Eras end. Chapters close.
But sometimes we just can’t brace ourselves for the turn of the page.
Hearts as distant as Australia felt the cold breeze from this page ruffling over. After eighteen-and-a-half years of triumphant life, six of them at Tabby’s Place, Mittens left this world on Saturday.
People “should” be prepared for such things. A feline of 18 1/2 is equivalent to a human blowing out 90 birthday candles — a blessing, not to be taken for granted. By any measure, Mittens was at a ripe old age, “an old man and full of years,” as the King James Version might put it.
Yet we weren’t prepared.
You could say that we had been prepared — forcibly, unwillingly prepared — many times over for this parting. Of the 1,300+ cats in Tabby’s Place history, Mittens may be the one to have most often danced the death spiral — and won. He almost died upon arrival, slashed by some wild forest beast. He almost died shortly after arrival, his diabetes so out of control it would make Miley Cyrus blush. He almost died of pancreatitis. He almost died of high blood glucose and low blood glucose.
He almost, he almost, he almost…but he didn’t. Each reprieve “should” have prepared us. But each reprieve only cemented the sense that Mittens would be different. This would be the one who would live forever. This would be the one we could take for granted, just a little. This would be the one who would always be there.
We weren’t prepared.
Mittens was my first “favorite cat” at Tabby’s Place. I’ve since learned that having a “favorite cat” is a little like having a favorite sunrise. You will have many as you walk this world. But each one will be no less a favorite for sharing the honor with others.
Mittens came to Tabby’s Place a week to the day after I started here, wet behind the ears and completely clueless about fundraising or diarrhea or any of the things I’d soon come to know so well. The morning we took Mittens was the morning I “got it” what Tabby’s Place was about. I sat in awe as a rapid fire phone call unfolded in front of me: a cat was unwanted, unloved and unlikely to live more than a few hours. Did we want him? Of course we wanted him.
So it began. And for about two years, I hovered in perpetual fear that Mittens would die.
When he first emerged from that initial health crisis, seven bony pounds of stripes and spark, I begged him to thrive. He did.
When he had pancreatitis, two feeding tubes and an e-collar all wrapped up in a bow reading “prognosis: grave,” I held Mittens’ head in my hands like a vise and said to him, verbatim, “I cannot lose you. YOU NEED TO LIVE.” He did.
When Tails, my second “favorite cat,” died of heart disease, I sprinted sobbing into the Lounge, grabbed Mittens like a sack of flour and wrapped him in my arms, just to feel his warm purring life and know that he was okay. The world was okay. It would all be okay. It was.
I don’t think I took Mittens for granted, exactly. Yet I stopped being afraid of his death as surely as most of us stop being afraid of going to the basement alone. (OK, that’s a lie. Everyone who is honest will tell you that they’re still afraid of going to the basement alone. But you get the point.)
I didn’t stop trembling because I stopped loving him. I think the death of my fright had something to do with the fact that “perfect love casts out all fear.”
When love is deep and strong and old enough, it becomes immortal. When you know your love can’t lose or die or end, there’s nothing left to fear. If nothing can separate you from the love, the love can go ahead and kill the fear.
Maybe I was more prepared than I thought.
Even as I ache, there’s a supernatural serenity in these first strange days of a world without Mittens. The football-shaped tabby who would cross the seas for “his Jonathan,” who ate asparagus and practiced “feline Jenga” and sprinted gleefully into the women’s bathroom to play with the water faucet as soon as I came in each morning, no longer strutted among us. But there was a peace beyond understanding, a quiet comfort that this love would transcend this lifetime.
Mittens now sees what we earthsuit-clad creatures can only believe. Marvelous, unsinkable Mittens, you are alive with a Love that death cannot touch. Your human beans are weeping for the night, but our joy will come in the morning.
We will meet again, when every fear is cast out utterly and eternally.
A mere page has turned. But the Great Story begins, ever-old and ever-new.