In the presence of angels – kids, pets and saying goodbye

Fella, Oscar and Titch playing in my living room floor in their younger days

Happy days. Fella playing with his sister Titch (foreground) and Oscar, one of our other remaining cats, who was a kitten at the time

This has been an emotional week in the My Working Mummy household, veering between great sadness and joy.

For we said goodbye to our old, beloved, ginger tomcat, Fella.

Now this post might not make much sense at all to non-animal-lovers out there. However, hopefully some readers at least will know where I’m coming from and those who don’t will bear with me.

When the cuteness fades and it’s love that keeps you going

The past three years have been really tough, and have made me appreciate how challenging it can be to blend animals with kids.

I grew up in a family full of animals, and had cats of my own as soon as I acquired my first home.

When I met my partner Mike, I had four moggies. Titch and Fella – a brother and sister pair who were 18 months old when I adopted them from a rescue centre – were the first of the bunch.

I’ve always resisted the stereotypical ‘cats as surrogate babies’ comments I’ve received, particularly when I was living on my own. I just love these generally bonkers, quirky and loving creatures for what they are, and have never considered my house to be a home without them. Having said that, I never really intended to end up with so many of them – something which, in my experience, just tends to happen once word gets around that you’re a ‘cat lover’.

I’ve doted on my moggies for years and they’ve brought incredible joy to our household.

However, my pregnancy coincided with Fella (who was at least 14 by that point) being diagnosed with renal failure. So, for the past three years, he was on two and latterly four tablets a day, to keep him ticking. Although that kept his body functioning though, his behaviour became extremely challenging. One of the symptoms of kidney issues is constant food cravings – Fella became like a heroin addict for food, terrorising us with constant yowling, and unable to be satisfied. One of my memories from the early days with my son George, is of Fella meowing insistently outside the nursery door whenever we (frequently) got up throughout the night to see to the baby.

I can see why animals often take a back seat when owners become parents too. It can be really tough caring for them as well as managing the demands of children. Forget rose-tinted images of cute kittens and toddlers. Animals really are a life-long commitment, which you carry with you through thick and thin. With the ancient, ill and demanding ones like Fella, it takes real love to get you through from one day to the next.

Saying goodbye – the innocent wisdom of children

On Thursday 16 July, I found myself back at the vet’s with Fella, accompanied by George, who’s now two years and four months old. Although I knew Fella was getting poorlier, I thought this was just another one of our regular visits, this time to get him checked out for an eye infection.

Not so. The diagnosis was that he’d developed a large kidney tumour. The puss in his eyes was caused by dehydration because his kidneys had stopped working, not an infection. It was time to, finally, say goodbye.

My first thought – apart from being so sorry to say goodbye – was doing so with dignity with a toddler in the consulting room (as with most boys his age, George isn’t known for his quietness, patience, or ability to stand still!). However, he surprised me, as he frequently does, with that innocent understanding children seem to have. Together, we saw Fella off in a way which was both extremely sad (I’m writing through blurry eyes now at the memory) and very lovely. As usual, George had brought one of his favourite toy trains along for company. He ‘brummed’ it, quietly, across the edge of the consulting table as I stroked Fella to comfort him while he had the injection. ‘Bye Bye Fella, luf you’, said George, stroking his head gently. I’d like to think that, in those final moments, what left that ancient and failing body was the spirit of a playful, mischievous, ginger kitten, frolicking with his family and the little boy with the train…free at last from pain and discomfort. I would also like to think that kitten left the surgery with us that day, and came home with us, in my pocket.

Fella, Oscar and Titch playing in my living room floor in their younger days

Happy days. Fella playing with his sister Titch (foreground) and Oscar, one of our other remaining cats, who was a kitten at the time

Fella laid on the settee with our other cat Oscar

Fella (right) lounging on the settee with Oscar (left) before he became really ill. Generally lazy and contented by nature, upside down and sleeping was one of his favourite states!

Moving forward, by looking back

The house is a very different place now Fella is gone. The thing we notice most is the extreme quiet because, thanks to him (as well as George!) , it has been anything but for the past three years. We’ve had him cremated, and bringing his ashes home has given us a sense of closure. There’s a real sense of peace now. Our remaining three cats have been having endless cuddles, as I’m sure they know what’s happened, and I imagine Fella’s spirit watching over us.

This whole experience has convinced me yet again that, with both our children and our animals, we are in the presence of angels. Their innocence, simplicity and beauty brings us closer to the real meaning of life, whatever that is.

I’ve decided I’m going to put the pain and challenges of the past three years to one side and remember my ginger kitten for what he was before illness took hold. So this post is my tribute to you, my big, fat, cuddly, soft and simple ginger ‘Dollop’.

We love you.

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