Eulogy for a Cat: Beloved Isabelle

Yesterday I said goodbye to Isabelle. She was my cat, or perhaps that should be My Cat. I’ve lived with and loved quite a few cats and a number of dogs, but none of them were as close to me as my Belle. For seventeen years she was my shadow, rarely out of sight and usually touching me if she could.

With the exception of a few of my first short stories, she has had a paw in almost everything I’ve ever published. Literally. The sound of my keyboard in production mode has always brought her hurrying to climb onto my chest so she could cuddle up while I worked. The fact that I am typing this now without her breaks my heart. I want nothing more than to set my laptop aside and curl up in a ball in a dark room.

But, if I am anything, it is a writer and a storyteller. Sometimes that means writing things I never wanted to write and telling stories with endings I never wanted to see. Today, as I sit here typing alone for the first time in ages, is one of those days. But not writing this would be a betrayal of the life I have set out to lead, because part of being a writer is to say the things others don’t have the words for, to give voice to things that are hard to say. So, here goes.

Someone I love dearly has died. That she was a cat and not a human being doesn’t make that any easier to say or to cope with. It feels like I have shards of broken glass in my heart, and my eyes ache from all the tears. I know from past grief that this deep pain will ease over time, that it will become a thing of sudden moments of loss and not a continuous ache. It will go from constant companion to daily visitor and eventually to a series of lightning stabs triggered by an image or sound or quiet memory.

But it will never fade completely away, and that is as it should be. Because grief is love, however much it hurts. We would not feel it if we had not loved, and the greater the love the deeper the pain. I would not give up the one to save myself the other, even here at the rawest edge of loss. I loved my Isabelle and she is gone forever and that cuts me to the marrow, but I would not trade a second of the time we had together to ease the pain of the moment.

Farewell my dear one, I will never forget you. Thank you for being my cat and for letting me share you with the world by way of catvest and Friday cat blogging and about a million pictures and stories. The best way I can think to honor your memory is to do what I always do and tell a few more of your stories here.

Isabelle was abandoned by the neighbors who lived across the alley from us. We had seen enough of her to know they had gotten her largely to be a plaything for their children, who did not treat her well. It was one of those things that makes you angry but there’s not much you can do to fix. Not until they moved out in the middle of the night and left her behind. I’m not sure how long it was from then until we adopted her—though it couldn’t have been too many days—but I do remember the second I decided that she was doomed if she stayed out there much longer.

It was the squirrel. Laura and I were sitting at the dining room table when we happened to see this half-starved adolescent cat stalking the squirrel sitting under our birdfeeder. She was maybe twenty feet away from it at that point and the thing that made us notice her was that the squirrel suddenly sat up and glared at her as if to say “Are you serious?” The cat froze and the squirrel went back to eating.

After a few seconds the cat started to move forward again. She got about five feet before the squirrel sat up again. This time the expression on its face was pure DeNiro: “Are you talkin’ to me?” Again, the cat froze and the squirrel went back to eating. Another five feet, another confrontational look, another freeze. Finally, when she was about two yards away the squirrel turned, ran straight at her and leaped a couple of feet into the air before landing on her head and smashing her face into the ground. Then, as if nothing had happened, the squirrel went back to its lunch. The cat staggered off in the other direction and I decided I’d better see about feeding her and trying to get her to trust me enough to bring her inside.

It took exactly two plates of food before she crawled into my lap and started purring like her life depended on it. Since I had to go pick Laura up from grad school, and I couldn’t bring her in the house with our other cats before we took her to the vet to make sure she didn’t have anything contagious, I brought her with me to the U. She hid under the seat the whole way, but came out as soon as Laura was there to hold her. She loved being held like no other cat I’ve ever known.

She especially loved being held on her back like a baby, at least until the last few years when her arthritis started to make that painful for her. Perhaps the best example of that was a few days after we got her when our friends Sara and James came over to meet the new cat. James picked her up like a baby and she stayed there purring for over an hour. He finally had to set her down because his arms had fallen asleep.

Isabelle was a bit of a shock for our two elderly male cats. Imagine a street kid moving in with a couple of bachelor farmers and you’ll have the effect pretty well nailed. She went into heat in that first couple of days, and that really freaked them out. It also had one particularly embarrassing and funny moment for me.

I am in the habit of getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and nabbing a cat to bring to bed with me on the way back. Isabelle is such a snuggler that she always loved this. Only, when she was in heat, she decided that I was a BOY and that she needed to let me know. So, as soon as I laid down she peed on my chest. I was able to keep it from getting on the sheets by pinning my arms to my side, but then I was completely unable to move. Eventually, Laura stopped laughing long enough to get me a towel. Eventually.

Yesterday, when I took her in to the vet to see if she was in as bad a shape as I feared, Isabelle peed in her carrier and I got it all over me when I pulled her out and held her while we waited for the vet to join us. I am a storyteller, and that circular story structure is a thing that I have often used to effect. To have it happen in real life seems exactly, hilariously right. Especially since it was her kidneys that killed her.

Once we knew that she was going to die, I arranged for the vet to come by in the evening and I brought her home. She always hated going to the vet more than any of the other cats, and I didn’t want her to die in that environment that frightened her so much. We spent the day snuggled up in bed—always her favorite thing—and I took one last nap with the cat who has always been able to get me to go to sleep no matter how badly stressed I am or how hard the insomnia is hitting.

She died in my arms surrounded by love and I am incredibly grateful for that. I never wanted that day to come, but as terrible things go it happened in the least terrible way possible. I don’t think things happen for a reason, though I wish I did, but her death couldn’t have been better timed or gentler if she’d arranged it to make it easier for us.

She hated when we traveled and it stressed her into some kind of ailment more than once. But we had been home long enough so there was no guilt about our last trip and the next was still on the horizon, so that worry is gone. It was very sudden. She’s old and arthritic and has had bad kidneys for nearly a decade, but she’d been doing better the last few months and acting positively spry. She didn’t suffer.

It came at the end of a break for me so that I was relaxed and had had plenty of time to spend with her in the past few weeks. It came before what’s going to be a very tough writing task that will absorb most of my energy, but not so soon before that I can’t push it off a bit and take time to grieve. It was on a weekday so there was no need to try to deal with the emergency vet instead of people she knew well. Her illness wasn’t so terrible that we had to let her go on the spot at the vet. It was a mercy in every way but one.

Someone I love has died, and my heart is broken. Over time it will heal into a new shape, but now, in the moment, I am full of pain and I miss my cat so very much.

Goodbye Isabelle, I love you.

A tribute in photos. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.