I have been putting off writing this, I have to admit. The recent passing of my sweet, little bengal devastated me. It all happened so fast. A few short weeks ago, she was my sweet, loving, playful kitten. After arriving home late in the evening on the heels of my flight back from Ontario, she greeted us eagerly at the door and meowed hello as she always does when we get back after being away for a longer period.
The next day she hopped up on me for a couple of minutes, long enough for me to pet her to and feel her body. She then did the same with my husband. We both felt it right away. Something wasn’t right. Kaylee had clearly lost weight, which is a warning sign of something potentially serious. The next morning we brought her to the vet. She was found to have lost 20% of her body weight. We had blood work done and started syringe feeding her a high fat cat food. The next day, we were told that she her kidneys were in critical condition. She was diagnosed with a chronic kidney condition that had very gradually gotten worse over a long period of time, hence why it hadn’t been detected sooner. We started her on a medication to help correct her levels and changed her food to a special kidney blend for her condition. The doctor said some cats will respond to treatment, others don’t. I felt optimistic the next morning when she managed to eat some of her food on her own without the syringe. I didn’t believe the worst could happen. She was only 9.5 years old.
Over the next few days, it was clear our little fur baby was slipping away. She stopped feeding on her own. We had to bring her in to the vet a couple of times for fluid injections. After one feeding, my husband knew she was dying. She slumped down on the floor after a feeding, sad and defeated. My husband started to weep, knowing her end was likely near. Even then, our compassionate Kaylee saw he was hurting. She rallied herself to her feet, started purring, and head butted his chest to provide HIM comfort, she who was suffering and ready for it to end, still found it in her to be there for him the way she always has been.
The last time we brought her to the vet, he said she was clearly in pain and wasn’t responding to treatment. She needed to get her strength back if any form of medical intervention was going to work. He suggested leaving her there for the day to be fed on an IV, hoping she would improve. When we went back to pick her up, he told us the sad news. She only had gotten worse over the course of the day. He told us the most humane thing was to put her to sleep and end her suffering.
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The only thing harder was watching her in pain the night before, meowing sadly as though telling us that she was ready to die. The vet gave us some time alone with her to say our final goodbyes. We cooed and reassured her with a soothing tone, patting her while our tears dropped onto her fur.
“It’s going to be ok now, Kaylee. You’re not going to be in pain any more,” I said to her softly, putting my cheek against her body and giving her a gentle hug.
It was at that moment I heard and felt it. She started to purr. Cats purr as a way of letting you know they want you close, whether they’re happy, unsettled, or scared, but also when being affectionate, as was common for Kaylee whether she was just being warm and loving or comforting us during a hard time. Our little purr bug always purred loud and strong, right from the first day we brought her back from the States with her half-sister River. In that moment, her purr was her way of letting us know that she was ready. With us there, sharing that precious moment, I knew it was time. I called the vet back. I wanted her to leave this earthly realm content and wrapped in the love of her human pride. The vet gave her the injection. Her breathing slowed and then her purr went silent.
That purr was her final gift to us. We provided her comfort in her final moments, and she did the same right back to us, purring with her dying breaths.
Kaylee’s Life Lessons
Every being we interact with gives us an opportunity to learn, to be the best humans we can be. This is especially true with our inner circles, those with whom we spend the most time and with whom we share our homes.
The deep, gut-wrenching sadness we feel about Kaylee’s passing is a direct reflection of the love and joy we experienced during our time with her on earth. As I start to move on, I want to remember her and all that I learned from her, and honour her by keeping her life lessons close to my heart. Here are those lessons.
1. Make play a priority. Kaylee may not have lived as long as other cats do, but she did make it to the start of her senior years. But while she was healthy, you wouldn’t know it if you watched her play. Even in her later years, she would chase her toy mice, even play fetch with our yarn laundry balls. She would waggle and hop in a way that would make you swear she was still a kitten, as you can see in the video below. Play takes the levity out of life, and reminds you that it need not be such a serious and somber affair. It bonds you to your friends and family. It makes your heart and spirit soar. And we should all make space for it each and every day.
2. Set and maintain appropriate boundaries. While Kaylee was a playful cat, she wasn’t necessarily always in the mood for play or attention. River, her half-sister, is a slightly more active cat and often would follow her around and pester her to play when she wanted anything but. River wasn't always quick to clue into this fact, so Kaylee would get more and more irritated as River followed her around. Eventually she would, hiss and growl at her, and if this wasn't enough to get River to back off, she would swat at her, and if we didn't intervene, they would get into a full blown fight. Kaylee always set personal boundaries and communicated them clearly. It wasn't just with River either. If she wasn't in the mood to be patted, she would use her paws to gently push our hands away, or she would just get up and go somewhere else. Even with her kind, sweet nature, she had the confidence to maintain those boundaries at all times. She had loving relationships, but never ignored her own needs. Her example reminds us to honour our authentic selves, a vital element in having healthy relationships.
3. Love the way you want to be loved. Kaylee was the most compassionate cat I ever had the pleasure of meeting. Even though she was a bit more shy around outsiders, she loved me and my husband dearly. She showed her love every day in some way, whether it was by head butting our hands and legs, eager to be patted, meowing or purring so loudly you'd swear a she had started a motor, curling up against us sitting on the couch or in our arm pit while in bed, or our favourite, hopping up on the bed at 3am, meowing and purring (even pawing at our faces if we don't wake up) to get under the blankets with us. Kaylee loved us both so much that if we ever got into a heated argument she would come and, with a concerned, urgent meow, try to break it up because she didn't like seeing us angry with each other. She very much desired our love in a way that is hard to describe and was relentless in showing us her love in return. I don't know that there is any greater lesson we can learn in life. When you find someone worthy of your love, be unabashed about sharing your love with that person or animal, and that love will be reflected back and grow beyond what you can ever imagine... and then break your heart when it comes to a natural end. But even that broken heart will be worth it. You'll carry it with you always, but it will serve as a reminder of all the joys that love brought to your life. I created the video slideshow below to remember all the love and good times we shared, to help me remember her and to share her spirit with the world.
Thank you for reading my thoughts. This experience is one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through. I have never lost a direct family member, close friend or family pet. It's true what they say about how losing a cat or dog can be as painful (or more painful) than losing a family member. I am still grieving, but it's starting to get easier. I just ask that if you know anyone who loses a beloved pet, try to understand that their grief may be quite powerful and to do your best show care and understanding as they go through their grieving process.
If you would like to share your own memories of a beloved pet, I welcome you to do so in the comments. I find a lot of comfort in hearing about how much love everyone got from their own cherished cats and dogs. And if you would find comfort in sharing your own story of pet loss, I welcome that too.