"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

One Less Heartbeat: Losing Lilly

I don’t know why the thought came to me, four nights ago, the night we lost Lilly. I was getting ready for bed, hardly able to think straight, and the thought ran through my mind: There is one less heartbeat in our house tonight. I felt a pain in my own heart knowing that was true. I burst into tears, as I had so many times during that day, in public, in my car, in the ophthalmologist surgeon’s office as I went in to get my right eye checked—after having a cataract removed just the day before. I had to let Lilly go, watch her fall asleep for the last time as my husband and I held her and wept and whispered our goodbyes, then somehow get myself to the appointment. I did. I sobbed the entire drive home.

After getting home from the appointment, I sat in my car in the driveway, not wanting to enter the house where she wasn’t any longer. Lilly had become a tentative, quiet presence in our house for some years; so different from her younger days. She was a wild spitfire from the moment I brought her tiny little self home.

But almost unlike any cat I have seen with as much fire and attitude, Lilly was one of the most affectionate cats I have ever encountered. She loved to sleep curled up with Lucy--her sister from the same litter--or with me or Shea. She would head butt your hand, or burrow for a head scratch, or sweetly touch her head to your forehead to ask for love. Her motor was loud and deep, and I am so thankful that my husband managed to capture it on video so I can hear it again and again.

In 2001, on the day I set out to adopt a kitten, I planned on getting two so they would have company when I traveled for work. I had gone to a local rescue on a Saturday when they had adoptable kittens at the pet store. I found Lucy first, but none of the other kittens made a connection. The rescue employee told me there was one more from the same litter- a solid white kitten just recovering from a respiratory infection. She handed me a carrier and I looked inside, and no lie, I said, “Hello my Lilly.” I hadn’t picked out the name before, she just was my Lilly.

Lilly was hilariously naughty. She would hiss at me if I said “No” or gave her a cross word. She hid outside the litter box when Lucy was inside and waited for her to come out to pounce on her and scare her. If Lilly was scolded, she took it out on Lucy, or knocked something off a shelf, and looked at me as if she had most certainly had the last word.
I constantly had no idea what page I was on in any book I was reading, as Lilly adored bookmarks, and slipped them out from between the pages and eventually destroyed them.

The absolute best stories were always hard for people to believe until they witnessed them. A veterinarian once wanted to put her on a prescription diet—as she was having urinary tract infections and had only one working kidney. For whatever reason, Lilly did not like the food. After my first few attempts of feeding it to her, she would take one sniff and knock the bowl and the food across the kitchen floor. She didn’t eat for 4 days. I called the vet and he told me should would eat if she got hungry. Another few days went by and there was no change and he asked me to bring in Lilly, the dish, and the food. He clearly didn’t believe what I was telling him.

We went to his office, food, dish, and white feline, furry stubbornness, and I set all of it on the high counter as he came in to check her out. I put the food in the dish, she took a sniff, and smacked the dish and the food so hard that it flew off the exam table and hit the floor, food going everywhere. The vet laughed, a big, huge belly laugh, and made me set it up again for some of the vet techs to see. We all laughed, while Lilly stared at us as if she had had enough. He tried a few other foods out until one seemed to meet her standards. He reminded me to prepare myself. Lilly only had one working kidney, she would be lucky to live to be ten years old.

From the time I brought Lilly home, we moved over 10 times. Two of those moves were cross country. She was my constant companion as a single person, and comforted me over job layoffs, broken hearts, and unfortunately, a battle with depression that has been with me most of my adult life. There were few things over the years that could help me through my darkest times more than sweet Lilly’s motor running next to my heart.

She was always a challenge. I had to baby-proof my kitchen cabinets to keep her from scaling to the top cabinets, and knocking whatever dishes were in her way to the floor. She hated having her nails clipped, and somehow stole the little clippers I had for the job, over and over. Once, when I moved, I found four pairs of the clippers under the couch, deep in the back, her little stash of control.

Lilly is the only cat I have ever known who truly loved a good belly rub.

She is also the only animal I know that has wiggled her way into my mother’s heart. My mom is not an animal person, or a pet person, and is absolutely baffled how I live outnumbered by them. But my mother adored Lilly, and has called me crying several times over the last few days.

When my husband and I started dating in 2009, he was entering a relationship with three cats, one dog, and me—who needed anyone I was going to be with to love all of us. We were lucky. All the animals love Shea, and I say that once he came along, he was number one to all of them. Lilly was no different. She adored him and snuggled up whenever she got the chance. At this point, her wild days were behind her, so Shea had a hard time believing my tales of her naughty adventures.

We lost Lucy in December of 2014, and while we were devastated, we worried about Lilly so much. She had spent every day of her life with her sister and most days and nights, I would find them intertwined together, sleeping, and motors running. The first week after Lucy died, at night, Lilly would roam the halls and cry, looking for her, and Shea and I took turns sleeping in the den with her to give her one-on-one attention.

Since that time, Lilly was glued to Shea almost 24/7. It has given me great comfort that during some of my craziest work hours and not being home as much at that time, Shea was with her constantly. We didn’t know how little time we had left. I am thankful that I left my terribly stressful job earlier this year, and was so fortunate to find one where I can work from home. I was able to be with her more, and spend time with her, and get her little heart against my heart, her motor running all the while.

I have left the most beautiful Lilly story for last.

Many times over the years, after countless hours of therapy, different medications, more medications, and just, well, life, I found myself feeling so hopeless. I have shared openly that I have contemplated and attempted suicide multiple times, and it is some kind of miracle that I am here writing these words tonight. I didn’t really get the right help and get well until I was 39, so there were many, many years of battle.
One of my lowest points was when I was living in Washington DC in 2003, and personally and professionally, everything seemed to take a dive at once. I had been at this low point so many times before, but this time felt so different. Many nights, I would sit in the floor, holding Lilly, sobbing, staring at bottles of pills, and finally calling for help. This one night, I just didn’t have it in me anymore.

This night, I wrote letters. I called the pet sitter and asked her to come the next day, giving no indication that this was different than any other business trip. I called and asked for the apartment janitor to come early and fix something the next day, but left him a note on the door in an envelope to call the police instead. I had left a notes for the pet sitter, and anyone else who might read them to please make sure my cats were taken care of. I had people in mind who I thought would take them. I worried and fretted over them the most.

I was sobbing, trying to think of a way out, trying to convince myself differently. I swallowed pills and more pills, until I lost count, but knew it was enough. I laid in the bed, sobbing, and Lilly jumped up next to me, pushing herself against me, loving me with all her might. I apologized to her and to Lucy, and in a few moments, I was out.

Although Lilly had always been a firecracker, she was scared of a few things: a loud phone ringing, my hairdryer, and anyone knocking at the door or ringing the doorbell. Any of those noises sent her flying under the bed.

But on this day, at this particular time, there were noises louder than that. Policemen were breaking down the door. It took me so long to realize and half-stumble to the door and open it. One of the policemen leaned on the door frame in relief, seeing me alive. I, still, in a daze, crawled back to bed. And there, where she had been for all those hours, that whole time, was Lilly. Hammers hitting the door, the doorbell ringing incessantly, nothing had made her move. She stayed by my side. Her motor next to my heart, doing all she could to help me. To love me. To be there for me, no matter what.

The policemen had called an ambulance, I asked one of them to please call my pet sitter, he said he would make sure Lilly and Lucy would be ok while I was gone. He did. I was checked into a hospital into ICU that day.

That whole experience has been on my mind so much.

On the morning of August 17, Shea and I were leaving the house for my cataract surgery, and I looked at Lilly in the kitchen and knew something wasn’t right. We made sure she would eat and drink water, and gave her treats, and then we left. I worried the whole time. Shea and I both were really concerned, and once we got home, we went back and forth, hoping she was perking up one moment, then realizing the next that she wasn’t. My sweet husband was up with her a great deal during the night, and I will always be so thankful to him for that.

By the next morning, we knew. Even though she had beaten the odds and lived 15 years, she was fading. I laid in front of her and looked at her, and for one second she gave me this look, just a knowing, lost look, and then she seemed to look through me. She tried to walk and wobbled. Shea and I were both crying, and bundled her up in a blanket and headed to the vet.

Once the vet came in, it didn’t take long for everyone to realize. Lilly had gone blind overnight, she was in obvious discomfort. We would not let her suffer. Shea and I waited for them to bring her to us in a special room so we could hold her as we let her go from this life.

We both whispered in her ear how much we loved her and that she was safe, and how much we would miss her. She purred, loudly, until her very last breath, which gave me comfort. In her last moments, I told her I never forgot that dark night and how she stayed by my side.

I am so thankful that in her last moments, she knew I loved her enough to be there for her, too.


Peggy Jo Farr September 29, 2016 at 4:55 AM  

I am sorry to hear of Lilly's passing and your loss of a much beloved pet, Kim. Sending comforting thoughts and prayers. Peggy Jo


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