Kittens 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 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.
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.
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.