Friday, January 23, 2015

Sweet dreams sweet Delaney

Delaney (our cat in the hat). 

A few years back we re-inherited a cat Brad had owned in a previous life. 

Delaney arrived, a ball of long hair and nerves, and holed up in the basement. We thought her self-imposed quarantine would end at some point. That one day, she'd get bored of the dark basement and venture up the stairs to explore the rest of the house. As far as we know, she never made it much farther than the top of the basement steps, always retreating as Snacks came clattering to the steps to greet her. 

For some unexplained reason, Snacks won't go down the basement steps. This is actually great, because we're pretty sure he'd be one to feast on any goodies left in the litter box. 

The dog's reservations about the basement and Delaney's agoraphobia worked out for the delicate ecosystem of our household. Each pet to his or her own habitat. 

But Brad and I wished she'd visit more. Especially after we lost Bart last year, who was always seeking a lap to commandeer. 

Our other cat, Peanut Butter, is a mercurial calico who will tolerate only a few minutes of petting before nipping at your fingers and swiping our hands. 

Delaney, on the other hand, soaked up any affection she could get when we'd go downstairs -- jumping into our laps and purring. Ramming her head into our arms if we stopped petting her. 

The girls were more than happy to lavish attention on Delaney, who was so patient with them. I'd often find the three of them tucked into the tiny bathroom in our basement with the door closed (to prevent the cat's escape). The girls would play next to her and tell her stories and periodically carry her around like a rag doll. When Delaney would tire of their affection, she'd hide out under the futon. Unlike Bart who'd bite the girls for the slightest offense, I didn't have to worry about Delaney. She was tolerant and sweet. 

Which makes the next part so hard.  

"Girls, I need to talk to you about something," I said to Lily and Jovie yesterday. We sat down at the kitchen table, Jovie still red-cheeked and wild-haired from her nap.

"What is it mom?" Lily asked. "What is it?" Her tone said she thinks something good is coming. 

But she was wrong. 

I had to tell them that 14-year-old Delaney -- this cat they adore and seek out every day -- is very sick and that tomorrow (today) dad will take her to the vet and we won't see her anymore because she'll be in heaven with Bart. 

Lily says goodbye.
And Lily got it right away. Right away her mouth turned upside down into the deepest frown and her eyes filled with tears.

"No mom!" she pleaded. "I don't want Delaney to go to heaven. I want her to stay here."

And I agree. We'll miss her so much. But she's just so sick. Half the size she was last summer. Tumors growing in at least three different spots.

Lily wanted to know who's going to pick her up from the vet and take her to heaven. For some reason I didn't have an answer at the tip of my tongue. Shouldn't that be a softball question? 

So I said Poppy, her great-grandfather who doesn't even like cats all that much. But I needed an answer. 

"Does Poppy love Delaney?" Lily asked.

I forced a smile. Poppy will take good care of Delaney because Poppy loves us, I told her as tears started pouring out of my eyes. Jovie buried her head in my shoulder. Lily paused her crying to stare at me, like she was solving a puzzle. 

"Mom, what are you doing?" she said in the voice she uses when I dance at inappropriate times (though anytime is inappropriate in Lily's mind). Then she crawled in front of me and started wiping the tears out of my eyes with both palms over and over. She could hardly keep up with how fast they were falling.

"It's OK mom. I'll take care of you." This only made the crying worse. This time not for the cat or Poppy, but for how fast it's all happening. My curly-headed girl so little and big-hearted. So young, and so wise. 

She loves that cat. And I love that cat because she let my girls love her.

When Brad came home from the vet today with another empty carrier, I gave him a hug.

"I'm trying to figure out why I'm so sad," he said. "I think it's because I'm realizing that I'm getting older." 

I know exactly what he means. I tell him it's OK to be sad and that we're all getting older and that he has plenty of great years left. That we can't see the future so we have to just enjoy our lives right now. Each day that we have.

Exactly as our pets do. So happy for the moment you scratch their belly or lend them a lap to settle in. I'm so grateful for these lessons our pets teach us. We're all better for having loved them, even after we lose them.

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