A Cat Named Eli

Fall is the dying season. A time of transition and letting go. A shifting of energy that always leaves me sad and introspective. So it is fitting, I suppose, that today marks the one year anniversary of the death of my cat Eli.

I adopted Eli and his brother Mica when they were eight weeks old. Their mama was a gorgeous Birman named Moon. Their fathers were two different tom cats. We got the call on the night they were born and visited them in their early weeks. They came home with us, shy and afraid. My job, as I saw it, was to love them and make them feel secure. Their job? To simply be cats. We’d take it from there. We bonded from the start.

At first, Eli did not know how to purr. For weeks, he’d struggle with halting little rumbles, until one day he figured it out, loud and strong. And, from then on, he purred me to sleep nearly every night.

Eli was independent, yet loved people. He was incredibly mellow, but other cats in the neighborhood knew not to mess with him. In the early days, whenever we sat near each other, I always kept a hand on the cats. It was my way of saying to them, “I'm here with you. You're safe”. Eli picked up the habit. Any time he cuddled me, which was anytime he could, he always made a point of putting a paw on my hand. If I shifted, that paw followed me.

It is easy to undervalue the relationships we form with our pets. But they are true; more honest, in fact, than many person to person relationships. I always think that these bonds with animals are all the more special and amazing because of our differences. It takes a lot to cross that language barrier and the issues of trust and love.

Mica and Eli were there with us when we bought our first house, got married, had children. They cemented our status as a family before we even realized it. They taught us to give, love purely, and savor quiet moments.

I was three months pregnant when Eli got sick. He began to hide out, taking space for himself. The vet suspected a rare form of cancer. Eli quickly lost weight and strength. I took him to a series of vet appointments, hand fed him from a syringe every few hours, weighed the decisions between his quality of life and my own selfishness, and finally took him to Dove Lewis.

Throughout all this I had my toddler in tow and I tried to prepare him: “Eli is very sick. I’m feeling really sad. I’m worried he might die. My heart is breaking.” When the vet took a look at him, now so weak and wasted away, she said, “Wow, he must have been formidable.” He was.

Dove Lewis couldn’t do much for him. We decided to take him home and put him to sleep in a place that was familiar and comfortable. The night before he died, I woke to a thud in the bathroom. It was Eli, trying to climb into the tub to drink from the tap. I picked him up and lay him down near the faucet. He had a long drink. Then he wet himself. I cleaned him up, carefully dried him, and wrapped him in towels. We lay down together on the bathroom floor. I curled my hand around him and he purred for the first time in days.

The next day, I held him as he died. The last wisp of breath left his body and I felt him let go. I had to let go too.

Now it’s been a year. I have a six month old that Eli never met. My toddler is now four; his memories of Eli beginning to fade. I still have Mica, who cuddles me every night. And I have memories of a dear, dear friend. A cat named Eli.


Unknown said...

Ah, Jenny, what a sad, sweet, lovely story. Thank you. And may Eli live forever in your memory and the Great Cat Beyond.

Jenny Wren said...

Thanks, Bob. I like to think his spirit is somewhere out there sniffing at the breezes and swatting a ghostly paw at flies buzzing by.

Stephen said...

The Loss of a pet is always so hard, & not everyone understands the hurt. I still grieve for the 3 dogs that have moved on, especially my beloved Butch, a rescued Jack Russell that was simply the best dog ever. When I need to cry on cue... I just think of him & the tears start to flow.

Thanks for the lovely post.

Jenny Wren said...

So true, Stephen. Most people who don't have pets don't know or understand those small, private moments of bonding. But they add up to something really unique and they leave an awfully large hole when they are gone.

Mead said...

Your post made me weep, Jenny. For Eli, and for the animals I've lost and will lose in the future. Part of what's so poignant about living with them is the knowledge that it's only temporary. They're on loan to us, from the very beginning.

Thank you for sharing your love and your loss with us.

Jenny Wren said...

That's a sweet way of putting it, Mead, they are on loan to us. And that loss, or the risk of it, is the price we pay for loving well. But it's worth it.