My limbs felt heavy as the dog and I plodded up the hill, like gravity had doubled its pressure and forgotten to notify me in advance. I fought the unseen forces that held me tightly to the earth, my legs barely clearing the ground as I slogged my way toward home.
The drizzle of rain was appropriate, even soothing. At least it matched my mood.
I noted without much interest that I seemed incapable of walking at a normal speed, that the grief manifested itself in physical ways, too.
It wasn’t just all in my head.
Tuna had been gone a week now, and I was no nearer to moving past the intense mourning than I was the day he left me. In fact, I felt worse. I got out of bed, but only because I had other animals who needed me. I moved forward with my day, but only because that’s what I did—and I was afraid if I stayed in bed too long I’d never leave it.
The low-grade depression I ran with most days intensified in times of deep distress.
I sat down to eat my breakfast and felt utterly alone, even though His Puppyness still lay at my feet and our other cats meandered about the kitchen. Except Tuna always sat in the chair next to me, insistent on checking to see if I had anything good. He’d take a sniff first to determine if he was missing anything, and then sometimes he’d accept a little bite of butter toast. And then maybe one more. Once he was satisfied, he’d jump down and wander off.
I pulled the chair closer to me so the dog couldn’t steal Una’s treat, like I always did.
Pretended the chair wasn’t empty . . .
I dreamed the first night he left me that my mother with dementia was dressing herself on a picnic table, unaware that she was giving an entire slew of strangers an unwelcome peep show. Awkward.
I awoke in horror (no Freudian analysis, thank you), but then reality hit me that my baby was gone . . . and I realized I’d repeat that dream ten times over rather than face this particular reality.
Because my baby, my emotional support cat, was gone.
No, we had no official documentation in regards to his emotional support cat status, it was just an unspoken agreement between us. His loss devastated me.
The day I’d dreaded for years had come.
We all have that one, or two if we’re lucky, animals who becomes our soulmates. There’s no rhyme or reason to how it happens, it just does. We usually love all our rescue companions, but some slip past the guardrails and take over our hearts.
Tuna was a rescue kitten who came to me in the early 2000’s. One of our Dogs Deserve Better volunteers discovered him dumped in a ditch near her house; he was still very young, and very, very sick. She asked if I’d take him and I couldn’t say no—because he was just a little guy, and because he immediately tugged at my heartstrings.
I had every intention of rehabbing him and finding him a new home.
But instead he stayed, for the next umpteen years.
We named him Charlie, but his name quickly devolved, becoming first Charlie Tuna, then Tuna, The Biggest Fish, and—because my daughter was just learning to talk and dropped a lot of her initial consonants—The Biggest Ish and then finally, he became just Una.
Una was my world from the very beginning. He was curious and friendly with everyone he met, but he loved his momma. [There’s no accounting for taste.] He was incredibly tolerant of my daughter dragging him around, cradling him on his back like a baby, even sticking goofy hats on his head. Through it all his eyes would seek out mine, as if to say, “Are you gonna’ just leave me hanging here, or what, Ma?”
Una was smart. He knew what he wanted and he went after it, communicating in no uncertain terms his goals. He slept on my head whenever he could, and I loved nothing more than snuggling my face into his precious neck.
He jumped onto the kitchen stool each morning and yowled loudly for his biocell (num nums we called it) and his licks of coconut oil until his needs were met.
Una was that perfect mixture of cat vs. dog in temperament. I always found dogs to be a bit too needy, but cats have a reputation for being standoffish. Una landed right in the middle of the two, and his uniqueness made him beloved by most everyone he met.
The mere thought of losing him sent me into spasms of internal panic, and once he turned ten I reminded myself often to treasure each moment with him. I burned the memories into my ever-so-forgetful brain in hopes I wouldn’t lose them.
When I realized he was leaving me—liver failure came for him—the panic set in for real. I stayed up all night, cuddled him even when he grew weary of being cuddled, and explained that I needed him. I couldn’t let go.
But I knew I had to, because I loved him too much to watch him suffer for me to selfishly eek out an extra day or two together.
I’m not ok, and I really don’t know how to go on without him.
Una tried, and failed, to teach me many things over the years. I wish I had his personality as a human, but he was pretty much my opposite in every way.
Here’s a list of the Top Seven Things I would have learned from the best cat ever, if I were the teachable sort:
This morning the phone rang, and caller ID told me it was the vet’s office. I knew why they were calling. I picked up, keeping my voice even, smooth…indifferent.
“Is Ms. Thayne there?”
“Hi, we just wanted you to know that Tuna’s ashes are back. You can come pick them up anytime.”
“OK, thank you. Have a great day,” I replied, not a whisper of pain in my voice.
I dropped the act as I replaced the receiver, holding back a sob. Every new reminder becomes a fresh stab to my already flayed heart.
I’m watching TV after dark—our time together, the time when he always sought and found my lap. Every evening I held him, caressed the day’s worries away, and we both looked forward to those few hours. I become engrossed in the show and momentarily forget. Then a commercial hits, and the heaviness descends anew.
It seems that at the end of every happy ending there is just THE END.
RIP, Una. That day has come for us. And I miss you as much as I feared I would.
See you at the bridge, my love. Catch me some Swedish fish, please…Mommy likes those.
P.S. There’s another story about the time I THOUGHT I lost Una in our Rescue Smiles book, if you’re interested.