I had to put my cat to sleep a little more than a month ago. It tore me up inside. I felt more strongly about losing my cat than I did when my grandpa died the morning of August 12. I’ve narrowed down why to two factors: Proximity and health. But first, introductions.
I started dating my wife 9 years ago, and she had a tubby Bengal, Emma. Emma was pushing 18 pounds, because she was full of love. She was, by far, the best cat I’ve ever met. Over the 9 years I knew her, Emma and I grew closer, until she would plop down next to me, bend her head over backwards, look at me, and expect me to pet her.
In June 2015, my wife and I moved from California to Idaho — a 12-hour drive with the moving van. I drove my car, with the cat in it. Emma meowed an average of every 30 seconds for almost the entire 12 hours. It was a bonding experience, sitting there with me through the move.
Just like I sat with her through 12 hours of travel, she sat with me through 9 months of unemployment. While my wife was at work, Emma was at my side as I searched for a job. She was a ball of fluff who wasn’t averse to a little squeezing when times got rough.
My grandpa, Don Mayer, was a survivor of World War II. He was an officer on USS LST 624, a Naval craft used to transport landing vehicles. He was part of the invasion of Okinawa, was in Nagasaki after the bomb fell, and survived an attempted kamikaze attack that was thankfully thwarted.
After the war, he was an insurance agent for the rest of his professional career. After retiring, he painted and taught painting classes (he was an amazing artist), tumbled rocks to make jewelry, and tended to his backyard garden and orchard. I could only hope to one day match his skills and talents. He and my grandma Ginnie traveled in a motor home with an RV club whenever they got a chance, traveling the US back and forth. I even took a trip with them, when I was young.
But why did I cry every day for a week with my wife over the loss of my cat, while only for a day at the loss of my grandfather?
First, I was around my cat almost all day, every day, for 9 months. And I was with her whenever I wasn’t at work for 3 years before that. Before I moved in with my wife, I was over as much as possible for almost 5 years.
I saw my grandpa, on average, twice a year. We lived in Sacramento, they lived in LA. It’s a long drive down there. It was a 15-minute drive to my wife’s old house, and Emma slept in bed with us for 4 years. Emma was always close by, while my grandpa was not.
Then there’s the matter of health. Emma developed a horrible cough, not unlike hacking up a hairball, a few times a day. At first, the vet diagnosed her with feline bronchitis, essentially kitty asthma, but it got worse.
A month after we initially took her to the vet, a specialist found a tumor was quickly cutting off her windpipe. That’s why she was coughing. She was still eating fine, but the tumor was growing, and its position, combined with her being 13 years old, meant the tumor was inoperable. She was given, at most, 6 months, if we did an expensive surgery. And there were other tumors they found throughout her body. He said it was probably cancer, which could take her even sooner than the windpipe tumor.
A few weeks later, we put Emma to sleep. It was an incredibly hard decision that even two months and a new kitten later, makes me tear up while writing this. I doubt I’ll ever find a cat as loving as Emma, who would just stick by my side, purring. It was all so sudden, her health declining so rapidly in the span of two months, and only realizing it after a month.
My grandpa had health problems as long as I could remember. In 1997, my parents took me on a cruise with my grandparents. We had different flights out afterward, and while waiting for the plane, my grandpa had a heart attack. It wouldn’t be his last. He had six bypasses over the years, and someone with just a single bypass lives another 10–15 years on average. Just in the past few years, his memory started going, and he rarely got out of his recliner. My uncle moved closer to them so that he could take care of them after he retired. It wasn’t a surprise when I was told my grandpa was in the hospital and wasn’t likely to leave.
Luckily, having been an insurance agent himself, and coping with a brush of death from the first heart attack, he took out a bigger life insurance policy, so at least I don’t have to worry about my grandma — whose health is also failing, and has a worse memory than grandpa did.
Make no mistake — this is not apathy or heartlessness. I miss them both fiercely. I won’t get to ask my grandpa questions about the war, which he rarely mentioned. I won’t get to see him create beautiful jewelry or go rock hunting with him. I won’t get to hear his intentionally groan-worthy jokes, mixed with a dry, sarcastic wit. The grief is starting to hit, now that I’ve attended his memorial. It may come in full force on Oct. 5, when his actual funeral and burial takes place.
But it feels like my cat, who I spent every day with, was ripped away from me, while my grandpa, who I saw only a few times a year, gradually slipped away. I had plenty of time to come to terms with his failing health.
Regardless of how many tears I have shed, I wish I still had time to spend with both of them.