For the Love of a Cat, a Partner, and S’mores

Life partners, domestic partners, spouses, significant others: whatever you want to call them, they can be so amazing sometimes. Especially in emotional times. This past week was a little stressful for us. In addition to general issues at work and what felt like a lot of running around, it took me well into the week to realize that I had some anxiety building up over the coming weekend. Last year we let go of our older cat at the end of October, and, even though I thought I was handling it well, I wasn’t as prepared for the emotions that came with it as I thought I was.

I’m not one to usually hang on to upsetting anniversaries like this. I can recall the general time when events, good or bad, occurred, but I don’t visit cemeteries and our family has never been the touchy-felt type about that sort of stuff. When we’re reminded of good memories, we share them, but we don’t dwell on missing people. So I was a little surprised that I was having as much trouble this week as I did.

The climax of it all, however, was a little too familiar for me. Friday afternoon we took our younger cat–now our only cat but we still refer to her lovingly as the “little one”–to the vet for a checkup. She had a bout of pancreatitis in March and we’ve been working to get her inflammation levels down since then. We had a good feeling about these tests because her symptoms of inflammation and IBD had been long gone for months, so we walked in confident that we wouldn’t need any more medication and that this would be our last appointment for a while. We were wrong: her levels went back up, although only to higher mid-range, for what could be a number of reasons and we are now back on medication to try to bring them down. It’s back for another round of blood work next month for us. This struck me a little harder than it should have, but I think it was because I was already focused on what this weekend symbolized to me.

Greta, our older cat, was my baby. For two years we lived alone while I was in grad school before I adopted Auttie. Greta’s temperament mirrored mine so well: introverted except for those she loved the most and very particular about things. Before she became sick, she was very low-maintenance and so easy to care for. Most importantly, we had a bond that I have never had with any living creature. I lost her when she was only seven and a half years old, very young to have been so sick. She started having issues almost a year and a half before she died, but we never could nail down the issue. In the last six months they did surgery and during the last three months she was on three pills and a shot every other day and struggled to keep her weight up. Even until I walked into the vet for her last appointment, I was hopeful that they knew how to help her. But when they said we had to decide if we wanted a feeding tube that would lower her already declining quality of life or to let her go, I didn’t know how to handle that choice. I had never truly understood what it felt like to be devastated over a loss until I had to let her go. We had only a few days with her before we let her go, and we filled them with tasty foods, lots of cuddles, and her first trip onto the balcony and into the sun. She loved it.

But this post isn’t about Greta. I want to talk about my partner.

When we got home Friday evening, all my emotions came out without warning, and I had a small breakdown. I sobbed. I ugly cried. And I complained about how unfair it all was. Greta should still be here; she was robbed of nearly half her life. And I still miss her every day. Here we were almost a year later, and I felt like it was just as fresh. My partner didn’t flinch. She let me cry it out, held me until it passed, and said all the right things. That sounds simple, but it’s important to understand that when Greta first started having issues, my partner and I had only been together a little over six months. My partner barely understood my cats and was adjusting to living not only with them but with cats for the first time in her life. A year later she let me drain our savings account to pay for exploratory surgery and then months of medications and shots, which she had to administer because I was too afraid of hurting Greta if I did them. She went with me to every vet appointment and often had to remember and translate the vet’s explanations for me because I was too upset to process all of it on the spot. She made the phone call for me when we had to schedule her euthanasia, and she has always been supportive of keeping Greta’s wooden box of ashes on a shelf in the living room. She never said a word about my keeping her toys for almost a year before being able to part with them. And she surprised me the Christmas after losing Greta with a collage photo frame for our bedroom wall full of my favorite photos of Greta, all of them taken when she was happy and healthy.

So when Friday evening hit, she had already been helping me process this anxiety in little ways for over two years. In her usual style, once I was feeling better, she helped me do what I needed to do and focus on doing other things. We ate dinner at a new restaurant and had tasty frozon yogurt. The next evening we had decided to keep to our yearly tradition of watching a scary movie for Halloween with popcorn and the lights out. This is kind of a big deal for me because I love haunted-house type scary movies, but they stay with me for days. I also tend to hide my face and try to bury myself next to whomever is beside me. So my partner, who doesn’t get scared nearly as easily, is usually supporting half of my body weight and letting me squeeze her arm tightly in nearly every scene. She says she enjoys it, too, but I think she does it mostly for me. We had decided a few weeks ago to add to this tradition homemade s’mores and making it a full night in with sweets and movies. We had been looking forward to it all month.

When it came time to pick out a movie on Netflix, however, it didn’t feel right to me. I was having a little anxiety and already felt like I wasn’t in the mood for something scary. After going through the entire movie list, she could tell I wasn’t as excited as normal. Again, without hesitation, she jumped in with an answer and suggested we postpone the scary movie and watch something else. I didn’t want to break our tradition, but it sounded like a good plan. We still made s’mores, which were tasty but a little tough and super sweet. I could only eat one. Again, without worry, she scooped up the leftover s’mores and returned with popcorn, making the evening all right again. We started watching at her suggestion a Halloween-appropriate but not-so-scary-show and ended up on Stranger Things. As a side note, we have only watched two episodes, but that show is as good as everyone says and is going to be addictive!

What started as an anxious week for me and continued into an emotional weekend really went alright in the end because my partner was there for me. Looking back over everything I went through with Greta, I only handled as well as I did because she helped me handle it in the first place. Now, a year later, when I expected to be able to continue along like normal, she still lets me get it out and steps in like it’s no trouble when I need a good, ugly cry, frozen yogurt, and s’mores with a not-so-scary Halloween movie. I still get teary-eyed when I let myself experience how much I still miss Greta, but having a partner who is supportive of that emotion makes it manageable. Greta’s box will probably always be on a shelf somewhere nearby and our collage of her pictures reminds me how happy her life was before she was sick, but it’s the support and love that my partner gives me when I feel like the box isn’t enough or I forget how happy she was when she was here that helps me feel like it’s okay to feel this way sometimes.

I don’t remember where I heard the quote–I want to say it was a movie quite a while back–but in an emotional scene, there was a line that has stuck with me over the years. One character says to another through tears that she doesn’t understand why it hurts so badly to have lost someone she loved. The other character replies that perhaps it hurts so much because the love was simply that strong. And how wonderful of a thing that must be to have had. In the end, I’m very blessed to have had so strong a bond with a cat that I miss her this much even today and to have so strong  a love with my partner that she understands why. Not everyone gets to experience these parts of life as fluently as I do. For these, the love of a cat, the love of a partner, and s’mores on movie night, I am very, very thankful.

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