expect a typical Aby to look like.
He picked The Husband one day, 14 years ago, when Pet Stores were not outlawed quite yet. The Husband was only “The Boyfriend” back then, and it was the very beginning of our relationship. And although he hadn’t intended for this little kitten to be a present for me, well, he ended becoming just that. Even though we didn’t live together yet, we shared this cat – I would bring him to my house for overnight stays, and eventually we all ended up moving into a house together 2 years later, (with our other cat, Emmy, a rescue who had found her way to me a year after Ozzy.)
Ozzy. I will use his real name because it’s cute. And he was an Ozzy through and through. He was so sweet & friendly; a bunch of orange fur with a purr as loud as a tractor motor – so loud, it was difficult to fall asleep if he happened to curl up & take a nap with you. He demanded to be pet all.the.time. If you stopped petting him, he would nudge you with his wet nose, or gently nip at the fat on the back of your arm (YOW!) to get your attention.
We made all the mistakes with this guy, our first “baby.” We fed him food from the table, which transformed him into a steak-thieving, fang-bearing wild animal. He swiped chicken nuggets off of plates at parties, until we eventually had to lock him up when guests came over. Yogurt, eggs, tuna juice, salmon, filet mignon, burritos, artichokes, edamame, butter … there was no human food that this cat wouldn’t want to ingest.
And because we didn’t know any better, we let him roam around both inside and outside, until the unthinkable happened one day & he didn’t come home for dinner. Several days later, he turned up, mangled and barely hanging on to life. We rushed him to the hospital, where he cashed in one of his nine lives. He had been hit by a car & his jaw was broken. It was the first scare in our career as Ozzy’s parents, and I vowed to never let him out of the house again. He lamented that decision, but eventually got used to being just a house cat. He tried, and managed to, escape once or twice.
Fast forward to the arrival of our human child, The Boy, five years ago. Ozzy was probably the least excited of the cats to meet this new unpredictable babbling little wild man – a new entity in his midst, that would surely take our attention away from him. Ozzy kept his distance, carefully eyeing The Boy, and scrambling away when The Boy got too close.
The Boy didn’t care if Ozzy wouldn’t play with him, The Boy still loved him no matter what. The Boy called all of the cats his brothers & sister, and would draw pictures of them with him or by themselves. The Boy, just like me & The Husband, is a true animal lover.
So in September, when Ozzy first got sick with a blood clot in his front paw, The Boy & I rushed him to the emergency vet and waited, hopefully, for the doctors to say that he would be ok. As Ozzy lay sedated in the oxygen cage, The Boy got to pet him & was elated that he finally got to feel Ozzy’s soft, orange fur. The Boy saw me cry in the consultation room when the Cardiologist explained that Ozzy had silent heart disease & that this time we were lucky because the clot was in the front paw … if it was in the back leg, that is a much worse diagnosis, a death sentence pretty much.
Back home, for the past 3 months, we’ve watched as Ozzy made a remarkable recovery, and plied him with pills twice a day, hidden in the smokey folds of salmon. Spoiled, sure, but if anyone deserved it, it was Ozzy. I knew that his days were numbered, but figured we were looking at years, not months. So, last weekend, when Ozzy refused to eat dinner & could not walk on his back legs, I was shocked. And I knew in my heart of hearts that this was it. The end.
I am a very emotional person, an easy (and very ugly) crier. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I’ll cry at the drop of a hat most days – something that moves me, be it happy or sad, can trigger the tears. But when the proverbial poop hits the fan, I switch into “take-charge” mode, and I become the calm in the midst of chaos. I’m the one who takes a deep breath & coordinates everything when everyone else is falling apart. This was one of those times. I knew that I didn’t have the luxury of breaking down right now. I needed to be strong.
I shuffled The Boy into the tv room & put on a show that would engross him, as I took The Husband into our bedroom and told him that he needed to say good-bye to Ozzy. I would take him to the emergency hospital, but I wasn’t expecting to return with our cat. The Husband couldn’t really handle the magnitude of the situation, and didn’t want to believe that this was happening. He stayed with The Boy and I rushed Ozzy to the hospital.
My fears were confirmed and the ER Doctor told me that Ozzy had a saddle thrombus in the worst possible place, and recommended euthanasia. I was devastated and for the first time, I started to crack a little. My emotion caught up in my throat and I couldn’t stop the tears from spilling out. I signed the papers and held him for the last time, stroking his head and telling him about The Rainbow Bridge – a place where he would be able to run and chase squirrels and birds, eat steaks and chicken nuggets – and I would meet up with him again someday. I tried so hard not to cry – I wanted to be strong for him and brave, but I couldn’t help it. I wept as I watched him go.
When I got back home, The Boy was just about to go to bed, and I couldn’t tell him then. We decided to wait until the following day after he got out of school. I baked him a batch of his favorite chocolate chip cookies, and The Husband & I sat at the kitchen table and explained that Ozzy had been really sick for a while, and the doctors tried everything, but he had passed away. At first, The Boy took it pretty well – asked us a few questions in between bites of cookie: “is he coming back?” No, sweetie. “Will I ever see him again?” No, love. And then he ran off to play …
But at bedtime, that’s when he really broke down. After I kissed him goodnight & closed the door, I heard him quietly crying and calling out for Ozzy. My heart broke, and I rushed back in. The Boy came undone, asking me questions like “is everyone I love going to die?” “Why couldn’t you save him, mama? Why did you let him die? He was only thirteen years old!” “I miss him, I don’t want him to be gone, why can’t he ever come back?”
The Husband is an atheist, and I’m (for lack of a better label,) a witch. And I don’t want to get off on a tangent about religion, but suffice it to say The Husband and I have agreed to raise a child who is curious about the world around him, while supporting him in his search for whatever spirituality (religious, or not) works best for him. We expose him to the Pagan holidays, (and Hanukkah too, since The Husband is Jewish by blood.) But all of our celebrations are based around tradition, family & food, and not anything religious. We focus more on nature, the changing of the seasons, and less on theology.
Answering these big life questions for a five-year old were tough for me, but here’s some of what I told him:
You know how at Halloween, I talk about the veil between the two worlds? This world here where we are, and then a world where the spirits and ghosts live? Well, some people think that the other world is a place that animals and people go after they pass away from this world. It’s beautiful and magical, there’s no sadness, no pain, no sickness, and there’s just love. I would like to believe that Ozzy is now in that world, playing with other animals and running after silly squirrels and eating all the steak and salmon he wants to. We won’t be able to see him anytime soon, but I like to believe that someday we’ll meet up with him again. And you know how I talk about my grandma and grandpa who aren’t alive? I told you that I think they’re my angels, and they look out for me and watch over me? I would like to think that Ozzy is now one of our angels, too. And even though he isn’t alive here on earth anymore, he is still alive in our hearts. We can talk about him and remember all the funny, silly, sweet things he did and all the good times we had with him. And it’s ok to be sad and to miss him. It’s ok to ask questions and talk about him, and it’s ok to be confused. It’s going to take some time for all of us – you, me, Daddy & the other kitties – to get used to not having Ozzy in our house anymore, so we need to be kind to one another and be gentle with each other because it’s a big change to lose someone we love so much. And I know that thirteen is a small number and that must scare you, but for cats and dogs, time is much faster – one year for humans is 7 years for cats and dogs, so Ozzy was really ninety-one years old in human years! That’s a good, long life, sweet boy. No one lives forever, but usually people don’t die until they’re very old and have lived a long life. So you don’t need to worry about losing anyone else in your life, because no one is sick, everyone is healthy and just because one bad, sad thing happened, it doesn’t mean a lot of other bad, sad things are going to happen to. Ok?
As I grappled with explaining the unexplainable, I could hear the Husband crying in the room next to us. He later told me that he was sorry that he couldn’t be stronger & couldn’t come to help, but that he was in such pain from listening to our son sob about the loss of his sweet pet, it caused him to completely lose it. He said that I did a beautiful job of helping him understand & work through his grief. I hope so. I know it must the an instinctual mothering-type thing to want to shelter your children from any pain of the real world, but I also cannot lie to him. I tried my best to explain it as honestly as I could while still trying to bring him some comfort.
The following day, on the suggestion of a friend, I bought The Boy a small stuffed kitty cat that resembled Ozzy. I can’t believe that the toy store had exactly what I was looking for – it was kismet. I put a name tag on its collar that read “Ozzy,” and presented it to him after he came home from school. He hugged it tightly and said, “the real Ozzy will live in my heart, but this Ozzy will come with me everywhere now.” I smiled, proud that I had brought him some bit of happiness in the wake of a truly sad tragedy.
And we have been taking it one day at a time, as we’ll continue to do. In fact, just yesterday The Boy proclaimed that “Emmy just moved up a notch” to his “second favorite cat.” Of course, his best buddy, Sniper, has always held top spot … But, Ozzy, we’ll miss you so much, and we’ll think of you fondly & remember all the silly, sweet things you did, and all the joy you brought to our lives.