It started out like a normal day. No actually, scratch that, it started out BETTER than a normal day.
I had a great night sleep. I awoke to say goodbye to the two oldest before school. Son #3 woke up and sat on the couch to play Call of Duty early. I was quickly typing on my lap top, entering my latest blog post while I was so very inspired. While I was typing away and Son #3 was shooting things - we heard the two cats arguing with each other from opposite sides of the glass door. They didn't really like each other - well at least SHE didn't like HIM. He was new to her domain.
About 20 years ago, soon after my husband and I had moved in together but prior to our being married - I came home with a kitten. A lady I worked with had found a stray cat with a litter and was asking coworkers to each please take one of the kittens. I had never had a cat before - I had always considered myself a dog person. But I thought it would be fun. Something new.
She was a wonderful kitten and grew into a lovely cat. She would curl up on our legs to sleep and sit on my husband's feet and watch the television. I was amazed at how easy having a cat was. There was no "housebreaking to do. They just seem to know. I was fascinated by her.
She was an indoor cat until we started bringing babies and dogs home. Soon she found her refuge outside amongst the wooded acre. She prowled around and kept our yard free of moles and mice. She was a fabulous hunter.
We had had her declawed way back when before we realized that perhaps that wasn't a kind thing to do and after she shredded my brand new overly priced sofas. But she was a real killer with her back claws. We had seen her do it before. Stalk them. Rev up and then launch herself with her back feet coming forward to make the kill. She reminded us of a bird of prey - with their talons reaching forward to grab and snatch. She was awesome to watch. All you needed was Marlin Perkins to narrate and a cameraman to put her in slow motion.
Back then she was a friendly kitty to those that she trusted and loved - but no longer an indoor cat with the formation of our family. I remember when she was just a year or so old, there was a terrible thunderstorm and somehow she climbed the enormous oak tree in our back yard. My husband put the aluminum ladder up against that tree and began climbing to save our Sweet Pea. I still can't believe he did that.
When we moved to the new house 13 years ago, we worried how Sweet Pea would acclimate. After all, that wooded acre had been her haven for 8 years - how would she feel about her new 1/4 acre in the suburban neighborhood?
But Sweet Pea adjusted just fine. She prowled around the court and pretty regularly brought us her "presents" that she had trapped and collected. I don't know if the street was aware - but Sweet Pea kept everyone's yards and gardens pest free. She was a very busy little kitty.
The new house had a screened porch that Sweet Pea quickly claimed as her room. After stalking the backyard, she would nap on the cushions on the porch. It was her favorite place to be - It became her fortress for the next 13 years. She was able to rest comfortably inside without the commotion of the kids and the dogs while still experiencing the outdoors.
Whenever we went away on vacation, neighbors, family or friends would come over to Sweet Pea's porch to feed her or give her water. She was very easy to take care of. Though she would give us the cold shoulder when we returned. As if letting us know that we had been missed and she took our absence personally.
My husband and I often joked that Sweet Pea lived out in "The Wild Kingdom". Raccoons came to the porch. Possums came to the porch. Many other cats came. A red fox came to the porch. Stray dogs too. But Sweet Pea held down the fort. On occasions, we would hear Sweet Pea with her high pitched shrieking letting her intruder know that she was there and ready to attack. She was fearless. Very few were actually willing to tango with her. She could make quite a racket!
One night my husband ran onto the porch to see what the ruckus was about. There had been raccoons visiting recently and we were worried about Sweet Pea fighting them without her claws. My husband darted from the bed in the middle of the night into the darkness of the porch. He had forgotten to take his glasses with him - so he was pretty much blind. He reached down and grabbed some apples that were in a bin from our latest autumn apple bobbing fun and began to chuck them at whatever those critters happened to be.Consequently, we figured out that it was a large orange cat that liked to come around and bully Sweet Pea for her food. Sweet Pea lived an entirely different life in that backyard.
The last few years we noticed that she walked with a bit of a limp. She moved slower. She started to come inside for cold nights. Interestingly, she found solace in my daughter's room. She began sleeping on her bed. My husband and I quickly noticed that Sweet Pea was finally developing a bond with one of our kids.
My daughter started to take care of Sweet Pea. She began feeding her and giving her water. She would play with her - with string. She tried to get Sweet Pea to engage in playful acts - and sometimes Sweet Pea complied. Other times she just slept.
Over the past 4 years, my husband and I talked about Sweet Pea's eventual passing. We talked about how upset our daughter would be now that Sweet Pea was making herself at home in her room. But we also talked how Daughter was really looking for a more playful kitten - Sweet Pea was so mellow in her older years and would never be that kind of cat. We were conflicted over their relationship.
Time passed. When this past autumn came, we noticed Sweet Pea spent more time indoors than out. In fact, more than ever before. She was always in my Daughter's room on her bed. Again, my husband and I would comment that she seemed so much older now and seemed to be further weakening. Daughter tried desperately to play but Sweet Pea just wanted her to lay beside her and pet her.
Sweet Pea still stood at the back door in the morning looking to head out for a walk. Just when we would think Sweet Pea could no longer stalk the backyard - she would turn up with another mouse carefully dissected on the welcome mat. The old gal still had it in her. We quickly learned that we should never count Sweet Pea out. The moment that we may think that she was not doing well - she would rebound with something amazing - whether she was fighting another cat on the porch or leaving us a "present" from her latest kill.
Daughter began asking for a kitten. Since bonding with Sweet Pea - she had developed a fancy for cats but was really looking to interact in a more playful way than Sweet Pea was willing to give. My husband and I talked about it many times. In fact, we researched it. We truly worried about upsetting Sweet Pea. We didn't want to do anything that would cause her any issues. Like I said, we had worried so long about her age.
About 7 months ago, we decided to let Daughter adopt a 5 month old kitten from the SPCA. We hoped that we were doing the right thing. Daughter would have a fun loving kitty to play with and a sweet cuddly cat to sleep with.
Sweet Pea had never been sick - not one time. Never did we have to take her to the vet. The first time that we took her was about 7 months ago when we adopted the new kitten. That was the first time she had ever been. The SPCA required that she be registered and given a rabies shot before we could adopt the new kitten. So we complied.
When the vet checked her over, they were shocked to find that she was in wonderful condition - it was unbelievable to them that she had been an outdoor cat without claws for nearly 20 years. They saw no indications that she would be leaving us anytime soon.
For the past 6 months, Sweet Pea has been inside with us most nights and the majority of days. She had been sleeping at the foot of my bed or on Daughter's bed. Though with the warmer weather the past few days, she had decided to sleep out on her screened porch again. Clearly she was looking forward to another spring season. She came in this past Saturday to snuggle on Daughter's bed during the cold, wind and rain but soon returned to her fortress on yesterday.
This morning when my husband, Son #1 and Son #2 took the dogs outside, Sweet Pea took her usual place on the patio - knowing that after the dogs did their business she would be fed on the screened porch. My husband fed her and she ate most of her food.
Soon after Son #3 and I heard Sweet Pea's exchange with the new cat, I went upstairs to shower. After my shower, I realized that Daughter still had my make-up with her dance costumes from the weekend in the car. I asked her to go get the stuff from the car.
Before going out to the car, Daughter looked at Sweet Pea through the glass door, laying in her normal spot on the love seat of the screened porch.
Up in my bathroom I heard the frantic scream and cry. I heard her voice. The tone. The shriek. I knew something was very wrong. I knew something tragic had happened. I raced to the stairs to find her on her knees hysterically crying, "Sweet Pea is dead, Mommy! She isn't breathing!"
I ran down the stairs and hugged Daughter to my chest. I was so sad that she had been the one to find her. We always thought it would be my husband to discover her early one morning before the house was awake. Never did we consider the middle of the morning after eating a filling breakfast and trot around the yard. In fact, we had often discussed how cats in their old age tend to wander off and die. We had had our share of afternoons and evenings that we called her and she was no where to be found. We would worry until she returned.
I managed to run to the screened porch. I fell on my knees in front of her. "Oh No. My poor Sweet Pea."
She was gone. She was still so warm. It must have JUST happened. She was curled up in her usual sleeping position. Clearly she must have died in her sleep. Her heart just old and tired.
I turned to find Daughter at my side sobbing, Son #3 behind us and my husband staring out the screened windows into the woods. Everyone's pain so obvious...as if it were 3 dimensional, touchable, palpable - thick in the air.
Immediately my mind raced to the fact that I hadn't gone to see her this morning nor had I said good night to her the night before. I usually did both of those things. I felt guilty. How could I not have spent some time with her?
I decided to go get Son #1 and Son #2 from school. Since it had happened just minutes ago - I wanted to give them a chance to say their good-byes before time took its toll. I drove to the school with wet hair, no make-up and tears streaming.
I told them each what had happened.
Son #1 said, "I can't believe it. She was just rubbing all over my legs this morning."
Son #1 and Son #2 said their good-byes to Sweet Pea on the porch - petting her one last time. Then each retired to their own bedrooms for a bit.
During that time, Daughter and I were wrapping a box with pretty paper and picked out Daughter's pink pillowcases to fill the inside. This was all done at my husband's suggestion. I think he wanted us to find a way to calm ourselves and feel like we had a purpose while so lost in our grief.
Daughter was not ready to put Sweet Pea in the box. It was more than her heart was ready for. Truthfully, it was more than I could stand myself. She hauled boxes of old pictures out scouring over them looking for pictures of our Sweet Pea. She adored the pictures of Sweet Pea as a kitten - it seemed so long ago that she looked that way. So young and agile.
I was unsure of how to proceed from here. Yes, we had buried the rabbit and the guinea pig in the backyard in the woods next to the big oak tree - but Sweet Pea? Somehow it felt horrible to me. I thought that perhaps I should drive Sweet Pea to the vet rather than take her to the backyard. But my husband felt Sweet Pea belonged in her domain - in her woods where she loved to be. So I agreed.
My husband and the three boys went outside to dig the hole. Daughter and I stayed inside while I held Sweet Pea on my lap wrapped in a towel. As she layed on my lap, I tried to come to terms with what was happening but it felt surreal. When your heart is breaking with your own grief, watching your child's grief magnifies it that much more.
After the hole was complete, they all returned to begin the next step. But Daughter was having trouble with it...for that matter - so was I.
I went upstairs to my bedroom - secretly crying - hiding behind the facade that I needed to get shoes. My husband quietly followed me up and hugged me. He knew my heart was breaking. He knew his Daughter's was breaking. He gently reminded me that I needed to help my daughter. That she was looking to us for guidance.
With those words, Daughter walked in. My husband asked her if she was ready to go out and bury Sweet Pea. My daughter had no intention of participating in that event. I didn't blame her - I did not want to do it either. I told her that I completely understood and that I would do whatever she wanted me to do. I told her that when we bury people, they don't lower them into the ground until after people have gone because it is a very emotional thing to watch. She shouldn't feel like she HAS to watch Sweet Pea layed to rest. I was happy to stay inside with her or go outside and stand with her. I would support whatever decision she made. She chose to stay inside.
We stood in my bedroom. We watched my husband and the three boys walk down the path and into the woods by the big oak tree while my husband carried Sweet Pea in her box that was decorated with the wrapping paper that Daughter had chosen and we wrapped so carefully.
Daughter turned her back from the window once they arrived at the gravesite. I cannot even begin to go into the poignant conversation that we had and the touching things that she said. It was so very raw. Her eyes filling with tears. "Mommy, how will this ever be okay?"
I watched my husband place the box in the ground. They all stood there for a while and I saw that my husband was speaking. I knew he would say something wonderful. He's just that kind of guy. Besides I knew he had loved that cat as much as any of us - if not more - even though he was going to give us a brave front.
They returned to the house and Daughter and I collapsed onto my bed at the same time...tears flowing uncontrollably from each of us.
My husband came upstairs and lied down on the bed with us. Daughter asked him why he wasn't crying. His reply was "I'm crying on the inside." We held hands. We talked about Sweet Pea. We recounted today's events. I cried that I had not gone to see her. He quietly hushed that thought.
My daughter later said to me, "I can't believe it happened so fast. It all happened so fast. She was just here and everything was fine and then she was gone - just like that."
Then Son #1 said, "She didn't know that she was going to die. She just curled up to take nap and didn't wake up. She had no clue what was coming."
I called my father to tell him. Sweet Pea loved him. She was pretty skittish when people came to the house. But when Dad called her, she came to see him. He rubbed her cheeks, and ran his fingers across her back and she loved it. When I told him, Dad said, "Aww. Did she? You know it doesn't matter how long you've had them or may have even anticipated it - it's still a surprise and just as hard isn't it?" After he remarked about what a great cat she had been, I had to hang up. Words just kept getting stuck in my throat.
Sweet Pea had been a wonderful pet. No question about it. She had been there from the beginning - before there was a Mr. and Mrs. there was Sweet Pea. Before there were those other 3 dogs, there was Sweet Pea. Before the two guinea pigs, before our 4 children - there had been Sweet Pea. In the beginning, there was Sweet Pea.
Daughter, Son #3 and I looked up how to calculate a cat's age into human age. We found a chart. The highest number that the chart went to was 20 years.
It said that a 20 year old cat equated to a 100 year old human being.
We all sat silent. She had lived a very long life.
One thing is for sure -
...not one of us can imagine what it is going to be like without her here - because we've never experienced it. As long as there was us, so there she was.
She was the very beginning of our family twenty years ago.
Today a perfectly usual day had begun.
In an instant everything was changed.
Tomorrow we will begin the most unusual of days.
Think about it. What or who in your life have you lived with for 20 years?
Son #3, my 12 year old said to me, "Isn't it great that she just went to sleep? She wasn't in any pain. She wasn't sick. She was really old and lived a long, happy life then she just went to sleep. Isn't that what we all want?"
Why yes...yes it is.
You brought us a tremendous amount of joy and allowed us to feel so much love...
In the words of my daughter -
"I don't even know what to do with all of the love - I have no place to put it now that she is gone."
Goodbye, My Sweet Pea, My Kee-Kee, My Kitty-Cat
January 1991- April 18, 2011
"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened. " ~Anatole France