Unless you have a tortoise, or maybe a long-lived bird, as a pet owner the odds are good you will have to say goodbye to said pet at some point in your journey together. Not to disparage the level of attachment you may feel for the pet of your choice (and given the variety of animals being banned from planes as comfort companions I know that our pet choices are vast), but I do have a sense that depth of connection correlates positively to time spent together. I know this is not always true, it’s a generalization and that is the point of generalizations – they are generally true.
For a few years when the children were young we had hamsters (in point of fact we had lots and lots of hamsters), and while we felt affection for the hamsters it was not emotionally wracking when they would inevitably, and frequently cross the proverbial rainbow bridge. Bacchus, he had been with us the longest received a backyard burial with a memorial grape vine. We remember fondly the hamsters but I don’t know that we deeply miss them. The smell did linger for many years after they left so maybe that helped ease the pain.
Last week we said goodbye to the cat we called kitten. She was almost seventeen and at the end was not much more than fluff and air. I picked her out from a rescue display at a farmer’s market and brought her home with her brother when they were 8 weeks old. We moved when she was four and if it is possible to convey in writing the degree to which she did not like the change I certainly don’t have the words to do it. Neither she nor her brother like change, no new furniture, new toys, construction at the house – if there was a change happening we knew it was going to have to be carefully navigated and involve her peeing on things we liked. She did not speak but she communicated clearly.
Over the years we threw away a dozen area rugs, a large chair, hundreds (we counted) of dog beds and pillows, countless bath mats, and miscellaneous other household goods that could be peed on. For seven years she was treated with Prozac which sort of helped but wasn’t great and we are all happy that she spent her last five years drug free. I don’t miss that and I won’t miss that – the dogs are already grateful to have their beds on the ground full-time, and her brother we now know is entirely blame free for the vindictive urination. And yet we all move about the house wondering where she is. Because to get rid of the bad we also had to say goodbye to all of the good and the truth is, in any relationship you don’t get one without the other.
Maybe I think, if we had known her just a few months it wouldn’t be such a big loss. But she was a part of our day, every day for nearly seventeen years. The line between affection and familiarity is not so wide or straightly drawn. My son cannot remember life without these cats, my daughter has faint memories of the joy of kittens when they came. Now there is only Samson, his Delilah gone and he has wanted to be held more than ever before. There is no fluffy grey tabby under the sage in the front yard, sun warmed fur, chirping at you as you pass by with a reminder to be pet. There are no gentle claws on the cheek just before the alarm goes off, no one to stand on the computer keyboard when working, or to sit on the newspaper as you read. The things that annoyed us and the things that were precious. They were the same and they are gone.
To have love you must be willing to lose something. It’s worth it of course because you learn so much, you grow, you change, you hope that those who love you do so good and bad together since that is all we are. And we do the same for them because that is the package. But that package of life and relationships and being together is hard too, maybe harder as you get older and you see more of the truth of the cycle.
It is good to love these creatures, it is good to be loved by these creatures and to share our lives with something that can give us a totally different perspective on life. And it is hard to see them go, and maybe it is really just as a simple as that.