Many of you have heard me talk about Kali or have seen updates about Kali over the past few months as she made her way through the end-of-life process. I write about her in Driving with Cats, and I think she is going to provide the basis for another cat memoir (yes — it’s coming quickly) — but here is part of her story.
As usual, I wasn’t looking for a cat. (Then why, oh why, was I volunteering at the humane society?) I thought I was strong and stubborn. I could love cats, I reasoned, and not take them home. Four was a nice number, and manageable.
However, I had just said goodbye to a three-legged cat (she’d lost her leg to cancer). And when I went to do my monthly volunteer hours at the local humane society, another three-legged cat had arrived. This cat was about four years old, feisty, loving, and got around on the three legs quite well. I was able to take her into the cat room and play with her. She thrived on the attention.
Years later, I would learn that this cat came very close to being put down. It seemed that no one wanted a three-legged cat, even though the cat had no difficulties and certainly didn’t let a missing leg stop her from getting around and enjoying life.
I won’t spoil Kali’s story for those who might want to read it in my book. Suffice it to say that I adopted her and we shared her long and wonderful life.
Kali was a wonderful mixture of tenderness and toughness. She wouldn’t put up with any nonsense from the other cats, and she was very uptight with them at first. The other cats’ antics seemed to unhinge her. It took years for her to let one of the other cats groom her. I think her missing leg made her a little insecure in a multi-cat household. That, and the fact that she came from an abusive situation, may have contributed to what we observed.
But as much as Kali was uptight around the other cats, she was completely loving with humans. Kali loved a lap — anyone’s lap. She loved to stare deeply and adoringly into my eyes. I am not exaggerating when I use the word “adoringly.” Her gaze was intense and indescribable. My friend Carol, who loves and understands cats, said that Kali was unique in how she reached out to people. And that is true. Kali really wanted to connect. In her quiet, and firm way, and with her beautiful green eyes, Kali would let me know she wanted to connect and she wanted to love and be loved — now.
The last three months of Kali’s life, and care, were some of the most tender times I have ever experienced. Kali showed me new behaviors to keep strengthening the connection between us. She loved to press her head right into the side of my face — cheek to cheek. She liked to gently bite the top of my head. She had never interacted with me in this way before. As her care grew more intense and consuming, our bond grew deeper. I have had this happen with other cats, and it’s pretty unforgettable. Hospice care-giving is exhausting, and it is also extremely profound.
Kali passed in my arms, looking into my eyes, about two weeks ago. The last day of her life, things got worse. I knew I had to take action. I called the local vet and they kindly said they would squeeze me in whenever I needed. Four p.m. was the latest possible appointment.
At noon or so, my husband came home. We watched Kali and I gave her some homeopathy, which seemed to make her more comfortable. The weather outside was beautiful.
“Why don’t you both sit outside?” said my husband. It hadn’t occurred to me. I get a kind of determined tunnel vision when doing something as intense as hospice care, and everything else falls away.
So Kali and I sat out on the deck, under the sun. I cushioned her on a folded plushy blanket. I stroked her and told her I loved her. I told her how beautiful she was — in all ways. In my mind, I told her that I released her.
At 1 p.m., I also told her (silently, mind to mind) that she could die at home if she wished. I told her that we had until three. If she appeared to be suffering, I would take her in by three. That was the deal.
I did nothing but sit on the deck, holding her. I wanted to be with her completely.
At 2 p.m., she passed. I was looking into her eyes when it happened. The eyes dilated as they do. It felt as if she held my gaze as long as she could.
I don’t know if I’ve fully grieved Kali yet. I grieved while she was alive. It was a gift that I had time to say goodbye. Now I’m working very hard, promoting a new book that is all about this — all about the amazing bond we share with our loved animal companions. I don’t know if there is any grief left inside me. But grief is a funny thing. It will probably erupt without any warning. Honestly, I’m not sure where I am in the process.
I miss her sweet and tender spirit. I miss her fierce determination. I miss the soft sheen of her fur, her white bib, the gold outline around her eyes, her black lips. We had a special bond, and as I say in my writing — how can such a bond be broken? It’s hard to comprehend. Maybe the answer is that the bond is never broken. Such bonds are too strong to come to an end. The string may bend, or stretch, or morph into new material, but it will never break.
Be well, Kali. I know I’ll see you soon.
Catherine Holm is the author of Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time — a memoir of life, love, and the human/animal-companion bond.