My Cat Just Died. Did I Adopt Another Too Soon?

After My Cat's Passing, It's Hard To Move On To Someone New

My true love left us too early, and now I'm wondering if I adopted my new cat too soon.

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On October 4, 2015, I drove to my 100-year-old creaking house with a meowing cardboard box in the backseat. I ascended the two flights of stairs to my attic bedroom, cautiously handling the box that held the absolute love of my life.

Betty Jo was a 13-pound cat with a hanging belly and piercing green eyes. She'd never met a stranger and was the ideal date in most situations. Unlike the dogs and cat I had as a child, Betty Jo was fully mine. I was completely responsible for providing to her never-ending needs. The nighttime was her time. When 5 a.m. rolled around, she'd wallow and meow throughout the house looking for any bit of attention from her sleeping housemates, much to our dismay.

But to come home to a living, breathing being that was ecstatic to see me nearly cured my depression. As if she'd read over and memorized my class schedule, Betty Jo never failed to greet me with a perky meow and a whooshing tail as she rubbed against the wooden staircase she knew I'd eventually ascend. She was the perfect companion when I fell victim to pneumonia just a month after bringing her home.

She offered security one night after I'd attempted to watch the first episode of American Horror Story. I was alone in the house on a Friday night when my bed began to tremble. It wasn't unusual for her to gently shake the bed as she cleaned herself, but this time she was just lying there.

Every possibility of ghosts or paranormal activity in that senior house came flying through my mind. My doorless walk-in closet was the perfect place for an apparition to saunter across my room. Of course, cats can see ghosts, right? So if anything, Betty Jo would know something was going on before I would, right? It turned out to only be an earthquake, though. So, everything was OK, but I still felt better with her by my side.

A month before graduation I totaled my car, leaving me even more clueless as to where my college education would lead me. With a borrowed bike to get me to and fro, I took the insurance money and graduation checks I'd received from family friends and distant relatives and fled to New York City.

But, I couldn't take Betty Jo, aka Elizabeth Josephine. Not yet, anyway. I had to maneuver finding a job while living in someone else's home on Long Island. I needed to be able to give her stability. You see, she was eight years old (or so her papers say) when I adopted her. She was a young grandma, but a grandma nonetheless. Her adoption fee was waived, but that didn't save me from the $500 I spent when I found out she had stress-triggered cat acne.

My duty as her owner was to keep her as calm as possible. The first time she flew our flight made an emergency landing in Philadelphia. I was like a newly single mother trying to keep her from ripping out of her carrier. I thought she'd find reprieve outside the carrier at one point. She'd clearly had enough when she wriggled out of her harness and leaped across a cat-opposed woman's lap. I was mortified and had failed at keeping her as calm as possible.

Cute picture of cat on colorful rug Madeline Nave

Her time in New York was not something I'm proud of. I was busy juggling a full-time job and a social life. Often leaving my apartment by 8 a.m. and not returning until 10 p.m. or later did not keep Betty Jo happy. I wasn't happy about that. Although, the excuse of needing to go home to feed my cat came in pretty handy when I no longer wanted to be out.

So I took her home. My mom willingly agreed to take care of her, and I knew Betty would be happier.

I spent two years in New York. Two years away from Betty. I moved home seven months before she died. Moving home was bittersweet. New York was insanely good but also insanely bad at some points. I'd decided that home would be a landing place until I was ready to flee the coop again.

My days were spent talking to and mocking Elizabeth Josephine. We'd play chase around the house which ended with heartwarming laughs and sincere cuddles. She taught me internal peace.

Soon, she'd begun vomiting frequently. During one episode, I was able to intercept and get her to the bathtub, saving the carpet or bedspread from a stain. While she paced in the porcelain tub, I sat on the floor trying to read her expression. I had an overwhelming feeling that something was seriously wrong.

It was cancer.

One of two types of cancer. One could be treated with chemotherapy, the other could not. At this point, Betty was 11 years old. As a single mother of an elderly cat, I couldn't afford to put Betty through treatment financially or mentally. So, I prepared myself for the waiting game. I filled diffusers with lavender and peppermint oil to soothe any chance of an upset tummy for her. I gave her space to nest but was right by her side at any peep.

She died within 24 hours of diagnosis.

On December 21, 2018, a body-shaking sob took over my relatively emotionless person as Betty Jo took her last breath. There hadn't been a time in at least ten years that I'd shown anyone that much emotion. There I was, in a room with a veterinarian I didn't know and my mother, completely losing it. My best friend was gone forever.

I had dreams for her, thoughts of a ring for her. She was supposed to move to New Orleans with me in 2020. And live with me until I was at least 30. But death comes unexpectedly.

Three months later, my sister gifts me a cat of my choosing from the local humane society. I chose Gracie, a 6-year-old one-eyed blue-haired girl. She's great, kind of quirky, but she's not Betty. She runs away when you look at her and only wants to be touched when she approaches you. She's talkative but not exactly personable. She's nothing like Betty, and finding contentment with that is taking some time for me.

Did I replace Betty Jo too soon? Will I ever stop reminiscing about her? I'm not sure those questions can ever be answered. But I'm confident Gracie has found a good home in me.

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Working With People Who Are Dying Teaches You So Much About How To Live

Spending time with hospice patients taught me about the art of dying.

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Death is a difficult subject.

It is addressed differently across cultures, lifestyles, and religions, and it can be difficult to find the right words to say when in the company of someone who is dying. I have spent a lot of time working with hospice patients, and I bore witness to the varying degrees of memory loss and cognitive decline that accompany aging and disease.

The patients I worked with had diverse stories and interests, and although we might have had some trouble understanding each other, we found ways to communicate that transcended any typical conversation.

I especially learned a lot from patients severely affected by dementia.

They spoke in riddles, but their emotions were clearly communicated through their facial expressions and general demeanor, which told a story all on their own.

We would connect through smiles and short phrases, yes or no questions, but more often than not, their minds were in another place. Some patients would repeat the details of the same event, over and over, with varying levels of detail each time.

Others would revert to a child-like state, wondering about their parents, about school, and about family and friends they hadn't seen in a long time.

I often wondered why their minds chose to wander to a certain event or time period and leave them stranded there before the end of their life. Was an emotionally salient event reinforcing itself in their memories?

Was their subconscious trying to reconnect with people from their past? All I could do was agree and follow their lead because the last thing I wanted to do was break their pleasant memory.

I felt honored to be able to spend time with them, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was intruding on their final moments, moments that might be better spent with family and loved ones. I didn't know them in their life, so I wondered how they benefited from my presence in their death.

However, after learning that several of the patients I visited didn't have anyone to come to see them, I began to cherish every moment spent, whether it was in laughter or in tears. Several of the patients never remembered me. Each week, I was a new person, and each week they had a different variation of the same story that they needed to tell me.

In a way, it might have made it easier to start fresh every week rather than to grow attached to a person they would soon leave.

Usually, the stories were light-hearted.

They were reliving a memory or experiencing life again as if it were the first time, but as the end draws nearer, a drastic shift in mood and demeanor is evident.

A patient who was once friendly and jolly can quickly become quiet, reflective, and despondent. I've seen patients break down and cry, not because of their current situation, but because they were mourning old ones. These times taught me a lot about how to be just what that person needs towards the end of their life.

I didn't need to understand why they were upset or what they wanted to say.

The somber tone and tired eyes let me know that what they had to say was important and worth hearing. What mattered most is that someone who cared was there to hear it.

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When You Give A Stray Cat A Home

Most people don't know the difference between a stray cat and a community cat, yet these animals lives depend on it.

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The difference between a stray and a community cat.

Stray cats are people's pets who have become lost or abandoned. These cats are very friendly and comfortable around people. Stray cats are usually completely reliant on humans and haven't been able to adapt to life in the wild. They're the ones that will usually post up in your backyard or garage, hoping you'll feed them or give them some love. Community cats are those that have likely been raised in the wild. They've adapted to living on the streets, tend to keep their distance from humans, and like it this way. Community cats often live in colonies that allow them to live a longer life- especially with the help of a human caretaker. Caretakers provide spay/neutering, shelter, and regular feedings for community cats; allowing them to survive and live a long, happy life.

When you give a stray cat a home, you potentially save a life.

It's a tough world out there. Stray cats face many dangers in the wild like starvation and extreme weather conditions. Most of the kittens born in the wild will die within their kitten-hood due to diseases, parasites, and infection that they've been exposed to in the environment. Even then, if they survive their first few months their lifespan is still only expected to be about two years living on its own. People can be cruel and will set poison traps among other cruel attempts to eliminate the stray and community cats (In MY college town, there was food found on the side of the road where a colony of community cats lived that contained razor blades intended to harm them).

When you give a rescue a home, you give a rescue hope.

While some stray cats learn to adapt to the wild, "community cats" often tolerate human interaction, and in some ways, depend on humans for survival. These animals may be shy and abused by strangers in the past, but give them a chance. Offering help and kindness to a stray or community cat can encourage them to warm up to you, and give them a sense of hope. They have feelings too.

When you give a stray a home, you gain a best-friend

As I said before; a "home" to a stray doesn't even have to be living inside your house; a home to a stray could be your garage, under your porch, or any type of shelter around your house. Remember, these cats are likely to approach you and want affection. When you offer them shelter and food, they will become your best friend. ALL of my animals are rescues. We share a special bond, and they are so thankful and absolutely know who rescued them from the dark. They'll always be by your side and love you no matter what.

When you give a stray a home, you give them love, security, hope, and life.

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