One week ago today, I lost one of the loves of my life. On November 22, 2016 we sadly had to let our Belle pass on. She certainly defied the odds, living 21 years through various health issues and moments where we thought we may lose her. She was so resilient and always found a way to stay with me. I like to think it's because she knew she was so loved and that she was needed. I like to think that love extends lives… and she was given an abundance. While I knew this day would eventually come, I thought I would find more peace in her passing by focusing on the gratitude of the blessings that came with her companionship rather than the loss of being without her. I honestly never believed it would be this difficult. Apparently, she took up more space in my heart than I ever realized. She lived an unbelievably long life full of so much love. Twenty years ago, on Thanksgiving Day, I took in this sweet little injured kitten that lived under the porch of my college rental house. I was 19 at the time... Little did I know she would be with until I was nearly 40 years old. She was clearly malnourished and the runt of the litter, so as an animal lover, I began feeding her. Over the course of a few months, she became accustomed to me feeding her and would jump up, sit next to me, and even let me pet her… on her terms, of course. I sort of knew that I would eventually try to take her in. She would even follow me into my house when my roommates weren’t around. Thanksgiving morning of 1996 I went out to feed her… fortunately, it had snowed and I noticed blood in the snow under her. Had there not been snow, I'm not sure I would have noticed that she was bleeding and injured. I wrapped her in a towel and took her to my parent’s house to keep her safe until I was able to take her to the vet the following day. It was in this moment that I knew I was her new mom. She had a serious infection from the injury and had I not taken her in, the vet said she probably would not have made it. So she stayed with my folks in my old bedroom and for a couple of months I would go visit her until I found my own place and was able to bring her to live with me. With me, there was this trust that had been built, but it took her years for her to trust anyone else. She was timid with others, hiding under the bed anytime someone would come over. Eventually, with time and age, she got to the point where she either trusted she was safe, or just didn’t care enough to move from her comfortable spot when others came around. She's always been such an amazing cat - so friendly and loving - she would follow me around the house, come to me when I called her, was always by my side and always snuggled when I needed snuggling, which was quite often. She was never one of those love one minute, attack the next kind of cats (you know, like most cats). She always loving and was always loved.
She and I went through a lot together. I mean, 20 years is a long time! Aside from knowing that I’m going to miss loving her and having her love in return, this is probably the most difficult part of losing her. She was the one constant in my life of ups and downs for the past 20 years. We went through so much together. She was with me all through college, my time in a hippy jam band, graduate school, multiple moves, 8 apartments in total, multiple jobs, multiple boyfriends, and multiple heartaches, many times of illness and pain, and more moments of joy than I can count. The majority of our 20 years together it was just the two of us - A very happy two of us. I'll never forget when we moved to the city, in the car in the middle of bumper to bumper traffic, lifting her up enough to see the Chicago skyline for the first time. We shared so many exciting moments together, because she was my constant companion. I honestly don't know how I got so lucky to find such a perfect fit in a companion. I used to laugh about how it's said that pets are like their humans... as unfortunate as it was for her, this couldn't have been truer for Belle and I. Those of you that know me know that I've dealt with a lot of health issues... and so did Belle. As she was my companion and loved me, helping me to get through life, I took care of her and loved her through it all as well. Sadly, she took on the stress of my issues... from tearing her hair out due to allergies (thus the adorable lion cuts which she actually loved), to 6 months or so of insulin injections and diet changes to manage diabetes (my fault for years of overloving/overfeeding her), to having many bad teeth pulled (like me), to being on an inhaler for asthma and allergies, to seeing an eye specialist (like me), to daily meds (like me),to pet stairs and weekly injections to combat the pains that come with aging... to me, it didn't matter what it took to keep her healthy and comfortable, as I committed to caring for her the day I began feeding her as a kitten. No matter what. She taught me how to love unconditionally.
When Tim came into our lives, he ended up moving in with our now 7 year old dog, Fagan and our now 34 year old turtle, Freddie. Belle had experience being with another cat in the past – her sister Bunny (may she rest in peace) for a short while, and as sweet as she was to me, she often tried to beat Belle up (I still feel bad about it) – so I didn’t know how she would do with Fagan. She had finally become comfortable living in her own home again and I didn’t want her to feel threatened and go back into hiding in her final years. Fortunately, we have the best dog in the world. All it took were a few hisses from Belle for Fagan to get the message. Fagan would never make eye contact with Belle, even when she would come to sit right next to her to get treats. Fagan had the utmost respect for Belle and the fact that she was most certainly the queen of our castle. Belle loved watching Fagan... I wish they had found one another sooner because they were great companions.
Belle also loved Tim. He couldn’t walk in the door without a welcome greeting – I sometimes wouldn’t even get that. She would often just look at me in her adorable way and if I was lucky she would eventually come out for a little lovin’, otherwise she knew that with me she could remain comfortable in the little cat cubby that had been her home for 14 ½ years. But she responded to Tim in a way I’d never seen her respond to anyone. While Tim is an animal whisperer, I think she knew that we were meant to be a family.
As I was digging through photos of Belle and our time together, I couldn’t find enough... I know that I have so many more photos than the ones I’ve shared here. I considered taking the time to pull them all together, as I didn't want to leave any fond memories out or short her in any way by not including them all here. Then I realized that a million photos wouldn't do the beautiful memories justice... that regardless of how many photos I have, they don't replace the feeling of loss. Comparatively, there were so few photos of Belle intermixed in thousands of photographs representing just as many wonderful memories of life and time with family and friends over the past 20 years. And while she may only be in a small number of these photos, she was present and a part of my life for all of these amazingly no memories. This time is such a reminder of the impermanence of life. A reminder to practice gratitude for all that is. A reminder to cherish every moment, because we think we have time… That it’s so important to live with love.
Finally, to you miss Belle… As I’ve reflected this past week, I've replayed a million memories in my mind and have felt more emotion than I knew I had in me... it is so clear that we were meant to find one another. It has taken me over a week to write this, as I simply couldn’t find enough words to express the gratitude I feel for being able to love you for so long. Thank you for blessing me with an amazing 20 years together. Unfortunately, we can't live forever… may God bless you for trying. You were, and will continue to be, an extension of me and will always be a part of our family. You are one of my soul mates and will forever live on in my heart and in my being. While it’s heartbreaking to see you go, you’ll only have to live forever without us for a short while. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me to live with joy, to live with love and to be loved in return. Until we meet again, I love you I love you I love you…