Trigger Warning: Pet Loss
There are so many beautiful gifts our fur babies give us, but I’ve heard it said the greatest one is an appreciation for how short our time here really is. Three weeks ago, we said goodbye to one of our cats as she crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
My heart still feels like someone took a melon baller to it and scooped out the small piece she held so tight, and the pit in my stomach still makes me nauseous.
I’m actually finishing writing this on the day of my deadline, having avoided looking at it, knowing my creativity was sapped and the only thing I could logically write about was the tiny little furball that stole my heart a few days shy of 11 years ago.
Sage’s body may have topped out at 7lbs at her heaviest (averaging about 6), and her voice was literally a teeny chirp (shortly after adopting her, my parents visited and thought we had a bird in our bedroom; it wasn’t until I opened the door that they believed me that a cat was making that noise), but her personality dominated.
She was the sweetest cat I think has ever graced the earth, spending endless hours on my shoulder throughout her time with us, and curling up in a ball next to my cheek when it was time for bed. She was our dainty, adorable princess. Our big, mean-ish tuxedo cat was her enforcer, defending her when our tattle tale shepherd mix would try to interrupt whatever Sage was doing. Even if it was getting in trouble, she could do no wrong. She was perfect, and she got away with whatever she wanted because of it.
We adopted Sage when she was about two. She still had the adventurous kitten energy, careening between the recycling bin, paper bags, and the tops of tall furniture during her frequent zoomie episodes. That same spark once resulted in her getting stuck in a small gap between our upper cabinets and the wall when she was about five. I thought we’d lose her that day, but our building super tore the cabinets off the wall to pull her out. Turns out she may have saved our lives. There was black mold behind the cabinets and I’m immunocompromised. We wound up needing to gut and renovate our entire condo.
Years went by, and she was my constant companion. From sitting in my suitcase while I packed for my wedding and honeymoon to sitting on my keyboard while I wrote my dissertation proposal and on my belly while pregnant with both my kids, she was a steady and loving presence.
During the years of trying unsuccessfully to have kids, the heartache of wanting to grow our family, and not being able to, it was Sage who comforted me. She was my first cat; my dad is allergic, so I couldn’t have one growing up. I was hesitant to adopt a cat after years of only having dogs, but she sold me on how great they are. If only every cat could be as great as her.
The last year of her life was spent sleeping on my son’s bed more than mine, though she’d greet me every morning with a bright chirp, waiting outside my bedroom door for me to wake and put her up on my shoulder for some cuddles and a ride. She had taken to the little hairless overlords well, and I’m convinced she would have eventually become my son’s cat if she had lived just a bit longer. I would have been okay with that. One of the great joys in my life has been watching the bond grow between my biological children and my adopted fur babies.
A few days before her passing, Sage became withdrawn. We initially attributed it to her not liking a foster cat that we had quarantined in our spare room at the top of our steps, a room she used to frequent. The next day, she wouldn’t come out of our bedroom without me bringing her out. By Friday, she stopped eating, and that night, she collapsed in her litter box. She spent the night in our bed, getting some last cuddles, as we knew what the next day would likely bring.
Saturday, she was gone. It all happened incredibly fast. The vet told us it was likely a massive stroke, but we’ll never know for sure.
The days since she passed have felt a lot more empty. That tiny creature had an outsized place in our home, which feels so much quieter without her in it. I still expect to see her warming herself atop a heating vent or hear her chirp when I round a corner.
That foster cat found a permanent home with us, and his markings are similar to Sage’s. When I see him out of the corner of my eye, I sometimes think it is her. That probably hurts more than any of the reminders.
We’ve not shielded our children from our grief. My husband and I committed to teaching our kids about feelings and how to handle them in a healthy way. Our youngest is too small to understand what happened, but we brought our oldest to the vet to say goodbye (though he left before the procedure).
We felt saying goodbye at the vet would solidify that she wasn’t coming back versus saying goodbye at home. We had a small memorial for Sage when we got her ashes. Our son helped us pick out a plant to commemorate her life. An azalea. Much like her, the blooms are fiery, beautiful, and bold.
Sage is gone, but the impact she had on our lives isn’t. I’m now a cat lady, so there is that. There is the compassion she taught my son for things so much smaller than he. There is the kitten that now has a home because she not only made me love cats but left a space for us to adopt a new one.
I tell him regularly he isn’t Sage, but thankfully he doesn’t listen. I love that uncoordinated, goofy, gangly, nearly full-grown weirdo already. And he loves us, it seems. He spends most of his days playing with my kids and sleeping as close as possible to us; even when that means being subjected to toddler tail pulls and being pelted with toys (note: we work hard to teach our children to be gentle, but as any parent of fur and human babies will tell you, things happen). I’ve tried kicking him out of the room, but he just comes back for more, so I’ve given up.