I lost my dear friend AJ yesterday. She was my cranky and regal feline companion that I have had the great fortune to share my home with over the past 13 years. When she was younger, she looked like she was a descendent from the great cats of Egypt…dark gray…full of pride and royal beauty. I inherited her from a two year relationship that ended back in 2002. While the relationship ended, the friendship with the previous parent did not…and she was also very saddened to hear of her passing. AJ was very loved.
Our best guess is that AJ was around 18 to 19 years old. The entire time she was with me she was full of spunk and attitude. She would sleep under the covers with me and poke her head out of the blankets like any person would…and walk around the house like she owned the place. She was moody…but so was I…and it worked for us…we were a great fit together. About 5 months ago she stopped sleeping with me because she could no longer lay on her side…and she would only let me pet her for a few seconds before she would walk away and start to cough. I took her to the vet and they said its a growth in her lungs and since she is so old, there is not much they can do…but she was otherwise still healthy. So, both her and I adjusted. She would sleep by my legs and I would pet her for a few seconds on her head and under her neck several times a day.
Then, on Wednesday night when I got home, she was coughing non stop and could not lay down to fall asleep. I stayed up and talked with her all night as she would doze off here and there while sitting on her belly by my legs. I started to cry a little several times throughout the night…sensing what was coming. I sent an email to work saying I would not be in…and she finally fell asleep around 4:30am…and I shortly after. I woke up around 8, which is when she usually wakes me up to feed her breakfast and she was sitting in her usual spot. When I fed her…she only took a few bites and then walked away. I knew something was up…so I called the vet and explained the situation. They told me to spend time with her and bring her in later that day…so I did. We walked around the house…laid in her favorite places…and we sat outside on the deck in the sun (something she loved to do) in what was likely the last really nice day of the summer. When I went to give her more wet food…she again, didn’t eat very much…and then it was time to go to the vet.
On the ride over she didn’t meow at all (and she always meowed in car rides)…but again she could not stop coughing…so I talked with her the whole time and put my fingers in the cat carrier holes to comfort her all the while starting to cry a little more along the way. The vet examined her and said the growth has gotten bigger and causing her to have a very hard time breathing and that the end was very close. Faced with her suffocating to death in the next few days, I chose to have her go in a more peaceful and painless manner to her final resting place….which the Vet and the Vet assistant completely agreed with. They asked if I wanted to stay in the room and I said yes…after 13 years of companionship, I was not going to let her go through this alone. As the vet was giving her the shot, I kept saying “you are ok sweetie…it’s almost over” as I would pet the top of her head…now full on weeping. The Vet was very stoic and deliberate, a true professional…making the process as peaceful as he could for AJ and me. The vet assistant was doing her very best not cry…her eyes were big and she was looking at the wall. And then it was over…AJ had taken her final breath and she was gone. They left me alone with her for several minutes…and I kept petting her, talking to her…telling her I loved her. I put a towel over her so only her head was exposed and closed her eyes…all the while still talking to her…and sobbing…much like I am now as I type this. The vet sent me flowers today with a personalized note about AJ…which was nice of them. I suspect it’s standard practice for them when they put down a pet…but it was still very thoughtful.
I have never lost a family member, friend, or pet before…I didn’t know my grandparents, or my father…I have not lost any friends or other family that I am close too…and all the pets I had as a kid were given away before I ever had to deal with their death. AJ was my first pet as an adult…and she is the first being I have ever loved that I have lost to death. This is all new and very painful to me. I am a 38 year old man and for the first time in my life…experiencing real grief. Funny the things you never learn how to deal with when you don’t let anyone get close to you.
I know it will get better and time will help me think of all the many good memories we have shared over the last 13 years…but that does not stop me from picturing her as I walk by her favorite spots in this large and now empty house. It didn’t stop me from waking up this morning at 8am thinking she would be waiting for me by the kitchen to provide her breakfast. It didn’t stop me from crying when I walked in the door today and she was not there to greet me and meow hello like she has done for so many years. I took the day off of work to collect her things and vacuum up all the cat hair around the house…and at each of her favorite spots…I would start to cry and think of her.
I don’t know how to process this loss…I have never had to before. She was just here…such a big and important part of my life. Always checking on me in whatever room of the house I was in…making sure that if I was up to no good, she would be a part of it. And just like that…she is gone. I can’t go back to yesterday when she was here…I can’t pretend this is a bad dream and wake up to find her sleeping next to me as she has for the past 13 years. She is gone…forever…and I don’t know how to deal with that. I have to get on a plane tomorrow for a 14 hour flight to the Philippines for work…and I don’t know how I am going to do it without periodically bursting into tears as I think of her. I just keep telling myself that she was loved and lived a long and good life…and remember that someday, the memories of her will make me smile…instead of cry.
Goodbye AJ. You lived a very long and comfortable life…with a warm bed to sleep in, a full belly of food, and spent your life with someone who cared very much for you and gave you love every day. You have been a great and dear friend to me for the last 13 years…and I hope I was half as good a friend to you. You are loved and missed.