Animal-Human Connection Lives on After Death

I am a cat-lover, I will admit it.  Growing up, I had cats here and there, but my dad was really intolerant of the normal pet things like fleas and “accidents” on the carpets, so I never had a cat for very long.  I had one kitten for four days; then he discovered it had fleas, and took it to the vet, and I never saw it again.

When I moved to my own place at 20, right away I knew I wanted to get a kitten.  One day, my friend Laura called and told me there were kittens at her grandmother’s farm, and did I want one?

It was too far away for me to go to the farm, so I instructed my friend to pick out the friendliest cat.  Cat owners know: Cats’ personalities can range from “loving you” up to “vicious 2 a.m. sneak attacks,” and besides, who doesn’t want “friendly”?

When Laura arrived with the kitten she told me that she decided not to get the friendliest, but rather the cutest.  I was irritated at first, but Kitty was an adorable calico blend with longer hair, big eyes and a pink nose.  I loved her immediately.

Over the years, Kitty and I went through a lot together.  We survived the ant invasion in my apartment – she was as scared of them as I was and would shake her paw vigorously to avoid them.

She was an only Kitty for a couple of years, and then I moved in with a boyfriend who had a 25-pound tomcat whom she tolerated only because he could easily sit on her.  After that, we tried Binky, a gray cat with a too much energy and a skittish black cat named Tasha who refused to share a litter box.

Kitty even survived living with two curious West Highland Terriers, but not without complaint.  Along with all of these other cats and dogs came boyfriends and roommates.  Kitty really didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone but me.  She was mine and I was hers.   Every night for eighteen years she would sleep on my head or in my armpit.

As she got older, our bedtime ritual would start with us bickering over position with me trying to avoid tail in my face.  She would growl and turn around and then reposition again and I would reposition her, and so forth.  She’d get mad and jump down but would always sneak back up and settle in with a purr when she knew I was too tired to argue.

Kitty was 18 years old and big sister to two other cats when I had to take her to the vet to be put to sleep.  I had anticipated the day would be coming for years before, and yet I was still unprepared for the complete sadness that swept over me as I arrived home from running errands and found her howling in pain.  I had always hoped that I wouldn’t have to put her to sleep – that she would pass away gently in her sleep while curled up in front of the fire.

The procedure took longer than I would have liked, mainly because the vet was having trouble finding a vein to insert the sedative.  Kitty was her usual grumpy self, growling until the very last breathe.  That night, I wailed.  Of all of the losses I have been through, hers was surprisingly one of the hardest.  I guess it was because she was my stability when everything else was changing in my life during my twenties and thirties.

As I was laying in bed crying myself to sleep, one of my cats came up to comfort me.  Then another one jumped up and settled in on the other side.  Kitty’s two younger sisters usually didn’t get along so I was surprised they were so close together.

Then I opened my eyes.  Only one cat was there, but I could feel two.  Kitty was still with me.  I could feel the weight of her body and the vibration from her purring up against my chest.  And she still sleeps with me just about every night.

I spent some time trying to convince my husband she was there, but he could not feel her and didn’t really believe me.  Now I realize her purring is just for me, and that’s just fine.

Lizzy Miles

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Lizzy Miles has been to more funerals than weddings in her life. She stopped counting her losses and started counting her “angels” when she reached double digits. Inspired by her comforting and positive experiences with hospice staff, Lizzy decided to pay it forward and become a hospice volunteer. She found that work so rewarding that she determined that her life's purpose was to work in hospice. She made a mid-life career change and quit her marketing job of twelve years to return to school to become a hospice social worker. While she was an intern for hospice, she organized an event where she helped a 91-year old hospice patient ski again. She has a Master's degree in Communication and one in Social Work. She is currently a hospice social worker and the networking chair for ADEC, the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Lizzy blogs about “signs” from her loved ones at: http://www.followthesigns.blogspot.com

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  • Catherine says:

    That is exactly what it’s like to have and LOVE your cats. Boys come and go, friendships change, you move, you switch jobs, but kitties are always there.

  • Michelle says:

    I love your story and had tears in my eyes as I came to the end. We give our animals affection, security and well being. They’re characters are much different than any human being. We are their world when they are in our care and I know they miss us as much as we miss them when it’s time to say goodbye. However, I do believe we never say a final goodbye. My other cat’s portray signs of my Dahlia’s behavior and character that they never displayed before we lost her 12/3/10.