On Loving and Losing a Wonderful Boy

Dear Harley,

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since you’ve been gone. In many ways, it feels like just yesterday when we had to say goodbye. The pain of losing you cut very deep. Today, I recalled something I read after you died. It was from Dr. Seuss – “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” And make me smile, you did, my boy.

I can remember the first time I saw you eight years ago. You were one of forty cats at the Nova Scotia SPCA Shelter hoping to be adopted that day. You sat at the front of your kennel, eagerly awaiting your turn for hugs. A sense of grace and strength radiated from you; your eyes shone with the wisdom that comes from a life of hardship. Your kennel card said you were ten years old, but that didn’t matter to me. It’s the quality of life that’s important, not the quantity. When I opened your kennel door, you hopped right into my lap and gave me a kiss. I knew at that moment I had to take you home. We named you Harley because your purr sounded just like the iconic motorcycle.

It didn’t take long for you to steal our hearts and those of your two sisters – Meggie, our 16-year old dog and Katie, our 9-year old kitty. I can see you walking shoulder to shoulder down the hall with Meg like two little soldiers. Meg’s sight was going, so perhaps she thought you were a fellow canine. You and Katie developed the funniest rituals. At mealtime, Katie would pace back and forth in front of you, knowing you hated that. Neither of you would eat until you’d taken a perfunctory swipe at her. Each evening, she’d hop up on the chair beside you for a grooming session, until your mouth got so full of her hair you’d call it quits. Thank you for being such a wonderful brother to the critters you left behind.

I remember your endearing eccentricities……inspecting the bedroom closet every night for boogey-men to make sure we were safe..…..insisting on sleeping under the covers with me……proudly singing to announce to everybody that you had used the litterbox, earning you the nickname ‘Choirboy’……. doing your ‘happy dance’ on the little rug in the family room………hijacking the hot pack I was using one night and me buying you your very own that you loved to lie on, summer and winter. Thank you for making me laugh.

I was so proud of you as you conquered your fears. When you first arrived, the sound of the doorbell sent you scurrying under the dining room table. Service men scared you too. But you soon bloomed into a gracious host who greeted visitors with a welcome meow. You overcame your health challenges too – dental surgery that left you with only 4 teeth (you could still chow down with the best of them) and irritable bowel syndrome (you were a great patient as you took your daily meds). Thank you for your bravery.

Life is so fragile. I remember the day we took you to the vet because you had a hair in your eye, a minor problem. We did a routine blood test to see how your bowel problem was doing. While your bowel was fine, we were stunned to learn that you had developed non-regenerative anemia, which is ultimately fatal. It didn’t seem real. It was one of those numbing moments in life when time stands still. Your mind wants to tell you that it must be some mistake. Only it wasn’t.

Everyone was amazed at how well you did for the next two months. I’m so glad we had that time together. You and I came up with a strategy – we would exchange as many kisses as we could while you were still here and those kisses would sustain us until we could be together again. But you grew tired and one day, you were too  weak to eat. I know how hard you tried to stay, but we couldn’t win this battle sweetheart.

I knew we had to find the strength to let you go; to do what must be done, out of kindness and love. On that inevitable day, we held you one last time and our hearts surrounded you with love. As I stood over your lifeless body, I didn’t see a cat, I saw my son. Never for a minute has the sadness of losing you outweighed the joy. Never have the tears outweighed the laughter. Never has the pain outweighed the love.

Your little rug will always stay in the family room. Your favorite toy, Mr. Mouse, keeps watch over the bedroom closet for boogey-men. On sunny days, I put the box containing your ashes on the windowsill where you loved to lie. I think you’d like that.

Thank you for coming into my life, Harley. I’m so grateful we found each other. You were my faithful companion, snuggle buddy and confidante. My time with you was full of happiness and we made the most fantastic memories together. You asked for so little and gave so much. I want to tell you how much I love you buddy, always and forever.

I feel your spirit close to me, my boy. I promise that we’ll meet again. You’ll run into my arms and we’ll both smile.