Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Death in the Family

I'd just moved from Portland to Corvallis, Oregon, to move in with my boyfriend. I loved him, but I'd left a museum career and friends to go to a small town where I knew no one but him. This boyfriend was in graduate school and working as a teaching assistant and doing research and never home. I had a shitty job I hated at the county mental health clinic. One day in the staff newsletter of the shitty job I saw another county employee had posted an ad for a bunch of feral kittens she'd rescued at her farmhouse and that they were free to a good home. She'd had them spayed and neutered and they were healthy. I drove out immediately after I got off work at 5pm. As a champion for the underdog, when faced with selecting a pet, I will always, always defer to the least pretty/likeable/difficult. (As a child, when presented with a litter of purebred miniature poodles I selected the runt born with only three legs and loved him to death.) So, I picked the tiny gray and white kitty, hiding under a chair. Oh, honey, you probably don't want her, the kind-hearted woman said. She hates other people and other animals, she's been picked on here by all the other cats.

She's perfect, I said.

I took her home in a cardboard box and she crawled behind the stove and hid there for days. Eventually, she snuck out to pee and we named her Zooey, after a character in one of my most favorite J.D. Salinger novels. She puked 35 times in one hour after getting vaccinations to move across the country from Oregon to Minnesota. We popped tiny anti-anxiety pills into her throat with tweezers. Zooey slept on my belly every single night for seventeen years. Her purrs were the soundtrack all of my babies grew to in utero. She loved chirping at birds and drinking the water from under the Christmas tree. I cleaned up her cat puke every day for seventeen years. She hated my children, but loved Eric fiercely. She never once climbed on our countertops or peed outside her litter box.


About a year ago, at the age of sixteen, Zooey started peeing blood, her fur was matting, she was puking more than normal, all classic signs of kidney failure in older cats. She was still eating, drinking and purring, until she wasn't anymore. We loved her so much and waited and watched as it got worse and worse and this past July our beloved Zooey died. We came home from a camping trip in Atlanta, Idaho, to find her bleeding from the mouth, eyes sunken in, and barely moving. Eric wrapped her in an old towel and we placed her in the cat carrier she'd ridden in to move across the country with us two times, for her very last car ride. The girls and I sobbed goodbyes and sent Eric off by himself to the Idaho Humane Society to euthanize our very first baby. He held her and cried with the kind technicians and brought her home in a handmade baby quilt and dug a hole in our backyard under the lilac tree. We handmade a headstone with a garden marker kit from Jo-Ann Craft Store.

Everyone cried for days, weeks. Lucy kept hearing her meow for food, Eric kept picking her hair off everything, I kept feeling her clawing at the side of our bed. Alice helped pack up all her things to gift to a friend in Utah, another young girl, bringing home her very first kitten. It was a joy to gift her our precious Zooey's items.

It's been five months now, and I don't think of her every day any more. Her picture still resides on our fridge and clumps of her hair still get swept up from underneath furniture, but it's becoming less and less. A few weeks ago when we pulled out the Christmas boxes everything, all the emotions of loss, came rushing back when Lucy pulled out Zooey's stocking. It hung by our fireplace every year and Santa never forgot to stock it with some toys or special cans of soft food. She burst into tears that wouldn't stop, my girl.


We came up with a plan for that stocking and that grief. Lucy and I decided to donate a portion of the monies we earned with our artsy crafts we sold at Wintry Market and the Boise MADE Pop Up Shop to the Idaho Humane Society in memory of our dear cat. Today, with friends in tow, we made the trip to donate $30 in cash to the place where we our sweet Zooey took her last breath and was able to be euthanized with kindness and love. A place that gives so much honor to the animals in our lives, through living and dying. It's a small gesture and the cash isn't really that much, but to our family, to Lucy, it was huge. And so important. Sometimes to best way to grieve a death is through living a good life, in moments big and small.

1 comment:

  1. Perfect!!!! May your memories heal your hearts quickly!

    ReplyDelete