This has been one difficult year all the way around. Unfortunately today is no different.

Benjamin and sis

Benjamin and Sis in Italy

My sis had to say goodbye to her beloved cat, Benjamin, today. She was pretty torn up about it when she called a couple of days ago and told me what had to be done. She had thought of letting him pass quietly at home, surrounded by family, but her veterinarian convinced her that doing so was actually less humane; Benjamin would starve to death and that would be infinitely more painful for him. So sis would take him to the Vet to be put down; the doctor would make sure they had a private room, and sis would have hubby and son by her side. They would still be able to say good-bye to sweet Benjamin together and he would pass peacefully.

There are people in this world that don’t understand someone spilling heart-wrenching tears over losing an animal. “It’s just a cat….or it’s just a dog….or a bird”  they’d say.  You’ve heard it before I’m sure.  There is no judgement here, really. I’ll admit to being one of those folks a lifetime ago. Honestly, I think good people don’t consciously intend to devalue someone’s loss of a pet. They simply don’t know better. But once you bring a pet into your life your heart opens and expands in unexpected ways. Sure, you have another soul in your life that needs you and vice-versa. But it’s the unconditional love that seems to me to be at the heart of it and our pets are part of that experience.  Unconditional love is what we all need to experience, as well as give. That is the true purpose and nature of our souls after all, LOVE….pure and simple, LOVE.

Benjamin’s passing was not altogether unexpected. He was advanced in his years and for months now he had been battling kidney failure. Sis felt certain he would pass sometime during her trip back west last month–when we both had to travel to Arizona to complete “mamma” business. But as sick as Benjamin was, he persevered. It was almost as if he purposefully waited. In fact, I’m thinking, the sweet cat that he was, that he wanted to ensure that sis returned home, got settled and happy again following the sadness and drama of Arizona, before giving up the fight.

Losing a beloved pet is heartbreaking, especially one that has been part of not one family, but two. Sis got Benjamin during her single years. Then she married and had a child which added an entirely new dimension to their relationship. Benjamin accepted it all, embracing all the changes in his cat life and through it, he certainly influenced their family life, providing just another level of richness that was already there.  Because of Benjamin, there was even more love to fill the space of their home life and with it lots of laughter. Another thing that a soul needs….laughter!

You see, Benjamin was the sweetest, most unusual cat. I first met him during a trip to Italy to visit my sis and her husband some eight years ago. It wasn’t sis’s first overseas trip but it was her first time overseas as a military wife. There was absolutely no question that she wouldn’t bring Benjamin with her and by all accounts he settled into his new Italian digs without too much trauma.

I’ll never forget my first night with Benjamin. I had arrived from the States after a long flight and was naturally quite tired. Following welcome hugs and kisses from sis…as well as a light snack of good wine, delicious salami, cheese and perfectly crusty bread, I was ready to hit the hay. Sis showed me to my room and made sure I had everything I needed before kissing me good night. I headed to the bathroom, closed the door and got ready to brush my teeth. As I turned on the faucet and adjusted the water to cold, the most extraordinary thing happened. From out of nowhere…. in a flash….Benjamin comes flying into the bathroom (how did he get the door open remains a mystery) and quite literally deposits himself right INTO the sink, whereupon he allows himself to be showered with cold water.

Oh no! I’ll confess to being so startled that I must have yelled out because my sis came rushing in to see what was the matter.

“Oh that,” my sis says in relief. “That’s OK. Benjamin loves the water…this is just what he does.”

I was incredulous. Really?! I’ve never seen a cat do such a thing (and we had cats growing up).

Sis stayed for several minutes and together we watched Benjamin (whose body filled the entire bowl of the sink) roll around and literally play in the water. Folks, there was no doubt that this cat was in heaven. He was having fun!  He’d put his mouth up to the flowing water and drink some in and then he’d move this way and that allowing the water to cover his back and head. I couldn’t help but laugh! What a sight! If only I could have taken a video of the scene.

Benjamin did the same thing, multiple times of course, during the weeks that I spent with sis. In fact, on several occasions I purposely left the water in the sink running at a trickle while I took a shower just so Benjamin could enjoy his own shower time.

I know that sis and family will miss this beautiful cat. There has to be a little hole in the fabric of their family life now that Benjamin is gone. One less meow, one less cat-nip-fueled play, one less heartbeat….it all adds up.  And, their other cat Taboo–a black bundle of quiet reserve who loves to hiss at The Poodle when he visits –will no doubt mourn the loss of his best buddy.  There is heartbreak in this as Taboo feels the void as well, adding another layer of sadness to this entire day. Taboo will need some extra loving in the days to come. Without a doubt, Alexandre-the-Greatest will see to that.

What soothes the soul during times like this are the memories. Memories like Benjamin jumping in the sink every time the faucet was turned on; or his first introduction to baby Alexandre, just a few days old, swaddled in a blanket. Memories like this and countless more, warm the heart and in that instant there is a smile that brightens simply everything. I’m counting on those memories to bring certain lightness to my sis’s heavy heart in the days to come. Perhaps not today. Today will be tear-filled, there is just no other way around it.

From my heart, thank you for the memories dear Benjamin. Thank you for bringing joy to my sis and everyone around her. Thank you for this moment in time…another opportunity… to stop once more and think about this whole circle of life thing.

Enjoy what you can of each day, but more importantly, give of yourself, what you can…large or small….every day.

It’s what memories are made of.