Today is my kitten’s first birthday, but she’s not here to celebrate. Three months ago she suddenly became sick and died within a week of the first signs of not feeling well. As she and her adopted sibling were the first pets of my adult life, her unexpected death shattered my heart.
I adopted Pepper Potts (preferred to be called “Pepper” or “Pep”) with her foster brother Barry Allen (goes by “Bear”) at five and four months old. The two were best friends. He played the role of mister personality, and she the role of sweetest stunt kitty. Together, the three of us were a complete unit. Living alone for many years, having two kittens at home grounded me and made being home after long work hours feel relaxing, cozy and happy. Then one day I noticed that Pepper wasn’t eating as much as normal and that she hadn’t been trying out any of her latest Olympic worthy acts. I decided a trip to the vet was in order. After lots of tests and days of waiting to hear what was actually wrong with her, I was told that she likely had Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) which is not only close to impossible to diagnose, but untreatable. Bear and I would only have a little more time with her, but nobody could say for sure how long. Though it was certain, that she would slowly start to waste away and would need to be euthanized when the time came.
I carefully monitored her daily, nightly and scheduled frequent breaks in my work day to go home to check on her. I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t letting her go on too long, that she wasn’t suffering, but to not give up on her too soon. That’s a hard call to make, especially when all you really want is for her to live forever. As I left for work one morning, I thought that maybe the following day would be the day to euthanize. She was still carrying on, but she wasn’t enjoying life as her normal self anymore. I talked with my boyfriend and he agreed to come by after work to check on her and help me make the decision. When I came home that evening, she was sitting in her spot looking content, but within less than an hour she took a turn for the worse. She went from sitting upright and observing us to not being able to hold up her head. I called my boyfriend and told him to come quick, that she was dying and we needed to take her to be euthanized immediately. Then she started to have convulsions. She rolled on her side. Her eyes widened into a blank stare. Her mouth parted open. At only eight months old, she was dying right in front of me. My boyfriend arrived and we rushed her to the emergency vet, only for them to say once they had taken her back that she had already passed.
I live alone. I am unmarried. I do not have children. And while society doesn’t necessarily view losing a pet as tragic, this was complete devastation to me. I felt guilty, like there must have been more that I could have done for her. I felt sad, for her not living a life past a kitten and for Bear who would for weeks walk around meowing, looking for his playmate. I felt alone, depressed and ridiculous for being so sad over something that nobody else even cared about. But all of this was actual emotion and I wasn’t going to pretend otherwise. It made me think: why can’t we be honest about our feelings and give ourselves time to experience them in their raw form? If someone greeted me with a generic “how are you?” I would tell them that I wasn’t feeling well. Instead of trying to be perky for my yoga classes, I allowed myself to feel somber and subdued. If someone asked me to go to dinner and I wanted to stay home with Bear, I would. Is this not a form of processing our experiences and emotion? I think that as the one living through the feelings, we don’t always allow ourselves enough grace to just feel. I believe that as those interacting with others, we forget that each individual will be impacted by occurrences and emotion in different ways. This does not make any single feeling wrong or inappropriate, merely our own personalized way of dealing. And if we can have perspective and patience for each other, life will be better for everyone.
Bear and I miss Pepper, but we know that we were lucky to spend a short four months with her. We think life was a little more adventurous with her around and know that she could never be replaced. We’ll snuggle a little extra tonight, on the night of Pepper’s first birthday, with our paws crossed like hers always were.