Suddenly my cell phone began to buzz with an incoming call. My mom’s contact photo flashed on my screen, and I reached to pick it up.
“Jo…” she hesitated. “When I came home today, I found Mei Mei hiding and a spot of blood on the couch.” My stomach tensed, and a moment of shocked silence passed before mom continued. “She’s moving her mouth as if she’s uncomfortable, the poor kitty. I am taking her to the vet tomorrow as soon as they can fit her in.”
After a long pause, I reluctantly asked, “What do you think it is, Mom?”
She explained that Mei Mei’s discomfort could result from an abscessed tooth or something more serious such as a ruptured tumor. She gently informed me that if fixing it required an involved and expensive surgery, they planned to put her down instead. By this time, the tension in my stomach had expanded throughout my whole body. I wouldn’t say I liked this plan at all, but I had to admit that it made sense.
Mei Mei, a downy, grey Himalayan kitten, came into my five-year-old world as a birthday present. The two of us grew up together, and, in many ways, she felt as close to me as my human companions. She often climbed up my bunk bed ladder to sleep with me at night, and during the day, she became my little shadow, following me all around the house as I went about my chores and play.
For 15 years, she lived a healthy, energetic life, but during her 16th, she slowed down considerably, and finding her asleep on a couch or bed became the new norm. I had sensed for a while that she was reaching the end of her life, but hearing that she might be gone the next day brought this inkling into a new and uncomfortably close reality.
After ending the call with my mom, I texted the unhappy news to a few of my closest friends, who sent back hope and support messages. Without feeling much better, I tried to push the fog of worrying thoughts out of my mind.
Throughout the next day, I received multiple updates from my mom.
“Headed to the vet with our kitty…”
“Waiting for the vet.”
“It’s most likely cancer. She has a huge hole under her tongue.”
“Euthanizing her soon…”
Dealing With Grief
I had known this day would come, but its inevitability did not make navigating the loss any less difficult. I had expected that I would be sad, but the conflicting nature of my sadness surprised me. One part of me acknowledged the reasonableness of my grief because I had lost an important piece belonging to my childhood and my personhood and character. At the same time, however, another piece of me felt silly and slightly embarrassed that I felt so emotional about an animal. Mei Mei was inconsequential to the rest of the world, and yet I cherished her.
As I lay under a heavy cloud of blankets and heartache and grief, I remembered a verse in the Bible where God asks us to become like little children. I used to puzzle at the meaning of the verse, but now I realized that caring for things that many forget is one way to become like little children, making the world a more open and kind place. In those quiet, solemn moments of contemplation, a deep peace slowly filled my heart, and I made a decision. I would let the remembrance of Mei Mei both guide me into a more open and kind existence that loves the little, forgotten things and motivate me to be more intentionally present with others in their grief, just as God has been present with me.
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