Oh, where do I start?
Saturday night, the 2nd, Shadow (the younger of the two cats living with us), vomited twice, then again in the morning. She hadn’t improved when I checked on her at lunchtime. She was weak and listless and breathing fast and shallow. While everyone else was in the middle of working the church fireworks stand on one of the busiest days of the season, I drove her thirty miles to the emergency vet. He seemed to think she’d ingested something bad for her, likely a neurotoxin, which made sense. By the time I got her to the vet, her pupils were pinpointing and her front paws were curling in on themselves. She could barely stand.
I called Diana from the clinic and the three of us racked our brains trying to figure out what Shadow could have eaten. We were clueless. There are no plants in the house. All of my meds are closed up in a high cabinet. The cleaning supplies are all in a cabinet that she’s never tried to open, and we hadn’t noticed anything amiss with it. Everything pointed to some sort of poison, but we couldn’t come up with anything.
Doc gave her a few injections and she seemed to respond well. She seemed to be improving, so Doc planned to keep her overnight since we were going to be at the stand all day Sunday and Monday.
He called back around 6 that evening. She was not doing well, having gone almost comatose. He said he’d call back around 8.
It was actually around 9. She was gone.
Youngest Daughter saw me take the call, and we locked eyes after I hung up, and she knew. She burst into tears as she met me in front of the stands. Hell, so did I. Diana and Middle Son joined us in our grief. Youngest Daughter has been our animal lover for a long time, always cuddling the cats and loving on Athena. For a long time, we thought she’d go into veterinary work, but I wonder if she’s too sensitive to be able to handle the losses like this.
We got home that night and I took Athena out like I usually did when we get home. Shadow would wait between the storm door and the main door, watching the Outdoor Channel while the dog and I roamed. I used to worry that she’d slip out when I opened the door to go back inside, but she seemed to know better.
Shadow wasn’t there waiting for us.
Man, but that sucked.
Grief is like that. You know it’s going to hurt, but you think you’re going to have a moment to get ready for it. You don’t, though. It reaches up and slaps the crap out of you right away. I’d already been thinking ahead to Sunday morning when she wouldn’t be around for our morning rituals. It didn’t occur to me that I’d have to deal with something like not seeing her at the door just an hour after I found out she was gone.
She was my writing buddy, always coming up on my desk and demanding attention whenever I’d stop writing for a moment. Recently she’d taken to climbing on the back of the chair and reading over my shoulder.
When Diana went to bed, Shadow would race to the bedroom and curl up at Diana’s feet. Then when she got out of bed in the wee hours of the morning, the cat would shift over to my side. Every now and then she’d grace me with her presence all night. We had this morning ritual, too. Once I got out of the bathroom to finish dressing, she’d crawl across me as I sat down to put my socks on or sit on the nightstand meowing at me to pick her up. Once I finished dressing, I’d stand in front of the nightstand and she’d climb up my chest until I put my right arm across my body, Then she’d plop down, front paws straddling my arm, and nuzzle me.
By Tuesday afternoon, Athena seemed a little confused. She and Shadow acted like human siblings, alternately antagonizing and loving on each other. The cat would eat Athena’s food, almost aggressively blocking her from her dish. Heck, sometimes Shadow would walk up while Athena was eating and take over. But then she’d curl up on the couch with the dog and give her a bath at bedtime.
Sif was the same way. Shadow had a habit of climbing up on Diana’s lap and laying across the computer in the most awkward position possible. Tuesday and Wednesday evening, Sif was doing the same thing.
Thursday, I called the vet to pay the bill and make arrangements. We had her cremated because Youngest Daughter wanted that. Not going to lie, I started bawling my eyes out after I got off the phone. Then I looked up and here came Athena right to my chair, putting her paws up in my lap.
Who says animals don’t understand humans?
In the positive column, I am grateful that this didn’t happen while Youngest Daughter was on her Hawaii trip or her summer camp trip that’s coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m also very glad we decided to have Shadow stay at the vet. I don’t think any of us would have handled walking into the house and finding her dead very well.
The grief here surprised me with its intensity. I didn’t cry like this for Niban, or for Kappa, Diana’s cat who died right after we got Niban. I did cry for Chester, but that was caused in no large part by feeling guilty that I hadn’t been able to train out his aggression. Niban lived with us for 15 or so years. Shadow has been here just over four years. We found her in the ductwork of the ministry center on Halloween 2018 as a tiny ball of fur. Am I feeling guilty because of how she died? She obviously ate something toxic, and we’re supposed to take good care of our animals, right? So if she ate something she shouldn’t have, that means we left something out where she could get it, right? That’s the biggest frustration here, that we never could figure out what it was.
And now there’s a Shadow-sized hole in my heart.
Damn, but I miss that little ratfink.