When we came home from our short two-day trip to Chicago, Franklin and Walter were waiting by the door. Hungry kitties they were. And they missed their mommy and daddy. After they ate Franklin went onto the porch and proceed to meow to let me know that he would like to go outside for a bit. I was trying to unpack and tidy up but I’m a sucker for that boy so I grabbed my book and let the boys out into the yard while I sat on the steps and read/watched them. Franklin was so, so happy. He was rolling around on the sidewalk, smelling the air, walking around in the grass. [Bryan and I recently moved into a house with a yard and one of the best things about living here is seeing the cats enjoy mother nature. I was so excited for the summer the boys were going to have, getting to spend as much time outside as possible.]
Both our boys are curious cats and are always trying to sneak into the neighbors yard through a small opening in the fence. At one point, Walter was heading over there and I had to swoop in to stop him. Of course Franklin came over because he was just the nosiest little thing and always needed to see what was up [you can see him in the last picture, coming over to Walter and I. This was the last picture I took of Franklin]. He came over by me and plopped on the ground and I remember thinking that he had been putting on some of the weight he had lost. He just looked so fat and cute curled up in the grass looking up at me with his big beautiful eyes. those eyes. they could melt the heart of even the coldest soul.
Bryan came out to join us. I remember watching the cats and thinking how lucky I was to have such amazing kitties. I remember at one point Franklin went inside (most likely to have a little snack) and came back out shortly licking his lips. He rubbed against me to let me know he was back. Franklin took these delicate, tiptoed steps as he would walk across the grass. He kept walking between Bryan, who was sitting in the yard, and I. He was an equal opportunist when it came to giving out his love. There was plenty for everyone.
As the sun started going down, it started getting chilly. I felt bad making the boys come inside but I assured them that if tomorrow was sunny, they’d get to soak up some rays. Bryan was getting ready to go to a friend’s book launch at a nearby bar. I was opting to stay in because I was tired from our trip and didn’t really have any energy to socialize. And really, all I wanted to do was curl with my cats and my book. I was sitting on the couch reading when Franklin threw up his food in our bedroom. The food looked like it was swallowed whole, the pellets still in tact. This was not unusual as sometimes Franklin would just eat too fast and regurgitate his meal, so I thought nothing of it. As I cleaned it up I remember telling Bryan that we should make sure to feed him later because he was going to be hungry since he had just thrown up his entire dinner. Franklin came and sat next to me on the couch. I loved when he would sit next to me because he always had to be touching me. He had to be pressed up right against you. Melts my heart. He started doing this strange licking thing with his mouth. He got up and threw up more food, and foam. He proceeded to do this a couple more times, laying down for a rest inbetween. He them made his way into our bedroom closet and was sitting on his little blanket and was panting with his mouth open, something I’ve never seen him do. He hissed. Not at me, just hissed. Also something he rarely does. I called Bryan crying knowing that something was very wrong. Bryan was only a few blocks away at the time and immediately came home. Franklin crawled up onto our bed and leaned his head against my pillow. He looked exhausted. He probably was as he had just exerted so much energy throwing up. I sat with him, gently stroking his fur and kissing his little bald spot. I promised him that everything was going to be ok.
He curled his little front leg under him. He hissed. He was still panting, but it was still Franklin. After that my memory isn’t so clear as I was struggling to stay present and not be swept away with my emotions. Bryan said when he saw him he knew he was dying, but he didn’t want to say anything to me. I on the other hand, didn’t think it was that serious. I think I was in denial. I called the 24hour emergency vet clinic and they said that when a feline is panting with their mouth open they consider it an emergency and to bring him in right away. Franklin hobbled to the living room. He threw up again and fell into his vomit. He made his way across the living room, dining room and into the kitchen. I remember watching him as I was on the phone and he wasn’t walking straight. He was all over the place. I remember him trying so hard to walk straight, so hard. He made his way to front door and laid down. Walter was smelling Franklin, he seemed concerned. I think he knew something was up. Earlier when Franklin threw up, Walter “buried” it for him. We put a blanket in our laundry basket and hurried him to the car. It was raining out. I’ve heard that when it rains on your wedding day it’s good luck. I think then, when it’s raining on your way to the vet, it’s bad luck. I drove and Bryan sat in the backseat with him. Franklin was meowing, he was scared and he was in pain. I kept telling him and myself that he was going to be ok. Bryan said that when Franklin looked into his eyes, he knew Franklin wasn’t here anymore and that he was purely acting on instinct. Everything happened so fast at the vet, yet it felt like forever. They rushed Franklin to a back room. Had I known he wasn’t going to be ok I don’t think I would’ve been able to let him leave my sight. The vet said that he was having trouble breathing and wasn’t sure what had happened, the only explanation was that he had had a stroke. He said they would give him pain medication and take x-rays to see if they could see what was wrong. I asked to see him. We had to wait. The wait felt like days. I will never forget seeing him in that little oxygen box. Bryan said the image haunts him. He looked so frail and sick. His eyes were fully dilated. He was terrified. He was wet, covered in his vomit. And he was meowing. It was his meow, but it sounded different. I open the box and he jumped out, into my arms. He just wanted to go home. I could tell that he was in a lot of pain. God, all I wanted was to take the pain away from him. The smell. It wasn’t Franklin’s smell. I know now that it was the smell of death but even then, as I was holding my sweet little boy I kept telling myself that he was going to be ok. We’d get x-rays, they would fix him, maybe give him some medication and we would all go home again. They still hadn’t given him pain medication and Bryan told me that he was really upset and wanted to yell and scream that they needed to give him the drugs, immediately. Instead, he calmly told them that he would really appreciate it if they would give him the medication now. It had been at least 30 min since we told the vet to yes, please relieve him of his pain with painkillers. Putting/pushing Franklin back into that box was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. He started clawing at the clear plastic walls of the box. My little boy was so terrified and here I was leaving him all alone. It broke my heart and it still breaks when think back about that moment. That was the last time I ever saw him alive.
There was some trivial reality show about brides on the tv in the vets office. Maybe they had it on to distract the people from the pain because generally when someone goes to a 24 hour emergency vet in the middle of the night, there is much pain being felt. For me, it wasn’t working. Not only was there pain in my heart but now there was pain in my brain. The vet called us back to the exam room to tell us that Franklin had passed out and that his breathing was straining. He was really struggling to stay alive. He said he could put a breathing tube in that would help him breathe but that Franklin as we knew him, was gone. He had experienced significant brain damage. He said that the stroke must have shut off the part of his brain that told him to breathe and that if by chance he did survive with the breathing tube, he would most likely have to keep it in for the remainder of his life. Bryan and I had talked about what we would do for each other if faced with the prospect of using a tube to keep one of us alive and we both have agreed that we would opt out and not prolong the others’ death for our own comfort. I felt it was the right thing to do for Franklin, to not put in the breathing tube and prolong his suffering. The vet left to check on him and came back to tell us that he had stopped breathing. He brought Franklin’s body in. Still, it didn’t feel real. I hadn’t grasped the notion that he was gone. Really gone. One of my favorite things in the whole world was kissing Franklin’s little bald spot between his eye and ear. It was always so warm and soft and it would fill me up with so much love. It could make any rainy day sunny. It made everything ok in the world. I kissed his little bald spot and it was cold. “Bry, his bald spot is cold. Why is his little spot cold?“ I asked. Between tears, Bryan softly said, “He’s gone baby.”
I cried so long and so hard Thursday night/Friday morning. I woke up, exhausted from crying all night, I probably cried in my dreams too. My throat was scratchy and sore. My eyes were almost swollen shut, and it hurt for them to be open. When I finally was able to open them long enough to realize that the previous night was not a dream and that Franklin would never again be my wake up call, I cried some more. I went to the kitchen to feed Walter. Seeing the two food dishes made my heart crack a little more. I was only feeding one cat. I tried to meditate but cried my way through it. I tried to do yoga, but sobbed at every deep stretch. All I could do was crawl back into bed and cry myself back to sleep. When I woke up again, I tried again to meditate and dedicated the practice to Franklin. Instead of quieting my mind, which seemed an impossible feat I would not win, I allowed it to be flooded with Franklin memories that both filled my heart with joy and sorrow at the same time. It was intense and I sat there. I sat in it. I sat with all of the pain I was feeling. I just experienced it. And it was awful. But I did it. I knew I needed to allow myself to feel everything in order to fully process it all.
My yoga mat is tattered with Franklin’s claw marks, oh how he loved scratching that thing more than his scratching post. He would always come and plop down on my mat when I was in downward dog or headstand or some pose that allowed room for him to be next to me. If there was space on my mat, he would occupy it. And I let him. I just practiced around him. His comfort and happiness were always my number one priority. I wanted to have one last practice with him. I thought it would be a nice way to give closure and thanks to my little yoga mat buddy for all of our shared times on the mat. I brought the box that Franklin’s body was in into the living room and did my last yoga routine with him there in the room with me. It broke my heart to look at the box and know that my sweet, sweet boy was lying in there. I am grateful i was able to be able share one last yoga sesh with him.
Bryan and I buried him. I am so thankful we got to bring his body home. We buried him under this beautiful pear tree in our yard. We buried him with his favorite toy, a picture of me, Bry and Franklin and a plastic bag (yes, he was a special boy, he loved licking plastic bags, especially the thicker plastic that toilet paper rolls were wrapped in. He would straight up get excited for a plastic bag). We wrapped his kitty coffin in a koffiyah. A couple summer’s ago I spent some time in Palestine and while I was away Franklin lived at Bryan’s house. It was a really special time for the two of them and they really bonded. I thought it would be nice to bury him with a koffiyah I got there. Bryan talks about their epic naps after summer school and how Franklin would lay in bed looking deep into his eyes and sigh as if to say, “I love you so much daddy.”
Walter is grieving too. He has been hanging out in the kitchen, near the front door, a lot. He has even been taking naps on the kitchen floor, which he has never done. I think he’s waiting by the door so he can be the first to say hi to Franklin when he comes home. But Franklin isn’t coming home. This thought is one I’m still really struggling with. Franklin is gone.
We adopted him almost five years ago from the Humane Society. Franklin was classified as a senior. He had been passed over many times because of his age and I almost did the same. But he lured Bryan in with his big angelic eyes and all it took was Franklin rubbing against Bryan’s leg (someone who was allergic to cats and a former dog person mind you) for him to know that this was the cat. I selfishly wanted a younger cat because six months earlier I had dealt with the first real loss of a pet and the idea of an older cat terrified me because it meant that the loss would come sooner. There was just something special about Franklin though. I went with my gut and knew that I was Franklin’s forever home. At the time I was living in a studio apartment and I was really depressed. I was deep in my eating disorder, I wasn’t in school, Bryan and my relationship was rocky and I was working a job that sucked the life out of me. Having his companionship proved indispensable. The love that little guy gave me was what kept me going at times. Franklin filled our lives with so much more than I could have ever asked for in the almost 5 years we were lucky enough to have known him. Bryan and I made a pact that we would continue to rescue cats and that someday in the (near?)future we will get Walter a new friend.
Franklin was more than just my cat. He was my light on gloomy days. He was the calm in my chaos. He was my compadre. He was on my team even when I wasn’t on it. He was my little ray of sunshine. He gave me reason to go on, in some of my darkest hours. He was my constant companion, loving me just as I was, flaws and all. He was right beside me through my ups and downs with recovery. After every relapse as I was filled with self-hatred and shame, Franklin was there, giving me unconditional, no strings attached love. There were times when I loved him more than anything in the entire world, even myself. Franklin was my little buddy, in every loving way. Knowing that I need just look beside me and I’d see Franklin calmed the incessant monkey in my mind. His presence always let me know that everything was going to be ok.
The grief I feel can’t be put into words and the mourning process is soul rattling, but necessary. The pain is still constant. It engulfs me, brings me to my knees. I feel it flow through my body, filling up every nook and cranny. It effects every sense in my chassis. And when it has nowhere else to go, it comes out in the form of tears. I cry. I weep. I clench my fists so hard I feel as though I could break my knuckles. I still feel nauseated by the throbbing pangs in my heart. I want to scream and punch the wall. I want to run, and run and never stop. I want to curl up in a ball and hide from my reality. I feel the loss in every ounce of my being. It feels as though someone has ripped out a piece of my heart and left the gaping wound open, raw, exposed.
Despite all the hurt I feel, I am so grateful that Franklin came into my life, even if for only a short while. My heart is still tender. It still stings when I think of my little boy. And I imagine it will be this way for a while. And I’m ok with that. Because even with the amount of pain I feel right now, loving Franklin was worth it. I loved that cat so much, so intensely, and I wouldn’t change that. I really can’t imagine loving him any less and I wouldn’t want to even if it spared me just a minute of pain now.
My eyelids are bloodshot, my throat is swollen. I feel empty, drained. I’ve been experiencing what Elizabeth Kubler-Ross calls, the 5 stages of grief, though out of order and sometimes all at once. Denial. Depression. Anger. Bargaining. Acceptance. I’m still struggling with the last one. It’s tough. It’s the little things that are the hardest. Crawling into bed at night and not having Franklin come be little spoon. Waking up in the middle of the night to find my pillow has not been taken over by a certain grey furry animal. Not being woken by Franklin softly pushing my face with his paw. Opening my eyes to him beingthisclose to my face, that frantic look that says, “you will feed me again, right? right? i’m so hungry. please. look at me, I’m withering away mommy. please feed me, now.” And his waddled run to the kitchen anytime he thought food was involved. His snoring. Me being on my computer and him needing to be near me, right then. He’d plop down in my arms, in between me and my computer. It never bothered me though, I would just nuzzle my face into him and tell him how much I loved him. Our meowing conversations. Especially when I was in the shower. Franklin would sit outside waiting for me and we would meow back and fourth. Ah, we had a special bond. Him following me around the house, even joining me in the bathroom, when I had been gone all day. Or him getting excited whenever he heard Bryan’s scooter pull up. He could be sleeping but when he heard that scooter he would wake up, look towards the window and wait the correct amount of time he knew it took for Bryan to walk from his scooter to the door, and go wait at the door for him. His not so dainty footsteps on hardwood floor. Boy was a “dubstepper.” He sounded like a grown man walking around our apt. Playing with him and his favorite string toy. He would all of a sudden stop playing and follow the string of his toy up to your hand, then up to your face as if to say, “hey, wait a minute……” Man, that boy had such personality.
This is hardest thing I’ve ever had to feel. Two years into recovery and I’m still not always comfortable “feeling.” I had been spending the past eleven years numbing out my feelings, doing all I could to avoid them. Now, I can usually wade through the daily discomforts and as a highly sensitive person I will say that some days, that is a feat. But this, this brings it to a whole new level. A whole new level of pain but also beauty. A new level of fear but also self awakening. A new level of vulnerability but also a strength I did not know I had. There are times when I feel as though I have not another tear left inside of me. It could be nothing at all or it could be something that triggers me, reminds me of my sweet, sweet Franklin and tears pour out of me, no end in sight. I try to catch my breath. I struggle to breathe. I collapse to the floor sobbing, quivering. My body aching. I catch my breath. Inhale deeply and once again focus on the present moment. I feel hollow. The palpitating pain reminds me that my Franklin is gone.
I’m sitting outside, enjoying the sun on my face, the warm breeze on my skin. Franklin would’ve loved this moment. He would’ve turned his head towards the sky and breathed in the air and bathed in the sun’s warming rays. He would have be present, soaking everything in. Thinking of him reminds me to always strive to be here now, with a heart full of love and gratitude. To fully experience the moment. Because it’s all we have and we aren’t guaranteed another. As Joan Didion eloquently wrote, “Everything changes in an instant. The ordinary instant.”