On Love, Loss, and Lessons (Or, Goodbye Dolce)
This post originally appeared on our old blog, Born to be a Bride.
On Friday night, we found our beloved seven-year-old cat Dolce dead on the bedroom floor. I don’t know which part got me worse, at first… the fact that I had been in the living room eating popcorn and drinking wine not realizing he was in the next room, gone. The fact that he was so young and (to our knowledge) in perfect health. The fact that in his final moments he was alone, and not with me. (A lot of cats are not cuddlers, mine was one… to a ridiculous degree).
It takes a lot of strength and sadness to fuel this post because I honestly feel like even as a writer I don’t have the words to express what I’m feeling. Dolce was the first being whose life depended solely on me and was in essence, my first child. Every single night after I’d put Willow to bed he would lie on my chest purring. He’s been around since before Josh and was an integral part of the healing process I underwent that spring after a cruel breakup that had left me raw and terribly self-conscious.
Dolce moved with me from Manhattan to Brooklyn and then with Josh and me to two different Dallas apartments, two more in Virginia, over to Maryland and eventually up here to Jersey City. He was super-adaptable and up for change, as long as we were nearby. In the past several weeks while preparing to move into our house in the suburbs, I was consumed by fears about Dolce. I wanted to figure out a way to secure every door, every window. What kind of signage could I put up out front, back, and on the sides of the house to ensure visitors wouldn’t let him out? It’s ironic now that for all those months, years really of panic, I would lose him like this. Nothing I feared would be the culprit, in the end.
There were many times in his too-short life when he would sneak off under a bed or in a crack between a sofa and a wall and be “missing” for a while. I would always feel an engulfing swell of panic as I looked for him, trying desperately to remember if the front door had recently been opened. Could he have gotten out?? Every time I found him, hiding, confused at my dramatics, I would squeeze him and think, Thank God. He’s fine. That wasn’t real. You thought you lost him, but it wasn’t real.
All weekend and again this morning, the same old reliable feeling would crop up when I’d hear a creak or see a shadow move across my field of vision. Oh, Thank God. It’s all been a terrible dream. He’s fine. You thought you lost him, but it wasn’t real.
This time, of course, it is real. It’s heartbreaking and so raw. I recently wrote an article for Momtastic on the subject of projected loss. It was scaring me how happy and complete our lives were feeling just a few short weeks ago. A twisted, magical-thinking part of me wants to crawl back in time and into my emails, delete the pitch and un-write the story. Save him.
On Friday night as Josh called veterinary hospitals to figure out what to do, where to go, I fumbled around haplessly in the kitchen, my back to Willow so she couldn’t see the tears.
I’ll never forget staring blankly at the contents of the cupboard as I rummaged for ingredients to throw together something that vaguely resembles a toddler’s dinner, and the words hit me that I had been trying to deny since the moment we’d found him: I guess I was due for a loss.
For the most part, people have been supportive. But I would be hard-pressed to ignore the comment, “This isn’t the worst thing that will happen in your life, believe me.” That one circles around a lot, along with my own words about being due for a loss. The two seem unrelated but they’re not.
Losing a pet is maybe not the worst thing that will happen in your life. I do believe that. I won’t verbalize the other things I could lose because clearly, I’ve jinxed myself enough in writing this month. I know that having a happy, healthy husband and daughter are important. But these people, and our beloved family dog, don’t “make up” for Dolce’s life. That is still a loss. He is still a shape, a piece of the puzzle that fit in my heart. There is a hole there now, even with his memory.
We had a lot of good times together. I won’t list them here because my love for my cat isn’t something I’m willing to hold up in a space for my critics to pull apart or objectify. If you’ve ever loved an animal, though, you know. You just do. The sorrow, the exquisite pain of the loss they leave behind them when they go. It’s excruciating and yet so beautiful. In my mind and in my heart he’ll always be smashing his slightly chunky body against my fresh black leggings and leaving a trail of annoying white fur behind him. I almost don’t want to rub the scratch marks out of our fine leather sofa or wash the duvet atop which he slept, right at our feet. I’m scared to erase the final imprints of his sweet life even though I know I have to.
On a deep level I do believe that life is for the living. From Dolce’s loss we learned a lot this weekend, including the fact that Josh and I spend entirely too much time on our phones instead of focusing on the wind in our daughter’s hair or the hint of a smile on each other’s faces. And while Dolce always came to us for cuddles, we learned we need to start going to the dog for them. He’s timid and not pushy, but he needs the love, too.
Parts of me wish I had known what was coming, because the suddenness of the loss is so open and hollow. We don’t know exactly what happened, but the doctor’s best guess includes something we couldn’t have predicted. I wish I had spent that entire day with him on my chest, saying goodbye instead of huddled in another room, typing furiously into my laptop as always, lost in my work and forgetting my life.
But we can’t take back the past. We can work to change things in the future and we can move forward to honor the legacy of the ones we’ve lost. Yes, I have said goodbye to far too many humans in my life. Each death is its own tragedy with a complex story of pain. For whatever reason, losing Dolce on a random Friday at a moment when life looked almost perfect is just going to stick with me for a while. Maybe I wasn’t due for a loss, after all. Maybe life just throws them in at random. Whatever the meaning in all of this, I won’t forget him. Life with him was just far too sweet.