A Tribute to Mia
Because we’ve just entered the new year of a new decade, we’ve been thinking a lot about some of those 4-legged “loved ones” we said goodbye to within the last ten years.
This sweet girl went to sleep in early 2013, and we still miss her.
“I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.”
~~Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”~~
She was always there. And where she wasn’t at any given time, certainly there were traces of her – a tuft of fur or even, sometimes, a dislodged whisker. For nearly 21 years of my life – yes, Mia had been there.
For those of you who’ve never loved a cat, I must say I simply cannot imagine, as I have loved quite a few, deeply, over the years. There were my childhood cats – Kit Kat, K.T., and Heikki. And then, there were those who came later, in my adult years – Ali, Cica, Beatrix “Bea” Potter….
And then, there was Mia.
Mia arrived at my Kentucky home in the fall of 1992 – a gift from my parents for my 23rd birthday. She’d slept in the crook of my sister Katie’s head and the headrest of her Geo Storm – traveling some three hours from Ohio to what would become her new abode on Malabu Dr. in Lexington. A little wisp of a thing – with blue eyes that pierced right through. She was barely weaned, and not yet brave in any way. Tentatively she tested the “waters” of this new, unfamiliar territory – with two already well-established felines claiming it as theirs with low growls and bristly backs. Crotchety Ali-Cat never liked ANYONE (except for Bill) and certainly didn’t intend to make any exceptions when it came to this new “blonde.” But Cica… dear Cica. She’d mothered a litter of kits and maintained a maternal instinct. It was Cica who almost immediately beckoned Mia to come and find this new home friendly and inviting. Before long, they were inseparable – snuggling close, cleaning one another, and always… ALWAYS purring with contentment, as if to say, “You belong to me.” (This, no doubt, was my first intimate, up-close-and-personal experience with adoption. Little did I know….)
But contrary to what Cica thought, and despite their genuine love, I knew that Mia belonged to me. From the time I was a girl, I’d hoped to some day have a Siamese cat. Perhaps my love for this breed came from my early memories of Lady and the Tramp (my first EVER movie) and the way Mom would sing, “We are Siamese if you please. We are Siamese if you don’t please. We are former residents of Siam. There are no finer cats than I am…” In the movie, those sneaky cats were anything but nice, but because I loved it, I loved and longed for a cat from “Siam.”
When Mia arrived I was still, in many ways, just a girl. Bill and I had only been married about three years, and he was deeply entrenched in medical school. A day-care teacher who longed to be a mom while caring for others’ children, I was lonely. As silly as it may seem to many, my cats were my kids. They heard my off-handed, snide comments from time to time… licked tears from my face when I cried… and were the ultimate “leg warmers” each and every day as they wound back and forth between my feet – making figure-8s beneath me.
It was Mia though, for over 20 years (almost without exception), who burrowed her way under the bed sheets to be cozy in the crook of my legs each night. And she always purred there under the covers. Loudly. At some point in the night, she’d exit and make a nest somewhere on our bed – many times on my pillow, close to my head. Through the night, if I even so much as brushed against her, the “motor” – her language of love – turned on. This is how it went, all those years. It was, in a world of disappointments, something upon which I’d come to rely.
Yes, Mia was mine. She belonged to me. Or perhaps I belonged to her. Either way, we had each other.
Mia traveled with us from Kentucky to South Carolina… to Indiana… and then to North Carolina. Once, en route to our new home in Greenville, SC in 1996, I poked my finger into the cat carrier briefly to offer comfort to my drug-induced (to keep car sickness and anxiety at bay) Siamese. Before I knew what had happened, however, she bit me several times. My middle finger on my right hand swelled up like a sausage, and I was on antibiotics for ten days. “Gentle-as-a-Lamb” Mia proved to be part tiger cat that day!
Sadly, the last several years of Mia’s life revealed that even the most ornery, untamable prowling wildcat, as well as the most pampered, indoor-only feline eventually grows old. And she was no exception. She lost her hearing, was prone to night wandering – sometimes seemingly confused – and her hip joints grew fragile. Her teeth, too, began to deteriorate. Still, she was there – on the blanket atop the cedar chest… in that sunspot in the window… tucked up against our pillows on the bed. And at night, there she’d be – curled up in the warm crook of my legs under the covers or on my pillow. Always purring contentedly.
Bill laughed at me often over the last five years or so, as we’d talk to Mia each night before turning out the lights. I frequently asked her, “What will I do without you?” I’m not sure how much she really understood, but she always seemed to appreciate that, in that moment, I was telling her that her presence seemed vital. (Cats are, after all, proud by disposition and appreciate being affirmed and reminded of their importance.) She would look at me and yes, purr. She knew what she meant to me. And I have no regrets. Bill would chuckle, “You’ve been saying that for years now, but really, she could go on living for a long time!”
And she did. The years continued to go by, quite quickly as they do. The ladies that work at our animal hospital would say, “Buying another bag of food? How old is she now?” 18. 19. 20. We’d swap cat stories, as is common for anyone who has ever belonged to a feline. It takes one to know one, after all.
I bought Mia’s last bag of food in early December 2012 – silently hoping, as I did each time over the course of the year, that it wouldn’t be the last. As Christmas approached, I’d fill her bowl, though not as often. On Christmas Day, Allie and I gave her some extra-special kitty treats and wished her a “Merry Christmas!” We even gave her a catnip mouse, which she seemed to enjoy for a few moments. No longer a kitten or even a spry, middle-aged cat, she didn’t toss it up and pounce as she’d once done, but her purring and glassy-eyed gaze said “Thank you!” just the same. It seemed she knew she was in her “winter season” of life and was thankful for the gifts – expressing her gratitude with maturity and grace, her eyes always showing her love, soft and gentle.
As December drew to a close and January began, Mia sat often in her favorite sunspot in our bedroom. She looked outside – watching birds at the feeder. Did she lament? I wondered; after all, she’d never set paw out of doors. What was she thinking? A dear friend of mine from college who had known Mia all those twenty (plus) years referred to her as the “Quiet Observer.” And honestly, I think this a perfect description. Perhaps Mia was content to simply observe life from her perch in the sun found in many a window through the years. At least I’d like to think so. It would be yet one more attribute we shared in common.
February came and there was still much uneaten food in the storage container. I needed to refill her bowl less and less. Fearful that she wasn’t able to eat (her teeth, at times, caused her pain), I would give her some wet food mixed with tuna, and at first, she attacked it greedily. But even that, over a short time, became less appealing, and she’d only lick it a little and then turn away.
And that’s when I knew. The time was drawing near. Yes, our time was coming to an end. Even thoughts of the inevitable caused me great sadness, and I cried often. How does one make the decision to end the life of something – Someone – who had proven to be such a loving and faithful friend? Life – such a sacred, miraculous thing to me – can’t just be snuffed out haphazardly. And she was deserving of so much more. But how… how could I ever be present at that moment when she closed her eyes for the last time? And yet, how could I not? Though I knew I lacked courage, I longed to be brave. She deserved as much. She deserved my presence there, in the end. Of this, I was certain.
In my despair, I often prayed, “Please, God… just let her slip away in her cozy spot on my over-stuffed chair.” But then, I knew if I found her – gone – I’d always wonder what her last minutes were like. And that, too, would be painful.
There was just no easy way. There never is in love.
It was a Friday – February 8th 2013. She’d been telling me. Her eyes looked hollow, and she’d not been eating nor drinking properly for days. It took every effort within her to jump from the floor to our bed, and though I’d made a little makeshift step to help her (even showing her how), she refused to implement this new strategy. Maybe it was pride. But I just kept thinking, “Isn’t it, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.” Bah!
So, on that last day, I told her a hundred times that I loved her… that she’d been a good friend. I thanked her for being there all those years. I told her, too, that I would miss her – but that I didn’t want to be selfish and keep her too long, causing her unnecessary pain. She’d taught me, as silly as it may sound, about selflessness and kindness and loyalty. No one can convince me that cats (at least ALL cats) are selfish and independent. For Mia was anything but.
And so, with Bill and Mom beside me as I made the decision with the counsel and loving encouragement from another compassionate soul – our dear, cat-loving vet, Dr. Beth – I said my final good-bye as I stroked my thin and fragile friend. She looked peaceful, even there in that sterile room. She was saying, “It’s okay. I have lived a long and wonderful life. And I thank you for loving me enough to now do that which is best and most humane for me.”
In only a few moments, she was asleep. I held her, wrapped in a towel, and told her over and over again through tears what a good friend she had been. In those minutes, her lifetime flashed before my eyes – moments as a kitten pouncing sideways at a glance of her own shadow. Cica-moments when they were cuddled up close – affirming my belief in a loving Creator who must be the perpetuator of so much beauty. Occasions in her “winter” years when I carried a tired Mia down the stairs just so she could curl up on my lap while we watched TV, knowing the stairs caused her unnecessary pain but that she would sacrifice just to be near me.
Asleep in my arms, she was at peace. And I thought, then, to myself, “Yes, if God is love (and I believe He is) then the love in His creation must return to Him in some miraculous way.”
And so, though she was always there, I do believe she is now truly There. And though I remain here, my life has been made all the richer because of a friend named Mia who came to stay. True, she is no longer with me, but there are so many bittersweet reminders of her presence that was and always will be, to me, a true and priceless Gift – sent from the One who is the Giver of all that is good and precious.