Monday, May 4, 2020

A great disturbance in the Force

Today, for many, is Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you). Around here, we also call it Quatro de Mayo, both ways in which we remember that it is our wedding anniversary. When we were married on 05/04/03 (the descending sequence being our mnemonic for the actual date), no one had yet coined the phrase Star Wars Day.

Angel on the aft deck, one of her favorite places to be.

Today we have been married 17 years, a day of celebration. But it is also the first day in three decades, for either of us, to wake up without a pet. So today, in addition to celebrating our marriage, we also celebrated the life of Angel, the cat, who left this world yesterday afternoon after a long and well-traveled life.

We are overwhelmed with grief. This is the fourth time we've been through the process of losing a pet together. Each of those other times, though, we still had a pet or pets to come home to. Those pets got extra love and affection as we processed our grief. The house was emptier, but not empty. Today is different.

Did someone order a cat?

All of this is amplified by the grief we are all carrying right now due to the pandemic. When our last two traveling pets passed, we were surrounded by friends, who were able to comfort us not just with words, but with their presence. Today we have just each other, and that will be enough. And we are mindful that, as devastating as this has been for us, so many others right now are losing loved ones -- parents, grandparents, spouses, children, friends -- without so much as the ability to touch their hand one last time, or say goodbye even in the same room.

The most interesting cat in the world.

Angel turned 19 just a little over five weeks ago. That's a good run for a small cat, and especially so considering she only ever had one good kidney. We adopted her when we still lived a land-bound life in the San Francisco Bay area, along with her adopted "sister," born a day apart, when they were just weeks old.

They were immediately welcomed into our home by Opal the dog, and all five of us moved soon afterward into a tiny condominium in downtown San Jose. All three became veteran travelers as we spent two years making monthly road trips to the Seattle area while our custom bus conversion, Odyssey, was being completed there.

Angel with her sister-from-a-different-mother George, shortly after adoption.

We moved into Odyssey full-time nearly 16 years ago, and have lived a nomadic life ever since. With most of her life spent traveling, it's really the only life she's ever known. She became blase about rumbling diesels and loud air horns, thunder claps and even lightning strikes, birds and fish and other wildlife, and the constant motion of the bus or the boat. Seas had to be big enough to send Louise for the meclizine before Angel complained, which she did by becoming pissed.

I prefer my own box now.

In nearly two decades of travel, Angel has been to all of the lower 48 states (and DC), and four other countries. Although I'm sure to her it was all divided up simply into "cold" and "warm." If we had left the route planning to her, we'd have spent all our time in the south and the tropics.

We often joked that the name Angel was a misnomer, at least until now, and, in fact, we never called her that, and she wouldn't recognize it if we did. We called her simply "kitty," and she would come when called by that name. True to her Russian Blue (as best we could determine) heritage, she was unfailingly polite. She never begged but was always appreciative, and she was mostly compliant, to a fault.

Politely choosing a toy.

What she was not, for most of her life, was demonstrative. She did not cuddle, or purr, or curl up next to us, or sit on our laps. For 13 years, it turned out, she lived in the shadow of her adopted sister, George (yes, sister). We did not understand it until very late in their lives, but George was something of a bully, and was sure to get her needs met to the exclusion of her sister. And George was a love bug; we were never lacking for cuddles or lap time when George was around.

Angel had a shoe fetish. She's rubbing her face on these.

George left us in 2014 (memorial post here), and only after her passing did we learn that Angel was really meant to be an "only cat." Over the succeeding years she began to open up and relax, and very slowly became more demonstrative. She never really became a lap cat, but she would give us what we came to call "proximity love," curling up close by, touching a leg or an arm in just one spot. Sometimes if you touched her throat you could tell she was purring, just below audible.

She never failed to come running to greet us at the door when we came home, unless she was sound asleep, and if either one of us left she would cry softly. She wanted little more than to just be with us, although she did perk up every morning when it was time for her tablespoon of wet food that Louise gave her more as a treat than nutrition (she ate a prescription dry diet as her normal food).

Bags are almost as good as boxes. But harder to get into.

Long-time readers will know that we've been through some crises with this cat. And I am not talking here about the time she ended up in the drink, but rather the several times she ended up in the hospital, fighting for her life. We discovered early on that she had but one good kidney, the other being diminutive in size from birth. As she aged, she came close to renal failure more than once.

Angel drinking from her fountain.

What gave her a new lease on life after the last crisis two years ago was, of all things, a water fountain. She never drank enough water when we just gave it to her in a bowl, no matter how many times we filled it or changed it, but she loved drinking from the fountain. In the first few weeks after we got it, I had quite the challenge keeping up with the resulting output.

She was already 17 then, and we knew she would be living on borrowed time. The stay at an emergency clinic in the Upper West Side of Manhattan drained not only our bank account, but, for a time, her will to live. After she fought her way back, we vowed not to put her through it again. If her renal system crashed again, we would let her go. It was hard to see her that scared and alone.

Art imitates life.

The two years since then have been our best years with her. She would occasionally deign to be on my lap, in an awkward sort of way. She curled up with us more. Her water intake stayed up and she was generally spry and healthy. And still as polite as always, and running to greet us whenever we returned.

Sooooo sleepy...

As she approached her 19th birthday we could tell she was slowing down. She slept more, and jumped less, and became needier than ever. Potty accidents became more routine, and she started pawing at her water again, a behavior which the drinking fountain had put a stop to. We knew her days were numbered, and, yet, there was no clear sign when the end might come.

Looking out the hawsepipes, another favorite activity.

When we left for the Bahamas in early March, we did so knowing that it might well come while we were there. We still had a full liter of lactated Ringers and an IV set, as well as numerous other meds, but had to face the grim reality that vets in the islands are few and far between, and if the end were to come, we might not be able to keep her comfortable until we could get her someplace.

If the Covid-19 pandemic had not come along, in fact we would still be in the Bahamas right now. Most likely we would have been in Georgetown or Eleuthera, where veterinary care is available, but we were thankful to be back in the US where it is a sure thing. Even better, our friends Jennifer and Mark on Starlet, who are in New Zealand right now, reached out to connect us with a local friend here who is a veterinarian and would come to the boat when the end came.

My chart has ears.

In her final weeks she became weaker and sometimes confused. But she never seemed to be in pain or even uncomfortable. And the cat who, for 19 years, did not want to be on anyone's lap, suddenly could not get enough lap time. As if she needed to get all the love she missed out on before she left.

Relaxed on my lap for the first time since kittenhood.

Saturday morning we knew it was a matter of days, and I called Allison, the vet our friends connected us with. She was leaving town that afternoon, and could stop by on her way out, but she would not be back for ten days. We weren't ready, and neither was Angel, or so we thought. But the crash came late in the afternoon, and we knew for sure that it was time. Too late for Allison, who was already gone.

We found an animal hospital three blocks from a bulkhead where we could land the dinghy, and they gave us an appointment for 2pm yesterday. We scrubbed our plans to leave the boat for dinner, and instead spent the rest of the evening holding her on our laps and giving her as much love as we could. She was alert and comfortable, but clearly in no shape to be left alone.

I'm actually very artistic, don't you think?

Fearing she might try to climb up on the precarious chart table, or even just fall over the edge of the steep ladder to belowdecks, I set up a litter box in the master shower, brought her water fountain and food bowl downstairs, and carried her down to bed with me when I turned in, closing her into the master suite with us. She seemed to have a good night.

These muster drills are starting to annoy me.

Yesterday morning was a bit like any other for her, sitting with us in the saloon as we had our coffee, and excited as always when it came time for her morning wet food treat. We, on the other hand, were total wrecks. Having a set time made everything seem like a prison execution; dead man walking. The tablespoon of wet food became everything left in the can.

In what can only be described as the ultimate gift, she crawled into her carrier a full half hour before it was time to leave, and curled up motionless in a heap at one end. We knew without doubt that it was time. She whimpered a little on the tender ride, but nothing like her usual going-to-the-vet yowl. Another whimper or two on the three block walk.

I always helped decorate at Christmas time.

The vet office had told me on the phone that due to the pandemic, they would take her curbside, and after an exam and insertion of the catheter, we could come inside to a treatment room for the end. We called from outside at the appointed time, and ended up waiting on the steps for 15 minutes until a tech could come out. Angel fell so deeply asleep we thought she had already passed.

If the shoebox fits...

The tech who came out for her seemed to think we would be dropping her off and leaving. I explained that, no, we had been told we could be with her at the end. The tech said she would check with the doctor, and she took Angel inside. It was another half hour before we got word that only one of us could go in, and we regretted not saying a more thorough goodbye before they took her.

It was painful to have to choose which of us would go in. In the end, we decided my presence would be more comforting to her. I know Louise was a wreck for the brief time I was gone. We had arrived at 2pm, but it was 4pm before they called me inside. Fortunately, we had found a bench in the shade in front of an office furnishing store across the street to wait.

Does this bus go to Hawaii?

When I came into the treatment room she was resting comfortably on her side. Not purring, but not complaining either. I knew she was ready, and the doctor confirmed it was her time. We had a short video chat with Louise for one last goodbye, and she went quickly and peacefully. I tried to be calm and stoic and supportive for her, but as soon as the sedative dose was in, I bawled my eyes out.

Who does your nails?

In the time of Covid there is no time or space for pleasantries or even thank-yous for the medical staff. I had to swiftly exit through the back door, my tears streaming down onto my face mask. I found Louise on the phone, being comforted by a close friend.

How can one tiny animal, weighing in at seven pounds soaking wet, leave such an enormous hole in a space this big? The house feels empty. Neither of us can stand to be alone here now -- we were never alone before. In time, the sharp edges of our grief will wear down. We'll stop looking for her underfoot or expecting her to come running to the door. But for now, the pain is deep, and all we can do is be present with it, and with each other.

Resting on one of her final days. She was not allowed on the table and never asked until the end. How could we say no?

When we left on this journey of a lifetime 16 years ago, the tag line of this blog, which appears at the top of the sidebar, read Life on the open road. In a bus. With three pets. Are we nuts? You decide.
That tag line has since changed three times, with a change of conveyance and the passing of Opal and George, to what it is today, Life on the move. In odd, one-of-a-kind steel conveyances. With a cat. Are we nuts? You decide. Even that tag line is now hard to read. It may be some time before we can bring ourselves to write a new one.

We miss you, kitty. You will always be in our hearts.


  1. Happy anniversary, Sean and Louise! It's ours', too. Our 35th. We also call it Quatro de Mayo and usually celebrate with Margarita's. Somehow we forgot today, old age maybe. I was just about to go to your blog when your tweet popped up in my feed.

    I'm really very sorry for your loss of Angel. Wow, 19 years. When we met at Box Canyon, We sure met Opal, and knew of your cats, but I don't think they wanted to meet us, or at least me. You guys certainly had a hard a sad day, especially Louise. I had tears in my eyes reading it. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure that this is Kumori's last year, too.

    Take care and stay safe!

    Pat, Nancy, and Kumori.

  2. Sean, my husband and I are both campers and boaters, and I've been following your blog for a year or so. Please accept my heartfelt condolences on the loss of your beloved kitty. Your post is the most moving tribute to a pet that I've ever read; it must have been extremely difficult for you to write it. You did a lovely and eloquent job of highlighting Angel's personality and spirit - thank you for sharing despite your grief. May happy memories from years past help to ease the pain of your loss in the days ahead. Warm regards to you and Louise.

  3. Thank you for all the words about your years with Angel - it was difficult to read through all my tears. You were wonderful slaves to her as she was a light in your lives. My heart grieves with you.

  4. Sean and Louis, as I tell everyone who has lost a furr baby, remember the good times!
    You ask how anything that small can grip your hearts so, I have cried over a pets passing more than family members. Much love flowing your way!

  5. So very sorry to hear about Angel. We know how much those little bundles of fur can get into your heart, and how difficult it is to lose them. That was a beautiful tribute. Take comfort in knowing you gave her a wonderful 19 years.

  6. I think someone must have been cutting onions when I read this this morning. So sorry. My wife and I resolved when our last pet had to be put down, that we no longer wanted to have our hearts broken again for a long time.

  7. The fourth is a good date! Norma's and mine was on the fourth only in April and last month would have been our 50th. I am so sorry to hear about Kitty! She was a valuable member of the crew and will be missed. Now, like Bob above. I must be near onions so I may as well go cut one up for lunch!

  8. Sorry to hear about Angel, losing a member of the family is so hard.

  9. Sean - Very well written. You reminded me so poignantly of the time my wife and I had to put down our loved dog. For sure our pets become part of our families in ways we are often not aware of until they are gone. Thank you for sharing this difficult time in your lives.

    Brian Diehl

  10. So so sorry for your loss..... these furry critters wriggle their way into our lives and our hearts, and when they leave us, FAR too soon, the holes are gaping. I am deeply sorry your Angel is gone.

  11. Sean and Louise
    So sorry for your loss. We have the had the same sorrow occur many times in our life and it's the hardest time to go through. We have always tempered our feeling of the loss by finding a new companion as quickly as possible.
    Time and a new companion are a great healer.

  12. I was so sorry to read about Angels passing. When you've shared 19 years together it makes it so hard to say good bye. Thank you for writing such a wonderful tribute to a wonderful little soul. Our hearts go out to you both.

  13. I am so sorry. I have traveled with you, quilted with you, and enjoyed kitty's adventure so much. Thank you for sharing your family with me. The tears are pouring.

  14. i am sorry to hear about Angel. It is so hard when we lose our beloved pets.

  15. Sean & Louise, so sorry to hear of Angel's passing. I know she meant so much to you guys. Sean, what a wonderful celebration of life you posted. I still remember walking Opal at the casino in Shawnee Oklahoma and meeting Angel there. Hugs for you both

  16. So sorry to hear of the Kitty's passing. She could not had a more exciting, loving home...and two loving, attentive humans as her companions.

  17. Sean never replies, I'm done.


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