Sooner Came

Early in the morning, my cat Blanche passed away. She had been with me for sixteen years. It was very sudden, although not completely unexpected. As much as I might have been prepared for the loss, I was not ready. She was on the bed with me, and I was able to stroke her and kiss her and tell her how much I loved her. It was not easy to watch, and I don’t know if she knew what was happening, but I hope she felt love in her last moments. She was a cat with a unique personality, and I often felt she was more like a roommate than a pet.

She had been rescued from the streets by an old roommate who could never pass by an animal in need. But my roommate already had two cats, and told me this one was mine. I wasn’t sure at first – I was a struggling actor, barely able to support myself. I was worried about the cost of cat food, and the responsibility. But what would happen if I turned her away? I named her Blanche Du Bois, after the character in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” because she had a little white face, and as a stray, she depended on the kindness of strangers. I had always thought if I ever got a cat, I would get a beautiful orange tabby, not a little runt calico who seemed totally indifferent to me. But soon, eventually, I fell in love with her.

She was so tiny she fit in the palm of my hand. But she had a huge personality, and a very strong will. She demanded food, and ate it ravenously, something that barely changed in the sixteen years she was with me. She was not cuddly at all at first, and wanted little to do with me. She wanted to be fed, and then she wanted to go out. The first time I let her out I didn’t know if she would come back. But she did come back, and kept coming back. And soon, eventually, she was “mine.”

Blanche was with me through so many changes in my life. Through my fist job lay-off, when I didn’t know how I was going to pay the rent. And through the second one, and the third. Through the bad boyfriends. Through the career confusion. She hated it when I cried, which I did a lot in those dark days. I would be on my bed, sobbing about my life, and she’d look at me with what seemed to be disapproval. “Get it together,” she seemed to be saying. “You’ve got a cat to feed.” Sometimes she would come up close and poke me with her paw, as if saying, “Stop that. Enough already.” She was not a sentimental cat. Soon, eventually, I stopped crying and got on with life.

I remember the first time she let me cradle her in my arms, like a baby. I’d had her for about a year. She had never let me hold her like that before, but this time she did. She looked up at me with guarded eyes, as if saying “I’ll let you hold me this one time. But I don’t have to like it.” Slowly, she did like it. She let me hold her like that more often. She started to relax. Slowly, the bad memories of her early life on the street seemed to subside. The days of scrounging for food, and defending herself against all threats went away. It took years for her to trust that she now had a big protector who would feed her. She always had to remind me, usually at around 4:00 a.m. every morning, that she was here and needed to be fed. She would scratch the wall, or sometimes poke me with a paw. Even on the weekends. Even on holidays, when I would have liked to sleep in. No – it was time to get up and feed the cat. I tried to ignore her, I tried to stay in bed. Every single morning, it was the same. But soon, eventually, she would win and I would get up.

She never became friends with any other cats. She could tolerate dogs, opossums, squirrels, and skunks, but never another cat. When I bought my own house with a little backyard, she finally had her very own territory to guard, and she chased away any cat that dared intrude. She was a hunter, and if I accidentally let her in without checking first, she would sometimes run inside with her prey – often still alive. There were many times I chased some small animal around my house, trying to save it before the mighty hunter got it and finished it off. As she got older, she eventually slowed down and stopped hunting, preferring to enjoy a nap in the sun. Soon, eventually, she stopped hunting at all.

When I got married, she moved with me to our new house. She was the Queen. She took over. She endured the months long remodel, allowing the workers to invade her territory day after day. She was older now, a bit more settled. She claimed certain spots in the house as hers, mostly where she could catch a little sun, and she was content. But she still woke us up at 4:00 a.m. every morning, something my new husband discovered with some alarm, but put up with. He fell in love with her, and she allowed him to inhabit her universe. I had finally found my prince charming, but she was still the Queen. Soon, eventually, the three of us settled into a happy little family.

At sixteen she was still jumping up on the tall stools which gave her access to the counter which led her past the stove and to the sink. She loved going to that sink, looking for water, even though she always had fresh water in her bowl. At sixteen she was still scratching to go out everyday, even though she would just sit on a chair in a sunny spot and sleep. At sixteen, she was still waking us up every morning, although in the last few days it went from 4:00 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. and then two days ago she did not wake us up. And she seemed to be limping, and when I took her to the vet he mentioned a series of possible causes, and advised me that she was an old cat, and any number of things could be happening, and at her age it was about “quality of life,” and sooner or later, decisions would have to be made about what was best for her.

Yesterday, sooner came. The vet told us later, after, that she may have had a blood clot which caused a stroke. I could tell she was in some kind of distress. I don’t know if she was in pain, or knew what was happening to her. All I could do was hold her in my arms, and stroke her, and kiss her, and tell her I loved her. It was fairly quick, but felt like a lifetime, and soon, eventually, I watched her slip away.

When my husband told me she was gone, I didn’t quite believe it. We wrapped her in a towel and placed her on a pillow, and she looked like she was sleeping. I kept creeping into the room after that, hoping that she would suddenly get up, go to the door, and start scratching to go out. I kept listening from the other room, kept thinking I heard the little “click-click-click” as she made her way across the hardwood floor. I kept hoping she was still with me. Soon, eventually, I accepted that she was gone.

Loss is such an integral part of life, but that doesn’t make it easier to accept. Beyond the weighty questions of life and death and “what does it all mean?” and “why are we here?” there is simple emotion. I miss Blanche very much. She was my responsibility, at times my tormentor, and for a very long time, my friend. I hope I was a good cat mom, because she was a very good cat. Soon, eventually, I hope I will stop crying and just remember the love.


8 Comments on “Sooner Came”

  1. Imogen says:

    This is a beautiful tribute to Blanche. Deepest sympathy. xx Im

  2. Oh, honey. My heart just aches for you. I just don’t what to say except that I am sincerely and deeply sorry for the loss of your friend. And, I so understand the feeling of disbelief. When Inkey died I had just held him in my arms. I had taken him outside to see the ocean and smell the orange blossoms on the tree. He was purring and so happy. Then I took him inside and he had a heart attack and then he was gone. I spent that night going in and out to see if maybe we were wrong and if he was still alive. I still miss him so and I always will. He left a huge place in my heart that will never be filled.

    I am so sorry I will never get to meet Blanche. She sounds like she was an extraordinary cat and a wonderful friend. This, Tara, is such a beautiful tribute to a beautiful cat.

    Let yourself grieve. No need to stop crying for today if that is where you are. Huge hugs and lots of love to you and to all who loved Blanche.

  3. Hi.

    Been there done that. It was a very nice tribute you wrote here, indicative how well you cared for her. I am very sorry for your loss.

    Best always,

  4. Tara Zucker says:

    Imogen – thank you very much. I appreciate it.

    La Belette – how beautiful that Inkey got to smell the orange blossoms one last time. My husband says they seem to know when it’s time to go. You gave Inkey a great last moment.

    Peter – thank you so much. So many friends are sharing their pet-love stories with me. It’s nice to know I’m not some crazy cat lady! I think to think that this is a very normal, human reaction.

  5. maggie may says:

    I’m so sorry. As a life long animal friend (we have four cats and two dogs) I totally understand. I’m glad to have found your page but sorry it’s on such a sad note.

  6. Tara Zucker says:

    Maggie – thank you. I’m glad you stopped by too. I’m usually good for more of a laugh, but at the moment I’m just not able to be funny. I’m sure if Blanche were here she would poke me with her paw as if to say “Snap out of it.”

  7. sallymandy says:

    Oh, dear. I’m so sorry. You told the story of Blanche’s life with you beautifully. There are no words for getting around loss. Thanks for writing about it. Sallymandy

  8. Tara Zucker says:

    Sally – thank you so much for the sympathy. It means a lot.

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