“Grief does not change you…It reveals you.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
If you’ve followed my adventures since I began blogging seven years ago, you know that many of them after fall 2013 involved Dino the Wondercat. I met him through an old friend when the kitty was 12 years old, and adopted him at 14 after the same friend moved to the Philippines. Throughout the course of our relationship, the tiny gray and white ball of fur with the light pink nose never topped six pounds. His smallness in no way prevented Dino from being one of the most handsomely demanding animals the world has bequeathed. Head scratches, love and constant warmth were high on the list of orders. He had his own heating pad. About food, Dino could be prickly and high maintenance. We had numerous conversations about it. I would alternately plead and threaten. He would listlessly yawn by way of answer.
It was love at first sight and for eternity. I adored my beautiful, little old man. We were a contented duo until a year ago when Bob, Meko and Jude entered our lives. Neither Dino nor I were entirely sure how we’d take to dogs and a strong, silent marathon man. Very quickly we wondered how we ever lived without them. And we became the five fingers of a hand – capable of moving individually, but better and more flexible as a unit.
At the start of the New Year, Dino was 16 and a half years old. Slower certainly but no less cute and plucky. After we moved in with Bob and the pups last June, Dino enjoyed a consistent second wind at his back – exploring the hallways and recesses of his new home, teasing the dogs and forming a particularly charming bond with Bob. Dino would often “help” my partner with the laundry, climbing hills of clean, warm clothes and stepping on Bob’s feet as he tried to sort piles. The two boys developed a call and response routine. The sometimes skittish Dino grew quite verbal, engaging with the human love of my life in soft-spoken dialogue.
The comedian Louis C.K. once labeled the adoption of a pet “a countdown to sorrow.” His painful humor hits at an essential truth of animal love. They return it so unconditionally and so well, yet they remain with us a relatively short time. In Dino’s case, I knew the era we’d enjoy together would be particularly brief. Always so kitten like, due to his tiny stature and sweet visage, but already 14 when he came to dominate my studio apartment.
We had two and a half wonderful years. But Dino could not live forever and with much anguish, Bob and I laid him to rest nearly two weeks ago. In the end, he was very ill, suffering a stroke and kidney failure. However in a cat’s dodgy way, compounded by Dino’s own perversity, he seemed just fine. Until he wasn’t. One Monday morning moment he was walking toward his Daddy for a perfunctory cuddle. The next second he’d fallen off the bed and was paralyzed. I did not witness this instantaneous end of our baby as we knew him. That cross is Bob’s horrendous one to bear alone, and there’s tremendous regret on that point. I want to share everything with him – including the terrible stuff.
I suppose if there’s a bright side to Dino’s loss from our family, it’s realizing that. I learned so much about the strength of mine and Bob’s relationship and our commitment to supporting each other in the hours and days following Dino’s collapse. In our shock and grief, we were nonetheless a well-oiled machine of solid decision making, emotional sharing and affirmation of our love for one another. My partner and I have been together almost exactly a year and we’ve encountered some tough spots, rather gracefully, but this was our first devastating blow. I’m twice divorced and walk in front of a trail littered with broken, dysfunctional bonds. I have failed, and been failed, in crisis.
This time when I went slack, and my significant other joined me, the experience was awful but strangely healthy. I’ve never felt so understood. In hindsight the observation seems relatively naïve but the certainty of a partnership can go a long way in soothing a broken heart. We turned toward each rather than away or against.
Dino is gone from our daily lives, but neither absent nor forgotten. After we returned from the vet’s office and cleaned out “Dino’s room,” once again known as the laundry and guest space, Bob embarked on a photo project. The result is what you see above – a collage of our favorite digital snapshots featuring the departed bambino. My partner printed, mounted and hung them on the section of the laundry room where his litterbox once stood. Dino remains king of the throne. We would have liked the doggies included but in eight months of trying, we could never get two energetic pups and an itty bitty kitty to sit still together for a frame. Go figure.
When Bob and I find ourselves in Dino’s room at the same time, we gravitate toward the family photos and without words, sink into a long embrace. We know what we’re feeling without speech. We miss him. We’re sad. But we have one another. Always. We suspected it I’m sure, but losing Dino made our essential togetherness as clear as his constant demands for attention.