My 16 year old cat died this past Saturday night. She was declining– and clearly ready to depart. I knew Thursday when she stopped eating and spent all day in the backyard under a tree that she was clear in her decision to go. I told both of my kids when they arrived home from school that day to say goodbye to her. “Ophelia’s on her way out.”
The next couple of days consisted of me thanking her profusely, tearfully, for all that she held for me over the past fifteen years. I texted a few close friends to let them know that she was ready to go. I made her a bed with an article of clothing from myself, my two kids, and my partner. I cried more (for good measure).
A friend of mine who is a cat whisperer (among other things) came over Friday evening to check in on her (and me). The first thing she remarked when she walked into my bedroom where Ophelia was laying was “She’s so protective of you.” She then asked if I minded taking a walk and leaving them so they could “have a talk.”
I stepped outside the front door of my house and moved trance-like down the alley– tears streaming down my face. I walked at a slow, deliberate, methodical pace. My feet steered me towards a rose garden a couple of blocks from my house. I stopped to smell several roses, continuing to cry. Slowly my feet guided me back towards my house and in through the front door.
Ophelia and my friend were in my room on the floor, Ophelia’s head resting on the cat whisperer’s hand. We left Ophelia and moved into the dining room. She told me Ophelia was having a hard time letting go because she couldn’t imagine my life without her. She could not conceive of me continuing without her next to me, supporting me. She suggested that I have a conversation with her and let her know that my life, and the kids’ lives would continue even if hers did not. She let me know that my desire to “do something” for Ophelia as she died, also made Ophelia feel like she needed to “do something.” When all she really wanted to do was crawl away and let go. She needed me to let go before she could.
So I let her know what amazing, beautiful lives we all still have ahead of us. I assured her of the immense support that surrounds us– and the vital role that she plays in that support, regardless of being in her kitty-body or not. I thanked her again for helping to carry my anger, and my heartbreak for years upon years, and told her neither of us needed to carry it anymore.
Then I let her go.
I did the best I could in her last 24 hours to leave her be. To do nothing– so that she too could do the same. Exist– or cease to exist. I stopped tracking her every movement within the house. Stopped trying to continuously find her. I let her crawl away to die.
Although her legs were no longer strong enough to support her weight, she dragged herself all through the house in the next 12 hours, her will as strong as ever. She ended up in the basement, on the cold concrete floor in what is defined as my “unconscious relationship” corner in feng shui. She crawled under a table piled high with my unfolded, yet clean, laundry, next to several bags needing to be taken to goodwill. It’s as if her last message to me was– “hey, maybe you should clean this crap out of here– it no longer seems to be serving a purpose.” To that I say: “Amen, Ophelia.”
She was an amazing, inspiring soul. Strong and willful. Full of determination. She was alongside me for every step of my journey through adulthood as I blossomed and bloomed into the full grown woman I’m happy to be today. She ushered me through both of my pregnancies and into motherhood, watching the birth of both of my children in my home. She stood by me and helped me carry my anger at the betrayals in my marriage. She journeyed with me from San Francisco to Portland– leaving one life behind to create a new one. She bore witness to every aspect of my life for fifteen years.
I was alongside her for every step of her journey as well. From our first moment– when her eyes met mine at the San Francisco SPCA with a tentative gaze and a question, “me? you’re here to see me?” to the gutsy, get under your feet, jump into your lap, battle axe of a kitty that she became. She owned this life. She tore into it with all of her teeth and refused to let go until she’d sucked absolutely every last bit of marrow out (or she didn’t have any teeth left– whichever came first.) She was full of grace and determination to her very last breath. She owned her transformation. And she continues to help me navigate my own.