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September 22, 2020

Saying Goodbye to the Family Pet Who Helped Me Say Goodbye to My Marriage

“She doesn’t look right,” my legal assistant said to me during a Zoom call last week. She was talking about my cat, Lily, who turned to face the wall and just stayed there. Usually, she likes to get in on the conversation, walking back and forth across my desk and looking into the camera. I shrugged it off. Cats will be cats, I thought, and I went on with my day.

But that day would take a sharp turn for the worse. Lily became more and more listless. By nighttime, I knew something was very wrong. My husband and I rushed her to the animal hospital. After the staff triaged her, we received the bad news. Our sweet Lily had advanced and irreversible liver damage. To spare her from more pain than she was already in, the doctor advised us to put her down. 

One by one, I made the calls to my children. I told them Lily’s grim prognosis and listened as they shared their love for Lily and how much they would miss her. As hard as making this decision was, and how much we wanted to be selfish and keep her with us as long as possible, we agreed that letting Lily go was the most selfless thing we could do for her.

We owed Lily that much, especially me. It’s surprising because I didn’t pay much attention to her when she first came to live with us about nine years ago. My daughter, who was around 15 at the time, had begun fostering pets back when we lived in Minnesota. Out of all the animals that my daughter found homes for, there was something about Lily; she made my daughter want to keep her around just a little while longer. 

With my divorce almost finalized, we moved to Seattle to start a new life, Lily included. When Lily’s visit became permanent, it was as if we got the official go-ahead to let go. Lily and I began creeping out from our shells, her the bed she had been hiding under since coming to live with us and me the protective armor I had created around me during my first marriage. After living in our previous homes, it seemed both Lily and I each had a lot of healing to do.

Part of that healing included me getting married again, this time to the love of my life. My husband and I blended our families, my four kids with his two, plus Lily. Though my daughter was Lily’s hands-down favorite, Lily took well to the house’s lively atmosphere and slowly made her way out from under the bed. Every morning, Lily greeted us from this cute second sink in our kitchen, building a separate and unique relationship with everyone in the house. She rubbed up against all of us every morning and meowed in what I swear resembled human speech.

However, I will admit that I felt a slight tinge of guilt. I felt like I was betraying the memory of the cat I had when my daughter was born. Oh, did I love him! His name was Brutus, and he was mine before I married my first husband. I took care of Brutus like he was my baby, so he was less than thrilled when I gave birth. I worried he would hurt my daughter because he was so jealous. As much as it pained me, I found Brutus a new home.

The years went by, and as my marriage deteriorated, parts of me faded with it, along with Brutus’ memory and all he brought out in me. As it happens with these things, I lost myself without even knowing it. That self-sufficient, carefree young girl who once laughed all the time became a woman I barely recognized in the moments right before I decided to leave my husband.

Lily helped me remember. 

My daughter left for college shortly after we moved to Seattle, leaving Lily in my care. Funny how that works, because it was Lily who ended up caring for me as I sat at my desk one day during the early morning hours, no idea how I would pay for said daughter’s steep east coast private education. Not to mention how I would pay for my younger children who might want to follow in her footsteps. Lily never left my side, becoming the silent partner in the law firm I founded that morning.

In my daughter’s absence, we became inseparable. Lily was there when I signed my first client and those who followed. I didn’t count on the support but was so grateful I had hers. Whether Lily was at my computer or underfoot, she was always there: when I received the call that my son had been in a serious car accident, and, in a separate incident, when my other son’s friend tragically passed away in a motorcycle crash. Her presence calmed me during the most horrific and unthinkable moments when I didn’t think I could handle anything else.

Lily showed me I could. 

Strong, resilient, and a real fighter, Lily epitomized the person I used to be, the one I lost along the way, and, most importantly, eventually got back. Though Lily’s no longer with us, I’ll continue fighting in her memory every day — for my family, clients, the social issues I care about, and, of course, my health and wellbeing, which I vow to never let fall by the wayside again. I owe her that, and so much more. 

Thank you, Lily.

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