My mom called me last night and wearily told me that she'd had to put one of our family cats, Riley, to sleep earlier in the day. He was sixteen years old, and his age had finally caught up with him.
Riley and I were not close. My brother referred to him as "intense," and that's probably a good word choice - we never formed a close bond, but still, this was sad for me to hear. My mom's house will be a little more empty without our black and white buddy. I wish Riley the most perfect peace.
Here's to you, Riley. Your slobbering was top-notch, and you were annoying as all hell. You look a little crazy in the picture below, and I wish I could blame it entirely on the flash. But you were one of a kind, and I'm going to miss you. RIP, ol' buddy.
These phone calls I receive from my mom are the ones that I dread; they are reminders of what I had, what's been lost, and the time that's passed. When I moved to California back in 2001, my mom had four dogs and 10+ cats, remnants of our growing up and our addiction to taking in strays - that's a whole lot of pets, but living in the country on a large plot of land, we always had plenty of space for them to roam and be happy. They've all had lives full of fields, food, and love, and that is the only comfort I know when one of them passes away. When I come back to my mom's house, the place where I grew up, there's that feeling of emptiness - all four dogs are gone now, and most of the cats have died as well. I will never see any of my favorites again. (I know you're not supposed to have favorites, but there were those that I was really attached to. I still get that telltale lump in my throat any time I think of any of them.)
Every time we lose a family pet, there's my own sadness to deal with, but there's also the acknowledgment that my mom is a quiet hero. She accompanies our pets as they take their final breaths; she is there as they slip away. She calls me when it's over and listens to me cry. Sometimes she shares in the tears with me, but most of the time, it's about her comforting me. She's the one who does the hard, dirty work, and she does it with grace.
As I prepare for my own journey to motherhood, I know that this is one of those really difficult things that I'm eventually going to have to deal with. Some day I'm going to have to tell our kids that their favorite kitty or puppy is very sick and needs to be put to sleep. I'm going to have to explain the fact of death, that most unexplainable thing, and I'm going to have to watch my children experience heartbreak.
How will I do this? Will I cry with them? Will I wait until they've gone to bed and then let it all out? How do you balance a mother's grace with that sorrow? How do you put aside your own pain while shouldering the sadness of your children?
I do not have the answers to those questions. But one thing I do know is that my mom will always be my hero, because even though I'm pushing 30 and my brother is 33, all she still wants to do is protect us from the pain of the world. It's a hard, selfless job that I'm taking on, and I sometimes wonder if I have it in me to be that kind of a hero (or a hero at all, really).
And then there's the knowledge that I would do anything to protect this little life inside me. I know this, because every time I see Bunlet moving and wiggling away on the ultrasound screen, all the crappy pregnancy side effects are totally worth it. I'll take more insomnia, more dry-heaving, and more leakage if it means that Bunlet will thrive. You can even throw in some vomiting and constipation for good measure.
Bunlet seems to have unlocked some strength inside me that I didn't know I had. So I guess you could say that Bunlet is my hero, too. I'm proud to be my kiddo's mom, and I'm proud to be my mom's kiddo. Without them, I wouldn't know grace, and I sure as hell wouldn't know this kind of love.