As I begin to write this post, my cat is sitting on the desk beside my computer, staring up into my face with, frankly, absolute adoration. Every once in a while, she stretches her neck towards me in order to touch my face with her wet nose, and emits a short grunt meant to acknowledge me. I love this cat. She is unquestionably loyal, unreasonably as smitten with me as the day I brought her home...and undeniably aging.
Her name is Frodo...yes, named after the Frodo of The Lord of The Rings, but named thus long before the craze over this series of books started; in fact, it's only been in the past few years that people actually recognize where I lifted her name from - before that, the response I got to her name was usually "huh?" Frodo is midway between fifteen and sixteen years old. She used to have a sister, Sammie (named after Frodo the Hobbit's under-rated and under-valued best friend...and my favourite character in the books), but Sam died a number of years ago after what appeared to be a brief mental illness that manifested itself in strange physical ways. Oddly, Sam's death did not leave a lasting impact on me - she always struck me as having less character, somehow, than Frodo; Sam and I were not as attached as Frodo and I are.
On Friday, when I took Frodo to the vet for her annual check-up, I was told that, given her advanced age, she is now considered to be geriatric...past even the senior citizen stage. My heart lurched when the vet so callously gave me this news without even pausing to let me absorb the impact of her words.
That interchange left me feeling more than gloomy; it brought back, unbidden, memories and anxieties I've carefully tucked away since the death of my beloved first pet, my cat Cardigan, sixteen years ago. Cardi was a special cat - communicative and expressive in ways that I've not seen since from another animal. He died during the night at a vet hospital, shortly after becoming ill at home - he suffered something akin to a stroke. I was devastated and, in my grief, felt certain that time must stand still given his absence from my life. I determined at the time never to own another animal, given how painful it was to lose Cardi. Alas, I didn't maintain my resolve - I was too lonely. It didn't even take that long before I brought home the two new kittens, Frodo and Sam - and yet, despite their cheering presence, I mourned Cardigan for years, and struggled for at least three years with my guilt about not having been with him when he died.
Nonetheless, here I am, years later, having to contemplate the inevitable end of another trusting friend, who just now reaches up to my face again to lick my cheek, nose and eyebrow with her gravelly tongue. It's almost like she knows that I'm writing about her...and about her looming demise...so timely and affectionate are her reassurances.
What is it about animals that can so move us? How do they reach our hearts the way they do? What will I do when Frodo is no longer here to greet me at the door when I come home; when she no longer gives me nighttime signals that it's time for me to go upstairs and get ready for bed; when she no longer stretches herself, sausage-like, alongside me and sleeps with her head on the inside of my shoulder; when she no longer bumps my hand, seeking my affection; when she no longer makes all of those noises with their various inflections that only I seem to be able to interpret? Though of course I know she is not human, I cannot help but recognize that the loss of this friend will also be profound in my life.
I may have to change vets to one who might be more sensitive in recognizing the value inherent in such a friend, who would be somewhat less callous in her assessments and verbalizations. In the meantime, I will try to focus on her slightly-more-compassionate after-thought, offered when she saw my face post-geriatric-announcement: that Frodo is in good enough condition to be viewed as something more like a thirteen-, or even twelve-year old cat. My hope, resolve, is that she (Frodo, not the vet) will be around for a long time yet.