In September, our ten-year-old cat, Name-O, was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor, a fast-growing sarcoma between her shoulder blades. This was a terrible shock, as we expected to have her with us for another decade or so.
Name-O came to us when the children were respectively 18 months and 4 years of age; they chose her and named her (“and Name-O was her name-o”). She slept with them when they slept and napped close by when they were awake. She enjoyed their attention, though she let them know when she had reached her limit, always without biting or scratching. When they went off to school, she met them at the door every afternoon. She was a steady comforter of my drama-queen daughter and a boon companion to my cat-crazy son.
Name-O was large for a female cat. Her long, lean frame was easily twice the size of our other cats, and at fit adulthood she weighed 14 lbs. She had big round eyes of green and the longest whiskers I’ve ever seen. Her short fur was beautifully marked with black tabby stripes and swirls on a tawny background. Her underside was creamy with black mackerel spots, and she liked to roll over and invite us to rub her speckled belly. I was intrigued by the distinctive, diamond-shaped patch of light-colored fur that marked her nape. Her tail bore Tigger-like alternating half-stripes; she always carried it vertically, with the black tip crooked like a flag.
Like many cats, Name-O enjoyed exploring places that were difficult to access. She was a strong jumper and agile, but not always a good judge of where her large body would fit or how she’d get back out again once she had satisfied her curiosity. I could fill several pages with her hilarious (sometimes exasperating) exploits and mishaps involving shelves, ledges, and furniture both high and low.
Toward the end of her time with us, she spent most of her days in the master bedroom walk-in closet, which serves as a dressing room as well as storage space. We cleared a cubby for her next to the dresser and gave her a fleece blanket to lie on. Drawn by the sound of her loud purring whenever she heard someone enter the bedroom, we detoured into the closet a great deal more often than we might have otherwise, always with a word and a gentle touch for her. If she didn’t come downstairs when it was time to eat, we brought the food to her. Noticing she had difficulty getting up and down, the children set up a series of chairs and footstools so she could reach the cubby without jumping.
A friend once observed that one of the most precious gifts our animal companions give us is their mortality, for we enter into relationship with them in the knowledge that we will outlive them. Difficult though her dying was for everyone, none of us would forego the ten years of joy we had together to avoid the pain of those last few months.
She has been gone five weeks now, and I no longer glance at that cubby every time I put away clothes. I’ve finally broken myself of the habit of greeting her whenever I cross the threshold. I don’t cry when I get dressed anymore, but the master closet is still, for me, the saddest room in the house.