“Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.” -Unknown
September feels like a strange month. Partly because it has been both high and low all at once. My brother and his fiancé are getting married, and we are overjoyed and excited to celebrate with them. And, it has been low with going through the grieving process of losing our beloved kitten, Cleo. Ian and I, both, feel numerous mixed emotions, and I am emotionally exhausted. We are very much looking forward to the wedding, and the time we will spend in Houston. It’s going to be comforting being surrounded by people that love and care for us, while also celebrating a new union. Although this month has been painful, it has also been quite beautiful.
It may sound strange, but there is beauty and renewal in the midst of loss. That is not to make loss sound glamorized or easy. It is on the complete opposite spectrum of easy. Every day is a challenge, and learning how to cope with loss is one of the hardest things we all experience in life. I see loss as bringing a sense of renewal because it can change perspectives. Loss helps you see life differently, and for some it helps them celebrate life differently, live differently, and love differently. Loss opens my eyes to new insights and perspectives. It makes me realize how so very precious our time on this earth is, no matter how short or long it is.
Cleo’s time was too short, but she gave us all the time she could possibly give. I will be the first to tell you that this loss has been devastating to our family. In our family, our pets are members of the family. While Cleo was with us in our home for a far too short 3 months, she impacted our lives more than we realized. We loved and adored that kitten. And, she was the absolute sweetest soul you would ever meet. She even turned me, a die-hard dog person, into an instant cat person for life.
We lost Cleo to FIP. For more information on this horrible viral disease or make a donation to aid in finding a cure, you can go to ZenByCat. Peter Cohen created this non-profit to raise funds and awareness to help find a cure for FIP because, currently, there is no cure. There is no way to save a cat who has FIP. You can give them medication to make them feel comfortable and deal with symptoms as they come, but it is practically always fatal. All we could do was make Cleo as comfortable as we possibly could, until it was her time to go. And, that is exactly what we did.
We made the most of our final days together. I wanted to do a final photo shoot, and I wanted it to be whimsical and beautiful. I made myself a flower crown, and Cleo a collar corsage. I thought it was the perfect way to capture her love for life, and her love for us. There is a big part of me that wishes I took these photos sooner to capture her joyful spirit when she was feeling well, but I had no idea our time was so limited before that point. She was a beautiful girl, with a beautiful soul, and a loving spirit. She was also my first cat, and the first pet I have lost (outside of birds, but this loss was very different). I had no idea how much she impacted my life, and how much I cared for and loved her, until she was gone. You can see past posts that have included photos of Cleo here, here, and here.
Lessons Learned from Losing Cleo
- There will never be quite enough time to spend with those we love.
- This was the hardest lesson for me to accept. It doesn’t matter how long or how short you have had with someone or something you love, the loss is painful no matter what, and it still feels like you needed more time to show your love. This was extremely painful with having Cleo for only 3 months. I felt robbed and cheated. I wanted more time with her; I needed more time with her. But, she truly gave us all the time she could possibly give.
- It doesn’t matter how small you are or how small you feel. You are more resilient than you realize.
- Cleo was the most resilient little thing I have ever seen. The reality is she should not have lived as long as she did. A few weeks after we brought her home, she became very sick. It was a miracle she made it through her initial illness. We thought she was in the clear to live a long, healthy life, but sadly this was not the case. Even on the day we had to put her down, she spent the morning playing with me, wanting to jump around, and interact. She fought until she could not walk anymore, and, even then, she was still trying to move and show me she was not going to go down without a fight. She wanted to be present with me for as long as she could.
- I became stronger from losing Cleo. Ian was at work, and I had to be the one to drive her to the vet and take care of her in her final moments, until Ian met us there. I didn’t fold under my emotions. I realized that in extreme sadness and pain, I could still be strong, and do what needed to be done in order for Cleo to be comfortable and pain free.
- What happens to us, does not define us.
- This was a huge reminder I have been needing for quite a while. Even though Cleo was sick, it was not something that defined her. We still loved her the same even if she was healthy and well. She proved to us that she was not allowing FIP to ruin her spirit and love for life. She did not allow it to define her, change her behavior, or the way she interacted with us. Cleo came at a time when I was dealing with past trauma, and there are so many days, I struggle to not allow those experiences to define who I am as a person. Sometimes, it is easy to forget who we are and who we know ourselves to be when we experience something deeply painful. Cleo’s life, reminded me to move forward with my life, and stop allowing the past to define my present. I am stronger than what has happened to me, and it does not define who I am as a person.
- Loss helps us evaluate who is important and what relationships are meaningful to us.
- We live in a world where it is easier to be inauthentic and fake, than it is to be authentic and genuine. As I have gotten older and lived life, I have learned that not all relationships or people are worth the time and energy to hold onto, particularly if that relationship is toxic and draining. With the loss of Cleo, I saw who the people are that truly care about me. They reached out to me, and did not shame me for being upset and heartbroken about losing a pet, or as I say “fur baby.” I saw the people who cared for my health and well-being, and those who loved me unconditionally. If anyone shames you for losing a pet, you do not need them in your life. Loss is loss. It doesn’t matter who or what it is, or how long or short your time with them was. It is still deeply painful, and it takes time to go through the grieving process. The loss of Cleo reminded me that we all need genuine, authentic relationships in our lives.
- Love does not know time.
- This the true beauty of love. I never realized how I could instantly love something, and how deeply that love could grow in a matter of moments. When we found out Cleo had FIP, I was already devastated. All I could do was hold her, cry, and tell her how much I loved her. In those final days, I realized how deep my love for her had grown, and I realized the gravity that this loss would be for me. She was my soul kitten. My deepest sorrow is not getting to spend more time with her, hold her, and love on her even more.
What I want to remember about Cleo:
With my grief, I have been completely caught off guard by an overwhelming fear that I will forget Cleo. I am terrified of not remembering absolutely everything. I have spent most of my days thinking through the day I met her, the day we brought her home, her favorite spots in the house, the way she would curl her tail all the way around her front paws when she sat down, and how she loved to sit on my cookbooks when I had them out. My only guess is that I feel this fear because we had her for such a short amount of time, and I longed for more time. I also feel this sense of guilt and asking myself did I do enough for her, did I spend enough time with her, did I honor her as best I could, and could I have done more for her. I know the answer to all these questions. I did everything I could do for her, and I made the most of my short time with her. But, it is difficult at times not to doubt. Despite these fears, I know Cleo would want us to remember our fun times with her.
When we brought Cleo home, all she wanted to do was cuddle all day. She was the ultimate lap cat. And, every time you pet her, she would instantly purr. We would call her our “purr machine.” Even up until the final moments of her life, she kept purring when we pet her.
Cleo had a favorite spot in every room of our house, but she particularly loved the bathroom, for whatever reason. Usually if I had run errands, I would come home to find her chilling in the sink or hanging out in our claw foot tub. Then, she would meow until I turned on the water faucet for her, so she could drink.
Cleo also loved to help us cook. She had to know what veggies we were chopping, and she made sure she smelled absolutely everything. She mastered the art of begging from her 3 siblings.
Cleo was a fashionable girl, and we both shared the same love for leopard print. I’ve posted many photos on Instagram, usually with her curled up on a certain leopard blanket. That blanket was with her all the way to the end.
Cleo was extremely affectionate, and she loved nothing more than to be with us, soaking in all the time she could give to us. She also refused to use her own water bowl, separate from the dogs. Our guess is she wanted to be a part of everything, including sharing the same bowl our 3 dogs drink out of. She loved her siblings, and her siblings loved her.
Now, I have numerous photos to keep her memory alive, including our final photo shoot together. While it is still difficult to accept Cleo is gone, I take heart in knowing that she is no longer in pain, and she is in a better place now. A piece of my heart went with her soul, and my heart has a hole that will never be completely filled… until it’s my time to go home as well.
To Cleo: You will always be our sweet baby. You are unforgettable, and your love is something we will cherish in our hearts forever. You inspired us to live life to the fullest with deep appreciation and love, enjoying every moment along the way no matter what life throws at us. It was a true honor knowing a soul as beautiful as yours, and I am immensely grateful you came into our lives, even for a short time. If for some reason God does not allow pets in heaven, I am certain He would make a grand exception for you.