“We can’t lose Donna.”
These are the sorts of ridiculous, unrealistic, inappropriate and painful things we say to our vet team at Tabby’s Place.
But we say them, and we keep saying them, and I have no expectation that we’ll stop saying them.
Even though they don’t “work.”
I was guilty of saying the aforementioned awful sentence last week. “We can’t lose Donna.” I’m
pretty sure shamefully certain that I also babbled self-indulgently about how much Donna means to me, and how special my bond is with Donna, and how Donna and I understand each other, and please please please don’t let the awfulness hurt me me me me me.
But also childlike.
The cats have a way of reducing us to our littleness, shrinking us back into our Garanimals and velcro sneaks. Even the steeliest among us (I speak not of myself, She Who Is Steely As A Cotton Ball) go all gooey when it comes to these luminous, fragile beings.
In some ways, it is “safe” to love cats, safe in ways that loving humans can never be. You know where you stand with a cat, and you can find refuge in their judgment-free hearts no matter what you are and fear and do. To bond with a cat is to find yourself both known and loved, that miraculous combination that challenges lesser beings like humans and mollusks.
To share that miraculous know-and-love bond with a cat is also to let yourself be yourself. I’ve seen it numberless times, the way the most guarded people will smelt down to their essence with a cat they’ve known ten minutes, in ways they may never do with people they’ve known sixty years.
And so we’re led, little lambs who know we’re no wolves, to say things like, “We can’t lose Donna.”
Donna was wildly loved by throngs of friends, but I can only speak for myself. (Me, me, me, me, me…) The almond-eyed creamsicle cat with the funny, sheeplike (but not sheepish) meow became one of my refuges very early into her Tabby’s Place tenure. I have a special affection for the diabetics, having had a wonky pancreas myself since age nine, but Donna would have devoured my affections with or without a diagnosis.
Matter-of-fact in her meow and her friendships, Donna was not really a “mush.” She’d settle into your leg as you sat beside her, purrverberating as you dug into a good petting session, but she wouldn’t flatter you with gushy goo. She would, however, take you in all your ridiculousness as you ad-libbed songs about glucose tablets and carbs and why the Lounge is always full of biscotti. (No, really; it is. Some club-store fairy ensures that there is a Costco-sized vat of biscotti on the Lounge table at all times. Also pretzels.) She would embrace both of your childlikeness, you with your emotions and she with her fondness for stuffed animals (no, really; see photos).
Donna’s diabetes was never terribly terrible, and she handled her daily pokes with a shrug and a sheeplike meow. (“Maa-a-a-a-ah.”) Beautiful but not concerned with beauty, she could make you laugh and make you feel at home just by being.
Funny thing, isn’t it; it’s the creatures most comfortable in their own skin who naturally make us feel okay in ours. Donna was A-OK with her place in the world, and by simply “being,” she slid you into the warm bath of a non-anxious presence.
Donna was a friend in all the ways that count.
It goes without saying that we were not ready to lose Donna. Her illness was swift and vicious, a one-two punch of kidney failure and an upper respiratory infection. She came home to Tabby’s Place between emergency vet stints, but she’d turned off the lamp behind her eyes. Goodbye was imminent. There was nothing we (our vet team) did not try on Donna’s behalf. There was nothing we (humanity) could do to hold her. Still, we (I) believed in the power of my petulant pleas.
I was hours away when the news came through as a text message, and as I stood shaking and salty in the shadow of Barnegat Light, I felt shrunken by the loss. A great light had gone out, without my permission, without any warning, as if that would help, as if it ever helps.
We couldn’t lose Donna, but we did.
And yet I cling, childlike, childish, small and blind, faith seeking understanding but knowing it may not come. We did not lose the love that cannot die. We did not lose the life-beyond-life that can’t be lost.
I don’t presume to understand the ways that cats come to heal us, only to leave us shredded but sweeter, gutted but stronger, bereaved but not alone. Death is the final enemy, and may the day hasten when it sees its last.
In the meantime, I’ll cast my lot with the cats and children, dreamers and diabetics, broken luminous creatures who know more than they can “know.”
Until we meet again, thank you, oh Donna, my friend.