We have always been a cat family, my husband and I.
As children growing up, as young adults, as we dated and then married, and since, as we built our home and filled it with babies and kittens who grew into much older children and cats, we’ve been a cat family.
We have loved every one of them as much as they loved us, and every one of them has held its own special place in our hearts. Each is as unique and original as our own children, and each loved especially for their differences.
Fifteen years ago, on an otherwise ordinary day, into our lives came Grace, in the form of a tiny ball of black fur, lit up only by the eerily unnatural glow of her cerulean blue eyes, and filling the previously empty air and our lonesome ears with the continuous music of constant, non-stop conversations that spilled from her open mouth, pink tongue peeking out with every utterance.
We watched her nurse, eyes closed and paws seeking, walk away on wobbly legs, only to be carried back to the cluster of her siblings by the scruff of her neck and be pulled by her mother’s strong arms into the warmth of fur and milk and the pacifying sounds of purring and breathing.
We watched until the day she and one of her brothers were old enough to come to our house and into our hearts to live.
And, after moving in with us, we watched her, the runt of the litter, position herself behind her much bigger yet more frightened brother in their round bed, spooning him and wrapping her arm around him to soothe and protect his trembling body.
Grace grew up to properly, albeit unknowingly, earn her name.
This little girl ruled our kingdom and other cats with the grace of her name. She was refined and elegant, polished and poised. Her beauty knew no bounds; her charm was irresistible. She was the consummate hostess to all who crossed our threshold: all guests made to feel welcome and included as she greeted them, every repairman or contractor aided in their work and cheerfully escorted to the door when their job was finished.
She was our social director, our prom queen, our up-for-anything littlest sister, and the beloved and respected leader of the other cats in the house who happily deferred all cat matters, and the best spot on the couch, to her.
She was petite and proper and so very correct in all she did. Her etiquette was unwavering. She would have exploded before she would dare relieve herself outside a litter box, no matter the circumstances, because that would be beneath someone of her standing. She shed less fur than any other cat and was always immaculate without even grooming much, as though her body and fur refused to get dirty. As if providence dictated her cleanliness.
She was grace personified.
Just a few months ago, my son brought her to me and asked if I’d noticed “this lump on her leg.”
I took her and felt a grape-sized knot on her lower back leg. I heard myself calmly say out loud, “Hmm…I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,” but I’m not sure how I even heard my own voice over the crashing and deafening roar that was either my arteries pounding in my head or the sound of the universe resolutely rejecting the idea of this cat’s mortality.
I was on fire. A searing and sickening heat filled me, starting in my chest, rising up like lava into my head, and pooling into my gut and groin. The room spun and a cold sweat prickled under my arms and between my shoulder blades while I forced a relaxed smile and told my son very casually that I’m sure she was fine but that I’d take her to the vet anyway and get it looked at.
That was the word I was given at the vet the next day and that I began typing obsessively into my phone and computer until I knew every word of every article written on the subject. I got a little bit smarter for my efforts, but my research bought Grace no more time.
At the age of 15, just eight weeks and a day after we were introduced to this horrible new word, Grace passed away peacefully with as much grace and dignity as she had maintained in life. She found a way to say her goodbyes individually to each one of us. Then, she left us quietly.
Our loss of her was much louder.
Our other cats were confused, unsure of the hierarchy amongst them now. Who gets her spot on the couch? Who begs for treats now, when that was her job? Who eats first? What exactly do we do? They were listless and dejected—certainly missing her, too. There was a palpable void and echoing silence in our house: the lack of purring and meowing, blatant. The other cats entirely too quiet in comparison.
Now, how do we go on? How do we pick up the pieces and fill the void she’s left? You can tell us she’s “only a cat,” in which case, we will tell you, we’re sorry that you have never lived as fully and with such love as this. We have suffered our loss as gracefully as we can, but we are clumsy and stumbling, trying to find our footing in this new life without her. And without her, we feel we have lost all grace.
As the song goes:
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.”
And that verse right there was the key to how we eventually found our way back.
With time, we came to see that Grace saved us all. She saved us as a family with her absolute love, and her inclusion of everyone. She saved us individually because she knew that every one of us was worth saving. She gave each of us special favor and divine-like intervention to encourage us onward and forward. When one of us was sad or hurting, Grace turned her attention to us. Curling up to whomever was depressed, sleeping on the extra pillow of whomever was in a crisis.
Suffer a breakup or a fight or a bad grade, Grace was there for them and them alone. She was the greatest friend to each of the six of us. And for 15 years, we thought we had taken care of her, but in her absence we saw that we were wrong.
Grace had taken care of us.
She was our guardian angel on Earth, and honestly, we think she’s still out there somewhere guiding us, comforting us, and watching over us from afar.
Author: Amy Bradley
Image: Author’s Own; Pixabay
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina