On Sunday, December 10th in the early morning hours, I lost my greatest friend, my sweetest love, the most beautiful soul I have ever come to know on Earth. My Angel was beyond beautiful, she exceeded all definitions, and words can hardly describe her most profound and deeply beautiful spirit, but I will try in words to share our story and honor my beloved Angel in this written tribute to her. With a broken heart forever at her passing, and the deepest grief I can possibly feel, I want to share Angel’s deep soul, beautiful spirit and most profoundly loving being.
Angel came to bless our lives when she was brought to our home in early spring of 2004. We bought our house in June of the previous year, bringing two rescue cats, Pumpkin who was homeless in Seattle and Red who was rescued from being dumped at the Oakland Airport. With our new house, in August, we decided to adopt another rescue cat, which quickly turned into two rescue cats from Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek. We were sure that — that would be the end of our kitty family!
But one fateful Sunday months later, while we were stocking up on cat food at a local Pet Food Express, we decided to visit the cats that were up for adoption in the back room and met Sally, the owner of the cat rescue organization. In talking, Sally expressed her deep concern about the overwhelming number of mama cats and kittens recently dumped at the local animal shelter in Martinez, and would we be willing to help by fostering a mama cat? After giving it some thought, we agreed to give it a try, and to help a mama who otherwise would be surely be euthanized. The next day, Sally and Sue, a worker at the shelter, chose Angel and her four newborn kittens to come live with us. Angel was spared on her last day, called A-24 day at shelters, the day she was to be euthanized along with her baby kittens.
So Sally brought Angel to our home, to our newly designated as our “foster room,” where we furnished it with a large cage with multiple shelves, a soft rug, 6-foot cat tree, stereo for soft music, and comfy chairs for sitting. When Angel came out of her carrier, she lovingly looked into my eyes, squinting with relief and gratitude, and rolled onto her back and reached up with both paws extended to grasp my face and bring it down to her. Very gently she pulled me to her again and again, thanking me, purring, kissing me. The happiness Angel felt was palpable. The relief was unmistakable. It was overwhelming to see her emotion, to feel her deep appreciation and acknowledgement, and her relief at being rescued from the stress, cacophony and terror she must have felt with her newborns at our antiquated animal shelter (before its remodel). Angel’s stomach was still covered with blood from her kittens. I pictured Angel’s stress and fear of being captive in the shelter overwhelmed and terrified to the degree she could not even clean herself. She was in survival mode. Angel and I developed an instant, immediate, undeniable, and powerful bond the minute we met, the minute our eyes connected, and she so movingly caressed me with thankfulness. For all she had previously been through in life—the disappointment, homelessness, abandonment, and misery at the hands of humans—Angel had an indomitable spirit, a strong will to live, a powerful voice that demanded to be seen and respected, and a determination to get out of that horrifying shelter where humans had put her. Angel had so very much love to share, and sought to share it with humans that would appreciate her gift. It was that simple.
I knew instantly when I met Angel, that I would be a foster-failure and could never, ever let her go. There was more than a human-animal bond between us, there was an other-worldly, ethereal, spiritual love between us that words could never begin to describe—but that we lived every day for 14 years together. I often thought Angel was from a past life I lived, or she embodied one of my parent’s spirits that sought to be closer to my physical life, because Angel was so profoundly committed to me, to loving me, to supporting me, and sharing so much compassion and empathy for me when I felt bad, sad, or cried. Angel truly felt my pain, she felt my suffering, she meowed when I cried, and was so concerned about me when she knew something was wrong. She would run from wherever she was to grace me with her presence when I was upset—jumping up on my lap and immediately reaching for my face with her extended paws and meowing, all the while looking straight and unwaveringly into my eyes. She always wanted me to know that she was there for me in my emotional pain. That I had a friend, an empathizing soul that understood my hurts. Whenever I was physically sick, Angel would be there. She would follow me to bed, jump up on the bed with me, and would keep me company—never leaving my side. She would stare at me with her adoring eyes until I felt well again.
As I continued with my cat rescue and fostering work, our kitty household grew with cats that were either extremely shy, or distrustful of humans, had been abused, or were blind, or not adoptable, or were never adopted. Mostly black, like Angel. Angel took each one in stride, accepting them, loving them, supporting them. Each and every day Angel would be part of a bundle of black cats that would all lie together in cat beds on our dining table in front of a large picture window, where they spent their daylight hours cleaning each other, nurturing each other, holding and comforting each other—providing solace and wonderful friendship to each other. They were all best of friends to the end, and today as I write this after Angel’s passing, they are as devastated at her loss as I am. They miss her as much as I do, and I feel for them. Their sadness is palpable, unmistakable and undeniable. Angel’s sudden absence is shifting their relationships with each other, and their feelings and emotions can be felt in the silence that has fallen over us. Angel was a verbal kitty, she loved talking, acknowledging, confirming, and her gentle and soft voice was always present. She talked to me when I woke up, when I came home, while I cooked, when I went outside, when I returned, when I cried, when I hurt—she always talked to me. Angel said her hellos every single morning, her good-nights every single night, her goodbye’s from the door, her hello’s waiting at the door for my return, and expressed her happiness verbally at being physically together.
Angel loved sitting on the toilet seat watching me put on my makeup. She would stare endlessly for 20 minutes, never tiring of this ritual we shared. And every night, she adored sitting beside me while I took my nightly hot bath. She would run into the bathroom as soon as the water started running, and would watch me as she perched atop the cabinet countertop, then come to sit beside me on the edge of the tub so she could be closer. There we would sit side-by-side for 20 minutes as I enjoyed my bath. After my bath, Angel slept with me all night, caressing my head with her body on my pillow or sleeping out-stretched under the covers pressing her body against mine especially if it was cold outside. In 14 years, I can remember only a couple of nights that Angel did not sleep with me this way. And in the morning, Angel was again full of life, vigor, love and happiness, and would excitedly beg to come up on my shoulders so she could be closer to me while I prepared all the cat’s food bowls along with my morning coffee. So I lifted her up, and she nestled in and wrapped her long, lean body around my shoulders. Angel’s special place was on our kitchen countertop, where she ate everyday, and was the only cat allowed to do so. I tried to break her of this habit on many occasions, but she refused to listen and stubbornly was determined to keep this habit and protect her special place. Angel was special, and she knew it. When it was my turn to eat my breakfast after all the cats were fed and taken care of, I would prepare my breakfast and she would come sit alongside me as I ate, and nestle into my lap with her head resting on my arm. She would discreetly and slowly nosed her way gently and almost secretively into my arms and onto my lap as I ate, pretending she wasn’t there. It annoyed me at times and she knew it, but she would never take no for an answer, and like a dog with his tail between his legs, she would slink carefully one step at a time back into my lap, hoping I wouldn’t notice.
When it was time for the laundry, which was daily, Angel would habitually and excitedly jump into the middle of all the warm clothes on the countertop, while I folded each piece one by one around her body. When we finally reached the last piece of laundry, I would play with her with that shirt or sock, and she would go crazy flicking her back legs and attacking the piece. This would go on for a full minute or two until she got all her aggression and back-leg flicks out of her system!
Outside of our main house, we have a pathway that leads to a cottage, where several more cats live. Every morning and night Angel patiently would watch me through our big picture window—walk to the cottage with food twice daily, and our human dinner, and wait eagerly and patiently for my return. Always running to the door to greet me, even though I was only gone for a short time. Angel loved being let outside, although this happened rarely (our cats have a big kennel with 24/7 access)—she hankered for the outside where she once lived. She loved the sun’s heat, the fragrant grass, the sound of the birds, and I could not deny her. But it meant supervising her, which required time. As soon as I opened the French doors to the outside, Angel would leap onto the patio, and excitedly spin around in circles in happiness. Truly. This never failed in 14 years. This spin was her habit, it was her automatic response of joy and gratitude for being let outdoors. I wished in reflection that I granted her more of these moments, they were so very important and special for her.
Angel loved when our human dinner was over, and we returned from the cottage, and then spent time with the downstairs cats. She knew it was “her” time. We would all sit together and watch the news, a film or TV show, and she could cuddle on my lap. Lap-time was her favorite time. She would grab my hands with her paws, and I would hold hers too. She loved to stare at me with her half-moon eyes so full of love and appreciation, and reach out to my face with her paws, and I would kiss each one. And she would purr. Our hearts were one, and we both felt it. We were united.
But two weeks before Angel’s sudden and unexpected death, something bad happened. Angel, an avid jumper even to her 15+ years of age, jumped from my shoulders where she was curled around my neck, to the hard and cold cement floor in our garage. The impact was extremely hard, I knew it, but what came next was completely unforeseen. The impact of her jump severely bruised her belly skin which hung low and caused a reaction of internal bleeding, inflammation, fluid build-up, and severe trauma internally. It also triggered a suspected underlying condition that never was clearly defined or identified by our veterinarians—to worsen. In one day, Angel had severe swelling. The same day that my husband flew off to Holland for three weeks, unknowingly leaving me alone in my ordeal. The next day, our vets ran every test in the books—from X-rays, to a chest and abdominal ultrasound, a full blood panel, needle aspirate and fluid analysis—to determine the cause of the swelling. There was no heart disease, no cancer, no obvious masses or tumors, no large lymph nodes, nothing except severe swelling, and an enormous amount of fluid build-up all around her body. So Angel was treated for trauma, because nothing else could be found. Following several vet visits that were not helping her get better, I chose to take her to Sage Emergency to see a critical care specialist and internal medicine veterinarian. Again, she was diagnosed with severe trauma, and was given a session of cold laser therapy to reduce swelling, Vitamin K to support healthy blood clotting, and pain relief with Buprenex. But her condition only worsened. After multiple trips to my wonderful veterinary hospital, ten hours in the emergency hospital, and round-the-clock home care for two weeks—she continued to deteriorate and her fluid swelling only increased.
I felt completely heart-broken that I could not help her and heal her. But I remained hopeful and prayed every day for a miracle. Two weeks later, on the day she died, she was seen by my beloved vet one last time, Dr. Becker. Since the clinic was closed the next day—Sunday, she suggested coming in to make sure Angel was stable to get her through the weekend. But when I brought Angel home that day, she deteriorated. In the following hours, I watched as she became more agitated. She sought to be near me—wanting out of the seclusion I had put her in—in our bedroom. She cried to get out, and ran to her cat bed under the dining table where she could watch me in the kitchen preparing the cats’ foods. There, she stared at me for an hour, like it was the last time and she was recalling old memories and getting a good final look at me. An hour later, I made a fire, I wanted to give her this, in case this was the last time. Angel laid next to me in her fluffy, cozy blanket, while watching the fire, and I watching Reign on TV. But when it was time for bed, I noticed a change. It looked like she was rapidly failing. Her breathing became more labored, there was more fluid in her chest and neck, and she was having difficulty getting oxygen. Her pupils were black with dilation and she started staring into space, uncomfortable, in pain, and no longer responding to my touch. I was devastated, panicked and distraught.
A wonderful friend came over who had been in veterinary practice in her earlier life, to support me in helping Angel and what I was possibly facing. It was 11:30 PM on Saturday night. I was so traumatized by Angel’s turn for the worse that I could barely think or see straight. My heart was breaking as I considered my difficult and terrible options, which soon came down to one option—take her back to Sage Emergency. I could see that her fluid was increasing in her chest and neck, and her breathing was becoming harder for her. All I wanted was for Angel to be comfortable and out of pain. So together, we wrapped Angel up, put her in the carrier, and took her to Sage Emergency where they immediately put her on oxygen, in an oxygen chamber.
Angel was dying. There was no way out of this. She could no longer be taken off oxygen, because the fluid was continuing to build. This was it. It was 1:30 AM now, and thankfully the hospital was completely quiet. No dogs barking, no cats crying or meowing. Silence. I was thankful there was no chaos or other emergencies to compete with mine or cause her stress. The vet could focus on my Angel. We asked the vet to give Angel an anti-anxiety medication to relieve her obvious stress at being in the hospital again and her dying. She received both Midazolam and Butorphanol which calmed and sedated her, while we fully discussed and examined all the options, her complete diagnosis and prognosis, in order to make the very best decision. Faced with only one decision, I was broken. A broken soul, facing losing my greatest and best friend, my highest support, and the love of my life.
Angel died in my arms peacefully that morning. I cried and clung to her warm, soft body as long as I could before bringing her home at 4 AM. With my wonderful girlfriend still beside me, we returned home and I placed Angel in a beautiful scarlet blanket and into a basket, where her body would lie in-state in our home for the next three days. This is our ritual, as each cat passes at our house, we honor them by putting their body in a beautiful basket surrounded by roses and lit candles (artificial candles that stay lit), while we say our goodbyes and thank them for touching our lives in their special and unique ways. All the kitties that have also shared their life for years—can say their goodbyes too. This ritual is taken from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, where it is scientifically documented that it takes three days for the life energy and spirit to fully depart the body after physical death. So we honor each beloved cat in death and celebrate their life—by having them lie in-state in our family room. We care for the body and treat it with respect and love during this time, as we say our goodbyes and tell them how much we have loved them.
Today, Angel’s body will have a private cremation (not with any other cats, only Angel), and her ashes will come home where I can keep her close—and one day I will be buried with her ashes. We will be together in life, and together in death.
Though I’m heartbroken over her loss, I’m forever grateful for being given the gift of Angel in my life. I have never been so loved by anyone—human or non-human animal—as I have by my Angel.
Goodbye my love, my dearest, my sweetest – my Angel on Earth. Goodbye.
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die. ~ Unknown