Back in 2008, when Hubby and I were newly engaged and just settling into the Boston area, we decided to adopt a cat. I went down to the local animal shelter, determined to bring home a cat, or two, that may otherwise have a hard time being adopted.
As soon as I entered the “cat room”, Leo trotted up to me, and as soon as I sat down, he jumped in my lap. He’s a grey tuxedo tomcat with the disposition of a Ragdoll. I fell in love. But, I wanted to find a second cat.
“Oh, Leo gets along with everyone here!” gushed one of the cat ladies. “He even gets along with that huge black-and-white one, the one we had to take out of the cat room.” She gestured vaguely towards the dog area.
“Oh yes, that big one was a bit wild, kind of rough around the edges, but he and Leo would play and snuggle, it was the oddest thing!” said another lady. “I don’t think you’d want him, though. He’s kind of a biter. We’re going to have a hard time adopting him out.”
I peeked around the corner at the lone cat in the dog area: a huge black-and-white specimen in a dog crate (presumably because the cat cages were too small for him). He was surrounded by kennels and barking dogs, but he was laying, gazing, calm, like a lion surrounded by beagles. He did not care.
I walked over to the cage and reached my fingers in to scratch him under the chin. He purred, he nuzzled, and then he kind of nipped me. Not a real bite, just a playful, mouthy “OK, I’m done.” Like an overstimulated, chewing puppy.
And that was that. I had to have him. We took loveable Leo and… what to call the big mouthy one? We decided to name them both after Italian artists. Leonardo, and… we went through a million names, and ended up with Raphael, because then we could call him Raffy. He was just such a Raffy. It was kind of a dog name, for a cat who thought he was a dog.
Leo and Raffy were best buds from day one. (Raffy and I were also best buds from day one.)
But these kitties were naughty, needy, and in our space. We loved them anyways. Raffy’s antics especially were the subject of dinner stories and Facebook posts. He really thought he was a dog. He followed us around from room to room. He insisted on attention. He liked to play fetch with crumpled pieces of paper. And, he drank out of the toilet:
He also never got over the mouthy nipping. Whenever he was hungry, he had the annoying habit of sneaking up on us and nibbling on our ankles. It wasn’t biting, per se, but it sure made us jump. (And, he sometimes would target guests, which usually didn’t go over too well.) He was always finding new ways to make mischief. He either knocked things over by virtue of being a big klutzy creature, or willfully batted them to the ground. He got himself into all sorts of trouble:
Raffy was especially good at disrupting Hubby’s research and writing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Hubby throw up his hands and declare, “This CAT!” (often with a expletive inserted.) Hubby tried to work from his home office, but:
Of course, then we had kids. Luckily, kids and kitties coexisted quite well, though Raffy had a knack for napping in Baby’s space. While this may have been cat jealousy, this was also where it ended. In five and a half years of our kids squishing, poking, tugging, pulling, and sitting on these cats, these cats have never even once so much as batted a kid with a paw. Nothing. They’re just big teddy bears.
As the kids have grown, they have bonded with these cats. They watched snowflakes and birds together; they napped together. Any night would find one or the other cat snuggled up with one or the other kid.
We never imagined one of them would die soon. Leo is about twelve years old; Raffy, as of this morning, was ten. (More or less, because the shelter didn’t really know.) Just yesterday, both kitties begged for that late afternoon can of Fancy Feast, and ate it. Just last night, Raffy jumped up on our bed and slept at my feet.
But this morning, Sunday, I was brushing my teeth, getting ready to go out for a run, and I noticed Raffy’s breathing. He was lying on the upstairs carpet, breathing heavy. I did a double-take, and bent down to watch him. He lifted his head and stretched his little nose towards me. He struggled to get up, to sit up. I realized his mouth was slightly open. He was working, really working, to breathe, belly muscles and chest muscles and throat muscles…
I gently scooped him up and cuddled him and brought him downstairs. Hubby and the kids were in the living room. I placed Raffy in the floor and asked Hubby to watch.
Hubby was surprised. “Oh my God, he wasn’t breathing like that yesterday. He’s struggling.”
“Yeah, we have to get to a vet, soon. ” I looked up the vet ER phone number, and we made calls and bustled around and got the kids dressed.
In a small quiet moment, I asked the kids to get down on Raffy’s level and watch him, notice his breathing, pet him, comfort him. Babyboy ran and got his favorite lovey, Gus the cat. Gus is an old, tattered grey stuffed animal that he’s carted around since age two. (This is actually Gus #2. He doesn’t know that Gus #1, who was left behind in a Guatemalan hotel room, didn’t actually come home on another flight.) He held Gus next to Raffy, so Gus could offer some words of reassurance.
Hubby went and got the cat carrier.
The cat carrier has always been an issue for Raffy. I brought Leo to the last vet physical by himself, because we just couldn’t stuff Big Raff into the stupid carrier. He bit Hubby in the process. (Maybe if we’d been able to get to that exam in December, we would have known that he had a bad heart.)
Even this morning, almost in extremis, Raffy fought the carrier. Hubby and I gave up and simply wrapped him in a beach towel and carried him to the car. Hubby laid him down in the back of the minivan, and I crawled in with him.
I cradled his head with one hand and pet him with the other. That’s when I realized he was taking his last breaths. He was gasping.
I looked up at Hubby: “Hon, I don’t think he’s going to make it.”
Hubby buckled the kids in, started the car, and drove as fast as you can drive in a mini-van with two kids in booster seats and your wife unrestrained in the back with your dying cat.
Raffy’s breaths came farther apart. His eyes were wide and staring. “Oh, no, no, Raff, no, not like this, hang on, buddy…” I stroked his forehead, smoothed his fur, and, even before we got to the highway, I watched him stop breathing.
It wasn’t even 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning, and the emergency vet’s waiting room was completely empty. They knew we were coming, and they met us at the door. I carefully, gingerly passed Raffy to the tech with a look and enough explanation so that she knew he had died on the way, and she knew the kids didn’t know.
She led us all to an empty exam room and somehow, we had a brief “code” conversation about how to break the news to our kids, who were right there, but didn’t realize Raffy was dead.
She left, and I again asked the kids to look closely at Raffy. “Look, look at Raffy closely, guys,” I asked quietly. “Remember at home, he was having trouble breathing? He’s not breathing anymore. Raffy died, he’s in heaven now.”
I really hadn’t thought they would get it. I thought we’d have to explain what “dead” meant, and why the vet couldn’t save him, et cetera.
But Babyboy looked, and saw. His face crumpled, and he crumpled. “Aw no, I didn’t want Raffy to die! Mommy I didn’t want Raffy to die! Why did he die? Why? I’ll miss him so much!” He wailed on, tears rolling. Of course this got Hubby and I right in our guts. Who can watch their kid’s heart absolutely break, and not break?
Babygirl blinked a few times and then, her little face scrunched, her tears came, and she started wailing. Hubby was holding her, and she buried her face in his neck, crying “No, please don’t let Raffy be dead! I’m sad! I’m so, so sad!”
The vet came in at that moment, to officially pronounce him, I suppose, and talk to us about it. Through tears, I explained what we had observed. She gently examined our twenty-four pound ball of fat and fluff, and surmised that he’d probably had a heart attack, and died of heart failure. This set the kids off with more wailing, which in turn made us all teary. (The vet, too.)
The kids petted Raffy and asked questions about heaven. Could Raffy come visit from heaven? He didn’t need to stay there forever, did he? Could we visit him sometime? The answers felt so cold.
The tech came in with some paperwork that skillfully asked us what we’d like to do with the body. We checked a box and paid the small fee for cremation. “Would you like me to take him now?” she asked.
Hubby and I exchanged glances that said, let’s get this over with. “Let’s say goodbye to Raffy, guys, she needs to take him away now,” and the kids petted him one last time. Hubby and I petted him one last time. He was still warm.
Then, she lifted him, still a whole lot of cat to carry. Hubby held the door for her.
And that was that.
Someone brought little kitty angel pendants and a poem for the kids, which was nice. On the drive home, one or the other kid would tearfully declare “I’m going to miss Raffy so much!” and get us all of crying again.
At church, our pastor said a very nice prayer for us, and for Raffy. So many of our congregation have met him over the years (and been nibbled on), or have even cat-sat for us. Many kind words and shared stories helped.
This is also what Facebook is for. Still a little in shock, I posted about it. Comforting words and sympathy poured in. This helped also.
Nana took the kids for the afternoon, to give them a bit of space and distraction. They played outside in the snow for hours. I think this was good.
Hubby and I went running, in the cold, in the snow. I think this was good.
But, we’re all still a little in shock. I fed Leo, and when I only had to put one food bowl down, I started crying.
Babyboy literally cried himself to sleep. He asked a gazillion questions about heaven, and death, and when can we get another cat JUST LIKE RAFFY, and he’s going to miss Raffy so much…and he cried until he was sleeping. I’ve never seen him do that before.
Now, Leo is not an “only cat” kind of cat. He already looks a little lost. And several people have suggested, don’t wait too long to get another cat. I volunteer at an animal shelter… I have a feeling there will be another cat in our lives soon.
But we can’t ever replace Raffy, and we won’t ever forget him.