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When Love Means Letting Go

for Eliza Jane 2002-2015

I have a blog calendar, and I typically plan my posts, or at least my topics, well in advance. I’ve had the “cats and weddings” topic from Tuesday on the calendar for at least several months (you can actually see the post-it on the calendar in “(Not Too) Much A-Do About Being”), even though I wasn’t sure exactly what direction the post would take until I worked it up last week. The timing, as it turns out, was either terribly perfect or perfectly terrible, because today, I lost my beautiful Eliza Jane.

I’d planned to write about something else for today’s post. And I cannot, at this juncture, be anything approaching eloquent on the subject of her loss. But to post about anything else feels disingenuous, and she taught me so much about love and life that writing seems the best way to honor her.

My Liza

Eliza Jane is the only cat I raised from a kitten. She came to me under coercion: a stray calico took up residence in my parents’ storage shed and gave birth to a litter. Eliza was the only black-and-white kitten, and I already had tuxedo cat Roscoe. My mother informed me Roscoe needed a friend, so the Holstein kitten with the half-mustache and perpetually startled expression would be mine.

Eliza snuggling Roscoe after a biopsy in 2009

Eliza snuggling Roscoe after a biopsy in 2009

Roscoe adapted pretty quickly. Eliza loved to snuggle with him, even after she grew too big for both of them to fit comfortably in one bed. As a tiny kitten she would hang out on my shoulder for short stretches, but she was never much for being held. She’d sit next to me, on rare occasions in my lap, but she was always more aloof and independent than her big brother. And feisty—she earned herself a star on her chart at the vet, and it was not for good behavior.

Eliza was the only cat I’ve ever known who played fetch. It was almost unbearably cute to watch after my mom bought her a kitty toy football. Touchdown!

Tough love

She had a tough haul, though. She put on a little extra weight, and then a lot, and no matter what special diet we tried, she stayed heavy, topping out at around 20 pounds. She begrudgingly accepted two new feline additions to the family and endured a cross-country move, riding in the front seat because the back made her carsick. When she was around six, she developed an odd bald patch on the joint of her back left leg. It was a locally aggressive but slow-to-metastasize cancer. The vet removed it. It grew back. The vet removed it again. The third time it reappeared, the tumor encircled her entire joint like a doughnut. The vet amputated her leg, up to the hip.

She bounced back quickly, though she weighed in at 17 or 18 pounds and it was hard for her to get around. She even managed stairs once or twice when she felt sufficiently motivated.

Cozying up with Mom

Cozying up with Mom

And there was something else: almost as if it were a side effect of her surgery, tripod Eliza mellowed, becoming more expressive and openly loving.

Eventually she developed arthritis from the strain on her single back leg. I traded her litter box for pee pads. She had trouble cleaning herself, which led to infections. There were wet washcloths, frequent vet visits, lots of antibiotics.

It was hard on both of us, but Eliza held on, and as long as I wasn’t popping a pill down her throat, she seemed happy. Each night she’d hop over to the couch, look up at me and mew, asking me to lift her up so she could snuggle beside me, purring away. She developed a funny habit of twitching her tail, then turning and hissing at it, as if she didn’t realize it belonged to her. She grew ever more affectionate, as well as more willing to accept affection, even from those well-intentioned torturers in white lab coats.

This past summer, she was diagnosed with diabetes. She didn’t blink at the twice daily insulin–she would even meow at me around shot time, reminding me she needed her medicine. Then last week, blood appeared in her urine. An x-ray showed cloudy lungs and an enlarged kidney—most likely cancer. It broke my heart when it became apparent the problem couldn’t be healed.

Love lessons

If ever a cat had nine lives, Eliza Jane was one of them. She made every new challenge into a new chance. And though I’ve long been loathe to subscribe to any doctrine that romanticizes suffering in any way, Eliza reminded me of this truth: while we may not have a choice in what life hands us, we always have a choice in how we respond to what comes.

There are times we must hold on, and times we must let go. Both are acts of deepest love.

With gratitude and love, rest in peace, my sweet Eliza Jane.

Eliza and me: one of our last pictures together

Eliza and me: one of our last pictures together

5 thoughts on “When Love Means Letting Go

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