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Love in the Shadows: Saying Goodbye to a Pet

Even after doing it multiple times in my life, saying goodbye to a pet is never easy. Yesterday, Chuck and I had to do it once again when our cat, Shadow, passed away.

About 15 months ago, Chuck and I welcomed two skittish, almost feral cats into our lives: Shadow and Smudge. They were small, scared, and fragile, having been rescued from a hoarder’s house, but over time they blossomed.

Those fangs!

I always wanted a black cat—what witch doesn’t?—and Shadow was the sleek, silky epitome of just that. He had a beautiful black coat, and crazy long nails and fangs. He was skittish and wary, unlike his sister Smudge, who grew to be fat, happy, and downright cuddly.

Smudge … after a little too much catnip!

So, when we brought them home, imagine my shock when Shadow chose Chuck instead of me. They had this incredible, almost unspoken, bond. Shadow would follow Chuck around, waiting for the moment when he could cuddle up to him and feel safe.

In contrast, I got my share of scratches from Shadow, a clear message from him saying, “I’m not ready yet.”

But, boy, did he love Chuck!

I have to admit that sometimes I felt a little jealous.

Over the last few months, though, especially once I stopped trying so hard to hold him, he started to let me pet him more often.

Once in a while, he even climbed into my lap.

I think he finally started to trust me and to think of me as his Mama.

But, a few weeks ago, Shadow’s behavior changed. He was hiding more, and he looked a little run-down. We realized something was wrong.

A vet appointment revealed a devastating prognosis—fluid around and in his lungs, likely due to heart failure. We tried medications, and for a brief moment, Shadow seemed better. But it was like a cruel tease because his health spiraled quickly afterward.

The night before we said our final goodbye, he was struggling. He had been sleeping in the guest room, but that night, he came to us for a last goodbye.

We brought him into our bed and spent time petting him, telling him we loved him and that he wouldn’t suffer anymore. It broke our hearts to see him like that. He was so skinny, so frail, and so unlike the spry cat we had known.

Early the next morning, Chuck said goodbye to his beloved pet … his familiar … and left for work.

saying-goodbye-to-a-pet

Over the next several hours, I kept vigil for Shadow, making sure our room was quiet and the lights were low. I lit a candle and carved his name upon it. I surrounded it with a ring of the cat claw sheaths that he and Smudge left all over the house.

I petted him. For a long time.

I did not try to hold him, even though I could have, because he was too weak to resist. I did not want to cause him even the slightest bit of stress, which I knew would have made him even more uncomfortable than he already was.

But, I wanted to. I just wanted to cradle him in my arms and cry. Most of all, I knew I could not let him suffer anymore.

My daughter and grandchildren came over, to say goodbye, and to make sure that I would be okay.

I called the vet. She came to our home and helped Shadow cross the Rainbow Bridge.

It was quick and very peaceful. Shadow was finally able to rest.

Afterward, I wrapped him in his blue baby blanket and waited for Chuck to get home.

We dug a hole and buried him in the most magical spot I know … my garden.

Shadow was gone.

One thing that caught me off guard was Smudge’s reaction. I knew that she knew something was up. She’d sit by Shadow during his last days as if trying to comfort him. After Shadow passed, she led me upstairs to where his body lay, wrapped in a blanket on our bed. She sniffed him and then leapt back, startled.

I’m not sure why, but I didn’t anticipate that she’d grieve too. It’s been 24 hours, and she’s still searching for him, letting out cries that cause fresh waves of pain in our already broken hearts.

Losing Shadow was very sad. But seeing Smudge grieve adds another layer to the heartbreak. They’re not just pets; they’re family. And like any family, when one hurts, we all hurt.

Saying goodbye to a pet is never easy, but the love they give us is worth it.

As we navigate through this loss, it’s evident that our little family will take time to heal, and that part of that healing has left some pawprints etched in our hearts forever.