When it became apparent that we neglected to have Val spayed early enough, the joke at the house was, to Angel, who, while being the wrong species, was about the right size, “If any of these kittens come out blonde, you are going to get fixed!” A couple of months later, half of that ill-fated litter came out white. Of the four, Princess (officially named Eowynn, though she very quickly became Princess — she just acted all prim and proper from the beginning, and she certainly ruled her daddy) and her brother, Siggy, survived birth. The other two were stillborn. Siggy managed to survive three weeks, three weeks of intense hand-raising, sleepless nights, and many vet trips. He never thrived, never managed to walk. Princess, however, had no problems at all, not in the beginning. She was our beautiful, randomly Siamese-colored, baby kitten who tolerated her mother but adored her father (who likewise adored her back. He was SO proud!) From the start, she was an agile jumper who knew no fear.
It wasn’t long after the second litter (six kittens, two stillborn, one made it five weeks and went the way of Siggy –two adopted out and Grim is the sixth) that Princess developed her breathing issues. During the course of her younger life she saw many vets, had tests, and it was determined that she had asthma. Initially we were given pills to help when things got bad, but giving her the pills only made things *worse*, so we quickly fell into the routine of regular snot-wiping, calming her down, and her quality of life seemed better for it.
We knew, even way back then, that she would be chronically ill, that her life-span would not be that of a healthy cat. Val had kittens way too young, and there is something *off* in that family. Every single black kitty they had died: one of Grim’s sisters matches him in coloration, blue-grey, and the other is a faux Himalayan to match Prin’s faux Siamese. The two lingering-death kittens were black. She was dubbed, of her litter, The Kitten Who Lived.
We are, both of us, Odin’s. We’ve embraced death as being a part of our lives. Our family is made up of an assortment of beings in an assortment of phases of existence. I grew up with my year seasoned with funerals — my maternal grandmother had a slew of siblings, who had husbands and wives, and, as she’s the last one left, that allowed me exposure early on to the concept of death and dying. When I was seven, my mother lost a baby. When I was 18 my father finally succumbed to his five year fight with death. I am lucky (I think it’s lucky, anyway) that I did not make it to adulthood without experiencing people I cared about dying. I can’t imagine reaching adulthood and not having coping mechanisms in place to help process the grieve that can come.
So, it was easy to decide, seven years ago, that we would do good by her, by giving her the best life that we could, and that quality would matter more than quantity. This is true for all of our family — we are likely to outlive them all, at this point, and quality *has* to matter more than quality. We’re all of us mortal. I reject the obsession with immortality folks have, and I reject the denial that the majority of people seem to foster when it comes to death and dying. It does nothing to help us prepare for when the time comes. And, in my world view, death does not mean the end, does not mean that we “lose” anyone, only that how we are able to interact with them changes.
Still, for most of her life, we told ourselves it would hurt less when she went, because we expected her to take a turn for the worse and start a decline for her whole life. Funny thing — and I knew this from my father’s illness — when you expect it for years? You stop actually expecting it, even while being braced for it constantly. Also? It hurting less? Big. Fat. Lie. Because while it isn’t entirely a shock, it was fast, and she was only seven. How fast? Way faster than Sassy’s decline — which, at two months, seemed extremely fast at the time. Faster than even Angel’s two weeks. We noticed a week ago changes in her behavior, a more pronounced struggling to breathe, a lot less activity . . . but she also swung into one of her “oh, food is AWESOME!!1!11!” phases (We posit that she could not taste food. She always ate, but until our move into our current house, when she discovered human food. Her phases came and went, but when she was on a food kick she became a veritable vacuum cleaner. She, for the first time in her whole life, put on a bit of extra weight. Which translates into: except for the constant snot, she almost looked like she was at a healthy weight.
What you need to know, to understand the awesomeness that was Princess, beyond the fact that she was The Kitten Who Lived, is that, of her whole family, she was actually graceful. Thank all the gods, because graceful or not, I suspect she still would have embraced her parrot side. Being agile meant that not only could she (and she could, and would!) make daring leaps across the room to land onto your shoulders, she could do so with minimal pain inflicted upon you and little to no bloodshed. We learned early on that if we saw it happening we were only to move out of her way if we knew we could make it clear, otherwise pain would ensue. Once there was even a seven pound, very surprised kitty, dangling with two claws from my throat because, heh, I thought I would be faster. I was wrong. I might have even screamed.
Back jumping and hanging out on your shoulders was one of her most favorite things to do, and even that didn’t stop until last week.
She was also a menace. Before she ceased going into heat (we never had her fixed, worried that being put under would be more stress on her body than she could handle; she only went through heat for four years) she was extremely vocal. Her cries sounded like words. “Hello?” “Jooolene?” “Pringle?” We especially loved when she’d make the cry that sounded like my name, race off my lap, and go running upstairs, looking for someone. She became Pringle because she *said* Pringle. She used to love, in the houses with storeys, following Beth around at night. Beth says she often felt stalked, always waiting for that leap to happen. More than once, Princess made a straight leap from the ground onto my back. It was discouraged later on, mostly because differentiating between it being okay to jump on *my* back (with my high pain threshold, even slippery landings didn’t really bother me) and not okay to jump on Beth’s back (whose Fibro made the most graceful jumps pain riddled) was more than Princess could understand. Which didn’t keep me from presenting my back to her now and again anyway. And I mostly didn’t mind the random bits of snot that would end up smeared on my cheek. She was gross, bless her little heart, but who cares? She was ours and we loved her.
She also adored the dogs. While we were still in Philly she spent most of her time with Orion and Corbie and, to a lesser extent, Angel. (Angel, despite having been a dog, was always a tad cat-ish). Princess lovedlovedLOVED Orion. She tolerated the other cats most of the time, always preferring her blood family to the other cats — and when someone was ill or injured she, like everyone else, was right there to give comfort and love. We’ve been extraordinarily blessed with very pride-focused cats. Even the more aloof ones would be Right There if something was going on with someone else.
Princess had not only a Siamese coloration but a typical high-strung temperament as well, which made doting on her difficult. She’d get so excited if you were brushing her that she’d try to hunt the brush. She’d get so excited when you stroked her that she’d grab your hand and put it back on her side, and she never learned the art of pulling her claws, like her daddy does. Everything was So Exciting! Which, unfortunately, meant that we didn’t love on her physically, casually, like you can with some cats. Which never, ever made her less sweet, and never made us love her less.
She was impish, too. Always snagging you as you walked by. In fact, on our way to inter her, she managed to get a hook on my shirt, and that allowed us a period of graveside laughter — death, as Beth’s daughter said later, cannot stop Pringle.
It was fast. She stopped jumping over the last week. She was still eating, even as late as Tuesday she was gobbling food up like it was going out of style. On Wednesday she turned her nose up at the food. On Thursday she died. The cats had the whole day home with her dead body, so we hoped that it would be less traumatic for them than for when Sassy died. So far that seems to be the case. They’re depressed — Grim is sleeping a lot, Zerk goes between sleep and agitation, and Neech is completely clingy and chatty. None of the boys want to be alone for long, except for when they do. Zerk and Grim are invariably discovered in a tangle of legs, snuggling together and providing comfort for each other. Luna and Corbie seem the most okay — except Luna’s cry has taken on a plaintive quality that isn’t typically there, and Corbie has been acting up. Beth and I are trying to hold together to help them adjust. Really, though, this makes me terrified of when the next one goes, because while all our animals are very group-oriented and social-within-the-pride, the ones remaining are the ones who have independent relationships with one another. They all get along as a group, but they all have very strong affection. Grim and Neech are best buddies, but Grim loves his daddy, and Luna and Neech are play buddies, and Neech loves Corbie, and Zerk and Luna have their cuddle time, and Grim and Luna have their cuddle time, and it’s all just wonderful and it’s going to be hard.
At no point, during this fast, fast decline, did it seem as though she wanted help in her transition. It’s possible that I’m saying this to help me feel better about the whole thing, but in reality, I don’t believe that. With Sassy, with Angel, with Orion even, we hit a clear point of — okay, enough, please help. With Angel it was terrible, with Sassy it was terrible, but less messy. With Princess? On Thursday it was very clear that she was waiting for us to leave so she could die in peace, alone. She was very agitated when we were around her, if we deviated our schedule at all. At one point, Beth came home, ostensibly to check to make sure the stove was off, but in reality to see if Princess had died. She hadn’t, and she wasn’t happy at Beth’s arrival. Beth then left again. All spiritual and religious stuff aside, I believe that I’m tuned into the moods of my animals who make up my family to accurately read her mood in her last few days. It was fast . . . and it was seven years in coming.
I know, because I’m Odin’s, because Angel is still with us, because Sassy and Orion poke their heads in, because I have a better relationship with my father than I even did in the years when he was alive, that death is most importantly a rite of passage, a threshold, not a stopping point. I know she’s still around — and I know that that makes it harder at times.
Princess, we love you with all of our hearts. We already miss the sound of your wheezy breathing, and I’m not sure we’ll ever be trained out of not bending over for too long or standing with our backs to the counters, for fear of a flying kitten launching at us. I am so grateful we were able to give you a loving home for your short life, and I’m grateful that the end was swift. Run with the wolves, sweet thing, and run fast — breathing is no longer a struggle for you.
Go and see Beth’s post about Princess here.