If a long life is a life well-lived, then Rosie, who left us on Wednesday at the age of seventeen and a half, lived a very good life.
Rosie was one of a litter of kittens born to a cat owned by a family at the boys’ school. We were not in need of a cat, not that anyone ever is. But there was no way Daniel could get to his classroom without walking past the cardboard box alive with little black kittens, and so, home came Rosie. We created a long list of clever names, but Daniel was resolute. This was his cat and she was going to be called Rosie, and thus it was.
As it turned out, Rosie was not Daniel’s nor anyone else’s cat. She was the Greta Garbo of felines. She just “vanted to be alone”. From early kittendom on, Rosie lived life on her terms. She didn’t want to be petted or picked up, and if you crossed that boundary you would be rewarded with a hefty ration of yowling, spitting and hissing. The other animals – all of them – steered clear of Rosie. If Rosie sat on the stairs, Soho would neither go up nor down, so fearful was she of the wrath of Rosie.
In her younger days, Rosie would sometimes disappear for two or three days, then turn up looking no worse for the wear. Once, she was inadvertently locked into the maid’s quarters that now serves as my office. In those days it was unoccupied, so getting on the wrong side of that door could have been a death sentence. She lived in there for almost a week before being discovered, and strolled out as nonchalantly as if it had been her idea all along. Rosie was often insistent about staying out all night and we came to the conclusion that if there was a contest between her and a coyote, our money was on Rosie.
Rosie was, without questions, a survivor. But according to our vet, no cat can survive the mouth tumor she had developed. He said this particular malignancy does not respond to surgery, radiation or chemotherapy and that it is 100% fatal. By the time we realized what was wrong, the vet urged us not to let her linger too long.
In her seventeen years, Rosie saw our boys grow up, from squirrely little kids to serious high-schoolers and then, in a blink of her inscrutable yellow eyes, the house became quiet as they went off to college. When the CE had his foot surgery a few years ago and bunked down in the pool house, Rosie joined him there and basked in her role as “only” cat. The two of them forged a bond and in her last year, Rosie’s favorite pastime was lounging on a pillow next to the CE while he worked in his study.
And so, for her last few days, that pillow became her throne. She had basically stopped eating, but the CE enticed her with sips of cream and held a saucer of water for her so she could drink without having to get up. As he put it, among the other things we offer our pets, they each get “hospice care” at the end. We kept Rosie as comfortable as possible, but by Wednesday morning, it was clear that she was not comfortable at all. The tumor was pressing on her trachea and each breath took more effort than her little aged body could muster.
It would be an overstatement to say that Rosie, with all that hissing and growling, was a “beloved” pet. But she was our pet, and we shed tears for her at the end. We stroked her still-velvety fur as the vet administered the injection that gave her escape from suffering. The CE dug a grave for her in a place of honor next to Dizzy and now she rests there under the oaks through which she prowled for almost two decades.
I know that the loss of a pet does not register next to the loss of a human loved one, and I would not pretend that our grief has any real merit. But we have lost two cats in the past months; two witnesses to what was a family and is now just an old couple growing older. It hurts. However insignificant it may have been, that black kitty had a place in this world and in our memory. Farewell, little Rosie.
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