An empty place in the kitten room

An empty place in the kitten room

121215-florence-by-mark1Kittens seem to embrace the “live fast, die young” philosophy of the adolescent and the invincible.

But that’s never, ever, ever meant to be literal. It is with shock and sorrow that I must report our Florence has left us.

Falling squarely into the category of “things that make you go duh,” I will tell you that every single loss at Tabby’s Place is hard. It always aches. It never gets easier. The faces never stop waking you in the night.

But I’d be dishonest if I didn’t also tell you: sometimes it hurts more.

Florence was one of the most wildly alive cats ever to reign at Tabby’s Place. I think we may actually need a new term for Flo’s level of vitality. All breathing, heart-beating creatures are alive (and so, they tell me, are clams, though I have to take that one on faith), but Florence was something altogether different.

Flo in her early days at Tabby's Place, cast down but not destroyed by fleas.
Flo in her early days at Tabby's Place, cast down but not destroyed by fleas.

Flo was fluorescently alive.

Upon arrival at Tabby’s Place, Florence was a heap of flea-bitten calico scraps. Through the patient toil of Denise, Dr. C and their minions at the emergency clinic, Florence outlived the fleas…and began her life as a ball of flaming Florencian fire.

Beating up the kittens. Beating up the humans. Climbing up the walls. Grooming her comrades with an “I WILL GROOM YOU SO HELP ME GOD” determination. And then, at will, flicking on the charm with pastel-angel power.

Florence was continuously alight with the spark of life. It’s no coincidence that she was named for a one-woman wonder who sings wildly about the dog days being over. Flo took to heart her namesake’s challenge: “Say my name, and every color will illuminate.” Florence was determined to live every single color, and several not yet even named by Pantone.

I don’t think, in her six months at Tabby’s Place, I ever saw Flo sleep or nap or even doze. I’ve polled other staff members, and have yet to find anyone who ever witnessed Flo snoozing. Looking back, it’s like she knew she didn’t have time for such pedestrian matters.

It was shortly after Operation: Outlive The Fleas that Flo turned up a new, more troubling issue. The little atomic fireball had a ticking time bomb in her heart: a very unwelcome hole. But, as always in the case of Florence, there was more to the story. Some kittens, we were told, could outlast this condition. It was possible – no promises, but possible – that Flo’s heart could fix itself. We’d know around the half-year mark.

Naturally, I put 100% of my eggs in the Flo’s-heart-magically-fixing-itself basket.

But that miracle wasn’t etched in Florence’s book.

Florence grooming Jack vibrantly and somewhat violently.
Florence grooming Jack vibrantly and somewhat violently.

This past Sunday night, Danielle heard Flo gasping and rasping. Respiratory distress is never a good sign, but Flo’s thrown medical tantrums that turned into nothing before. In November, she terrified us with “fixin’-to-die” symptoms, only to be entirely fine.

Naturally, I assumed and hoped and prayed my pancreas out that this, too, would be a non-event.

But it was an event.

Flo had unceremoniously flown into full-on congestive heart failure, and a second hole had stretched open in her heart. She’d need continuous oxygen support for a couple of days – and from there, we’d be blessed big-time if we could keep her going for a few more months. She wasn’t going to get better. She wasn’t going to see her first birthday.

As it happens, she also wasn’t going to see the inside of Tabby’s Place again.

The emergency vet tried to transition Florence our of her oxygen cage, but our littlest wild child couldn’t breathe comfortably for even a few moments on her own. To bring her back for a full-staff “goodbye” would have been cruel. Ginny flew to her side and poured as much love as possible into Flo’s final moments.

I’m told that, even as she was fading, Florence valiantly fought the veterinarian with bites and growls and all manner of Florencian wildness. I’m proud of her. I wish that wildness was enough to keep her fluorescing here with us.

The full horror of Florence’s death didn’t hit me until I stepped out into the cold night air at the end of that day at Tabby’s Place. Suddenly it was as though someone had punched me in the belly and stolen my air, and I gasped for a sob that didn’t come.

Much as I sing of the eternal life to come, knowing that death is a defeated enemy doesn’t always make things easier down here. I think I’m in good company as I ache and wait for the healing of the cosmos. Even Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, even as he knew He was about to raise him again.

Death is wrong. Death of a kitten, death that brings a wildly-alive calico home in a cardboard “coffin,” is violently wrong.

But death will never conquer.

Florence, I am aching even as I’m trusting in the hope of your resurrection. If we thought you were full-stop-fabulous here, you will overwhelm us with your everlasting aliveness there.121119-florence-by-jbh

Since I titled this post with a Les Miserables song in mind, it’s only right that I should close with one:

Do you hear the people sing?
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise

They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord
They will walk behind the ploughshare
They will put away the sword
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!

Florence’s tomorrow has only just begun. And, whether or not she’s willing to put away the sword/claws in heaven, she’s whole and hale and fully alive. May we be counted among those who join her.

Thumbnail photo by Mark, first photo by John, last two photos by Jess.

11 thoughts on “An empty place in the kitten room

  1. Angela – I heard about this yesterday and it broke my heart! We were just there on Sunday afternoon and she had appeared to be ok. Believe it or not, when we entered the kitten room, Flo was curled up nose to nose with Drita on the cat tower. Of course I wasn’t able to get a picture due to her fiesty-ness 🙂 I’m so glad that I was able to spend that time with her even though she was taken from this world way too soon. Rest in peace sweet baby

  2. Oh Angela, You totally got me with the Les Miz song. That song makes me cry every time. So naturally I’m doubly sobbing now! What a perfect tribute to beautiful Florence. RIP sweet angel.

  3. I’ve read so many wonderful things about Flo, and I’m so sorry to learn of her passing. Her little life here burned brightly and quickly, but touched the hearts of so many. It never seems okay when something like this happens, but even less so when it happens to a tiny one like Flo. <3

  4. Those of us who got to meet this little darling are so much the better for it. Thank you, Angela, for the most beautiful post you have ever written. Thank you, Lord, for people like Angela and those at Tabby’s Place — and for all the cats, especially Florence. Rest in peace, sweet girl.

  5. Angela, what a beautiful and touching tribute to little angel Florence. I loved her the minute I set eyes on her. I pray we’ll all see her again over the rainbow bridge. Love to you all for loving her just as she was.

  6. The last couple of Sundays, I saw Florence circled up in a ball, on one of the branches of the cat tree. I just assumed she had finally “calmed down”. I was so sadden to hear of her passing and the kitten room will definetly never be the same without FLORENCE THERE!

  7. I know these sorts of reports are inevitable in the Tabby’s Place world, but it still stinks. I humbly ask Florence to give my love to a far too long list of kitties I have known and who have moved on. Smudgie and I send our love to everyone at TP and on this blog. Go hug your kitties (if they’ll safely let you).

  8. No kittens in the kitten room 🙁
    All I got to say is Florence is in the hands of Gods. I bet you that Florence will be a Angel Cat!
    I am crying right this minute. I actually felt my heart beat that day and I was crying, I knew something was wrong! Florence Looked really pretty! So sad!
    R.I.P. Florence! I love you very much sweetie!
    When i step outside today in the cold I will probably feel the same!
    Good night!
    Best Regards Meow,
    Cat Man (Jacob Tepsa)
    Florence will be okay in Heaven <3

  9. RIP – Flo, you will be missed, at least during your short life you got to know love and affection, even if you resisted a bit. The loss of an animal is tough but a young kitten makes it tougher. I know the feeling, I lost a 5 week old foster a few months ago, but as with Flo she is still in my thoughts.

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