Another Sad Goodbye

I’m trying the “write through your grief” thing on for size today. Not sure it’ll work, and I know I’ll be far from eloquent, but here goes. Long post ahead…

Pets. They speak to you in their own ways and love you with their whole heart. And when you have to let them go, the pain of it almost defies description. A few weeks ago, on Halloween evening, our darling little 17-year-old cat, Possum, was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour on her jaw bone. This past week, we had to face the heartbreaking reality—the tumour was growing quickly and aggressively. There were other problems, but I won’t go into them now. Her quality of life was diminishing and nothing could be done for her aside from giving doses of heavy painkillers three times a day. Yesterday, December 8, our local vet came to the house and put Possum to sleep on my lap under the shade of her favourite avocado tree.

There are so many great memories of Possum that I want to keep alive. Like the day we went to a breeder intending to get a British shorthair, but we were pounced on by this scrappy, marsupial-like kitten when we walked in. A failed ocicat, the breeder called her, because she failed to “spot.” The 14-week-old kitten successfully climbed up my husband’s jeans legs, then mine. It was written: we were the chosen ones. Despite wanting so desperately to come home with us, Possum cried for the entire first night.

Possum at just a few months old in 1999.
Possum at just a few months of age in 1999. This was taken pre-digital cameras.

But she soon became attached to us and her new big bro, Pinklepurr. I’d never known a cat to love so hard and so much. And she was a talker. I swear you’d say something and she’d reply quite thoughtfully. I think most owners of talkative Oriental cats will know what I mean! We also soon found out that she fetched things like a dog. Toy mice and pistachio nuts were her favourite play things. She understood the words “no” and “excuse me.” The latter was used if she was on my lap and I needed to get up. She had a congenital weepy eye. We’d sing the Kleenex tissue song to her and wipe her eye clean. Afterwards, she’d blink up at us gratefully. In cat language, slow blinking means “I’m happy. I’m smiling.”

Possum relaxing in the garden she loved so much.
Possum relaxing in the garden she loved so much. Even that weepy eye could not detract from her beauty!

She could always be counted on to make up her own games. Possum taught us some too, like what we called the stair game, which was kind of like tennis. She would sit halfway up a staircase and bat a toy mouse down at us. Our job was to throw the mouse at her and she’d skilfully lob it back. When she got tired of playing, she’d find unusual places to snooze. One day I arrived home to find her sleeping on a dish draining rack above the kitchen sink.

Possum was the kind of cat who had to be involved in everything going: house renovations (twice), folding bedsheets, sorting cupboards, wrapping gifts, helping me write, making phone calls, or opening boxes. (The box would become her new bed for the following three days, then she would discard it.) We bought a Possum-sized stepladder so she could watch us cook from the end of the kitchen bench.

Our cats were only allowed outside under supervision. But in the chaos of a renovation, one night she slipped out after curfew. I found her on the back porch very early the next morning, looking scruffy and carting around a T-bone that she’d scrounged from a neighbour’s yard. She acted like she’d been abandoned and wandering in the wilderness for weeks instead of hours.

One night a real possum (the marsupial kind) visited our yard. Possum and the possum locked gazes. They seemed to be quite confused but fascinated by one another.

Many people think cats are aloof. But not all of them are snooty. Personable Possum used to run to the front door to greet us when we came home. (That said, she disliked other cats, especially fluffy-tailed ones, and dogs.) As soon as I sat down, Possum would take her rightful place on my lap or my laptop. For a long time, she wanted to sleep in our bed. A photo my husband took of Poss and I asleep side by side even made it into the Awkward Family Pet Photos book. We often joked about getting a baby sling for her because she always wanted to stick close to her humans. I made a silly photo blog for our cats; it was short-lived, but today that blog gave me huge comfort.

This photo of P&P ended up in the I Can Has Cheezburger desk calendar one year.

Writing this post now, it’s incredibly tough to not have Possum here on my lap, with her white chin on resting my left arm. I already even miss getting clawed (never deliberately). It’s… Yeah, I need some tissues. BRB.

Okay. Do I feel better after writing this post? Marginally. I already miss the way she looked up at us with so much love in her eyes, the way she’d keep me warm when I was sick, keep me company on the couch. I even miss clearing out her litter tray. Weird, I know. We’ve gone from a two-cat household to a zero-cat household in less than a year, and it’s so, so hard to bear.

But as a close friend just said to me, and I hope she won’t mind me repeating it here, “You will never forget her and you will always love her, but day by day, it will get a little easier to bear.” For my own healing, I’ll probably revisit to this post as I remember all the fun things Possum did in her 17 years. And I still have literally hundreds of photos and videos of her. Hundreds. Maybe sorting through those day by day will ease the pain some more.

I’m grateful to the amazing vets and nurses at Sydney Animal Hospitals for taking such good care of Possum for the past 10 years and right to the very end. They kindly sent us a cute bunch of flowers today. Thank you to my friends and family who’ve shared our loss privately. Your words have really meant a lot and given us strength. I want to single out my boss, who isn’t a cat man, but understood the special relationship with Possum and gave me time off in the days leading up to our loss. *Thank you*

Vale, dear Possum, ultimate lapcat, substitute baby, and writing partner. I still can’t believe you’re gone. You brought us joy every single day. I hope you and Pinkie are together once more.

Possum and Pinkie.
Possum and her adoring big brother, Pinkie.

That’s Possum helping me wrap a present I’d bought for a friend from the British Museum.

Eating corn on the cob.

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Goodbye, Old Friend

About 19 years ago, a friendly little black kitten wandered into my laundry and rubbed against my newly clean clothes. Our then next-door neighbour, Dana, a doctor, found him — Pinklepurr — doing the rounds of her hospital north of Brisbane, Australia. She took him home as a companion to her terrier, Scully. Pretty soon, Pinkie and Scully became best friends, often chasing each other up and down the halls and stairs of our house.

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Eventually, Pinkie decided he preferred our company full-time and moved in with us. Life would never be the same again! Pinkie soon established himself as the tough guy of the neighbourhood. His main rival was Tiger, an enormous grey cat who lived two doors up. We kept him inside at night, but by day, he would steal other cats’ kibble (or crunchies as we call them in our household). We did our best to keep him out of trouble, but Pinkie, ever the Houdini, always found a way outside. He’d climb out of second-storey windows. And re-enter through second-storey windows.

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Unfortunately, he ate so much “inferior”-brand crunchies that he developed two types of painful bladder crystals. He almost died then. But he fought through it – the vet said he was “fit as a Mallee bull.” No more inferior food for this little black cat. The vet said he could only eat a premium-food diet for the rest of his life. After that, we adopted a little sister for Pinkie, a kitten we named Possum. He adored and protected her from day one.

The four of us moved to Sydney, to McElhone Place, a charming street where a family of ginger cats ruled. Pinkie was very much out-numbered and he fought a little less. He spent a lot more time with me indoors. In fact, I’m pretty sure he was by my side when I finished my very first manuscript back in 2004. At times, he enjoyed a walk in the nearby playground with my husband. All you had to say was “Walkies for Porkies?” (’cause he was a bit tubby at this stage) and Pinkie would beg to go out for a stroll.

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We moved a couple more times, eventually settling into our current home nine years ago, where I think Pinkie was happiest. Three floors to explore, lots of sunshine, and of course a loving family. I started obsessively taking photos of my kitties. So much so that I made a short-lived blog site called P&P Furball Factory. Pinkie got a real taste for fame when he and Possum were featured on the I Can Has Cheezburger site and, later, published in the ICHC 2012 desk calendar.

Like his mum (me), Pinkie loved watching TV. A show called Totally Wild was his favourite because it often had animal guests. One night, he watched a documentary about the black wolves of Yellowstone National Park. He looked terrified, often turning to us with wide black eyes whenever the wolves howled on TV. For about a week after that, he would not go outside. I guess he was convinced wolves were literally at our door!

Age started creeping up on Pinkie. He went 100% deaf about a year or so ago. He’d stick to Possum like glue whenever they dozed in the backyard. It was a survival mechanism. If she moved, he moved. Then last year, Pinkie started getting seizures. The vets theorised these seizures could have been caused by a tumour or a stroke. Because of his age, we decided not to get an MRI and that we would manage his condition. And Pinkie was happy and playful enough for the most part. He’d yowl a lot, which he never did before, and he’d demand to be fed every half hour rather than every eight hours.

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But, unfortunately, just this past Christmas morning, Pinkie’s body decided it was time to go. I’m sure you’ll understand if I don’t talk about what exactly happened. Let’s just say he was a fighter to the end, a tough Mallee bull. It’s been a week and it is still very difficult to even think about it. I would like to thank everyone at the University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Sydney for easing our beloved boy’s pain.

A good friend of mine was in a town called Wondai over the Christmas break. This town is about 30km from where Pinkie was found all those years ago. She saw a black cat doing the rounds of the local hospital. The nurses explained it was a therapy cat. Wouldn’t it be lovely to think this cat was a relative of Pinkie’s, carrying on the family tradition?

Pinkie, you loved and were loved for 19 wonderful years. We miss you. You’ll never be forgotten. RIP.

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Tree Change

I’m really ashamed to say it, but until last night I’d never visited the iconic Taronga Zoo during my thirteen years living in Sydney. But I finally did make it there. Not to see the animals but to see jazz musician James Morrison‘s Twilight at Taronga concert. The zoo exhibits were closed, but we did spot tree kangaroos* on our way to the stage as well as a male Asian elephant. In between songs, we could hear what sounded like a jungle full of animals screeching and baying. It wasn’t clear whether or not their calls were in appreciation of the human trumpeters, though.

*I’m also ashamed to say I didn’t know tree kangaroos existed. Did you know? I shot a little video, so now we have proof:

Tomorrow (that’s Monday, March 16, US time), I’ll be a ghost…sorry, guest on Darynda Jones‘s blog for Beam Me Up Mondays. Join me as I talk about guests…uh, ghosts, and you could win a This Is Your Afterlife audiobook!

Tickets are on sale for the Readers & Writers Down Under event on the Gold Coast, Australia, March 27 to 28. I’m looking forward to two days of workshops and panels. Visiting authors include bestsellers Kylie Scott and Abbi Glines. If you’re planning to come along, be sure to drop in at the book signing on Saturday, March 28. I’ll be there alongside my fellow Bloomsbury author Marianne Curley. Click here for more details.