Nothing is ever "just a..." anything.
For many years, I believed that a pet is just a pet. We love them and appreciate what they bring to our lives but, I believed that when they pass, it's just a pet. It's like losing a favorite toy, I convinced myself. It's not the same as when a person dies. It won't affect me the same.
Well, I was wrong. Tuesday night, my 6 year old came upstairs to tell me that Koothrappali, our 9-year-old Tabby cat needed food and that he thought he was dying. Now, let me explain that this cat has ALWAYS been a drama queen about food. He was seriously overweight and put on a special diet, being fed only twice per day because of it so he would be REALLY dramatic around dinner time, which it currently was. So, I rolled my eyes and started down the stairs, expecting to find him meowing in the kitchen. He was not. He was not in the kitchen at all. This is the part where I'm going to gloss over how I found him and summarize the next twenty minutes because I'm already in tears again, as I type this. My 13-year-old, through terror and tears, as his best friend and emotional support animal struggled to hold on to life, rushed to get me a cat carrier and a tote, as I wasn't sure I could get the cat into the carrier in his current state and then get him into the van, while I frantically tried to find a vet hospital that would answer their phone. The one that answered was 15 minutes away. I drove as fast as I could, hitting every red light imaginable, constantly asking my son how he was and telling him to keep talking to him.
6 minutes! 6 minutes until we're there and I called back, "Bug, how's he doing?" His response: "I think he fell asleep." Oh God, no! I knew he hadn't fallen asleep. I know a cat doesn't fall asleep after such an ordeal. I knew it was done. I couldn't let my son know what I knew. I drove faster. Funny how there were no red lights after that. There were but, time seemed to work differently once I knew. I turned into the vet hospital, slid across two parking spots and ran around the van to grab the carrier, noticing how very heavy it felt now. As I ran in the doors, I practically screamed at the staff, "I called about Koothrappali, I called about the cat", watching their faces to see who I'd talked to. A lady at the end ushered me to her and someone came from the back to meet me. After insisting that Malykai stay behind me in the waiting area, I told her, as quietly as I could (which honestly didn't seem very quiet but, I felt like I'd lost control of my functions in that moment) that I think he's already dead but, my son doesn't know yet.
When the vet came back out to confirm my worst fear, I felt like a helpless child. He was gone and she was fairly certain that it was due to heart disease. How do I tell my son that his best friend, greatest comforter and most loyal companion was gone forever? He was going to be crushed! I called my husband so I could calm myself down. I couldn't talk to my son in this state. Once I was level-headed again, I called my son over, who still thought that he was going to be okay. He'd thought they were helping Pali with whatever was wrong. I'm not sure the possibility of his passing had even occurred to him at that point. The next hour was full of crying and trying to find words and seeing Koothrappali one last time before they prepared him in a cardboard coffin for us to bring home to bury. Let me tell you, even burying him was a whole ordeal because our yard is not big and everywhere I dug there were massive tree roots or buried lines. I can't be more grateful to the staff at the vet hospital. In addition to the fear of reality, I was concerned about the extra bill this emergency was creating because we are in very difficult financial times after my 5-year-old's double-hospital stint a couple months ago and my husband's recent medical bills. Thankfully, they didn't charge us a dime because he was DOA and they weren't really able to do anything more than comfort us and try to make this a little bit easier.
After burying Koothrappali and sending Malykai to take a bath to rest, I filled in my 5, 6 and 8 year old kids, who'd been home with Nana during all of this, and were constantly asking her how Koothrappali was. I couldn't even handle their emotions at that point. I was so mentally and emotionally drained that more tears felt physically painful. The next morning, I met Malykai in the hallway when he woke up. He looked dazed and confused and through a worried expression said, “Mommy, where's Koothrappali?” I broke down with him, as I told him that it wasn't a dream. He really thought it was just a bad dream. A couple hours later, I got a call from his Dad, whom I'd asked to call him to offer his support. He had more bad news. Malykai's favorite cat at his house, Booger, had been hit by a car and died a few days before Koothrappali. We agreed he couldn't hear that news right now. That was just too much!
So, we muddled through our Wednesday, zoning out to distraction after distraction. My husband came home from work on Thursday and we started to get back to some of life, working on the kids' lessons, doing some chores, even finding some fun moments but, still crying and looking for Pali to come beg for food or attention. He was such a big personality that everyone couldn't help but, love him. He inserted himself into every part of our day! At one point, I mentioned to my husband that losing him is, in a way, harder than losing a person, because a person wouldn't have been in every aspect of what you do, unless it was a spouse or child. Koothrappali was on our radar from the moment we woke up until we went to bed. He was always making himself known. He was laying where we frequented, he was coming in and out of the house like a child, he was loudly proclaiming that he needed attention, he was cuddling with someone, he was chasing another cat to get it to play, he was hunting in the yard. I actually watched him get a bird about two weeks ago. It was the most fascinating thing ever. He didn't actually kill it because he was trying to bring it in the house and I wouldn't let him so he let it go and it flew off, right through my dress!!! He was such a great cat that I actually miss the inconvenience of his fur on the clean laundry, left on the couch overnight. I miss him begging for food all day, even though he'd just been fed. He was definitely not 'just a cat'.
My husband and I did tell Malykai about Booger Wednesday night. Despite being very upset, he handled it well. I think Malykai and I both still feel like this is all just a really bad dream that we can't seem to wake up from. Each day has gotten a little easier and I know that life will go on but, it will never be the same. Koothrappali got my boy through some of the hardest times in his life- losing custody of my stepsons when we moved out of state, struggling with the addition of new siblings, transitioning back and forth between home and his dad's house, moving to new homes, struggling to understanding his ADHD and other diagnosis and the struggles that they create for him, coming out of behavioral meltdowns and calming down. Koothrappali was always the only thing he wanted after he came out of a blackout meltdown. That sweet cat was always more than happy to sit and cuddle with him, practically having the life squeezed out of him, while Malykai tried to make sense of things.
Perhaps it's because I'm not close to many people or simply because Yahweh put this cat in our lives to support us through some REALLY difficult seasons of life but, we are really hurting over this loss. This is the first time my kids have had to endure a death of a loved one. This is the first time I've been unable to soften the blow for them. I'm not even entirely sure why I'm sharing this, given how upset I was with my husband for posting about Koothrappali's passing on Facebook. Part of it was the rawness of the timing. We hadn't even gotten Pali in the ground yet. It was likely more so because he was sharing our closest, most intimate family details with STRANGERS who choose to be nothing more. His Facebook “friends” are real people, real “family” who choose not to be involved in our lives. My mother, my grandmother, my brothers and extended family, his aunts and cousins, his best friend, people we once considered friends. These are all people we never actually hear from, people who keep us at a distance because they can't be bothered to have a relationship with us or feel like we're 'too different' from them because we don't follow mainstream 'norms' but, instead follow Scripture. Why do these people get to be involved in our most difficult news when they choose not to be involved in our lives?! I was more grateful than I could bring myself to acknowledge when he told me he'd deleted it, out of respect for me. I think now, days later, and as I'm looking for Koothrappali to return less and starting to come to terms with reality, I just needed to get the story out there. I need Koothrappali to live on, even if just in print. I need someone else to learn and know that it's never 'just a” anything and we are allowed, even encouraged to grieve as we need to. We frequently hear that we should let those we love know how we feel about them while we can. Allow me to add that we should also acknowledge how we feel and find comfort in that feeling. Nothing has to be minimized for you just because it might be for someone else. I used to get very annoyed at the 'Dog Mom' nonsense because my own mother displays a 'Dog Grandmother' decal on her car while ignoring her actual grandchildren. That doesn't mean, however, that I have to minimize my feelings for a cat just because it's not a human. It's still a treasured companion and valued presence!
I found great comfort in Ecclesiastes 3 Wednesday morning and keep thinking about it's significance. There is a time for everything and we should appreciate all things in their time.