Something missing

There has been a shadow hanging over Peter and I for a while.  As great as our holiday was, it was almost like there was a **disclaimer notice on all our conversations.  'How are you?'   Fine**.  'How was your holiday?  It looked amazing and like you had a fun time'  Yes, we did thanks**.  The ** was our worry about Bella, one of our cats.

Bella has been part of my life since 2004.  After my first cat Scully (yes named after the Gillian Anderson character from the X Files) died my heart was broken.  I joked saying it would take 2 cats to replace her. And there one day in the local newspaper were Bella and Fin.  My (now Ex) partner brought the newspaper to me.  As soon as I saw Bella I knew she was the one.  As a bonus, we wanted to adopt her sister too.  My heart pounded as I couldn't wait to contact the vet where they were being held.  I had a sleepless night hoping that no-one else would adopt them first.

After hearing on the phone that a family were on their way to meet the girls I raced up in my car.  They lifted Fin out of the pen and placed her on my lap.  She was wide eyed and worried.  Bella couldn't be reached as she withdrew inside the enclosure.  I fell in love with both of them.  Luckily the vets were happy for them to be adopted together and to let me take them.  The vet thought they were approximately 2 years old.

The original photo in the local paper November 29th 2004

On bringing them home we put them in the spare room where it was quiet.  They hid on the couch, burrowing under cushions.  But eventually their curiosity got the better of them.  I sat on the floor as  they walked around surveying their new home.  I cried tears of joy watching their little fluffy pants walk around the house, sniffing everything.

Torties are known for being crazy or naughty - problem children basically.  But this is false.  They have big personalities and love people.  At least that's my experience.  Bella was tiny.  No matter how much we fed her she remained about 2 1/2 kgs.  Adult cats are usually between 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 kgs.  Age didn't make a difference either.  I was convinced that she was the runt of the litter.  One day while I was gardening in the front yard I heard a plaintiff meow.  I knew Bella's voice and called to her.  She kept meowing at me.  I couldn't see her anywhere.  Eventually I looked up to see her on the roof.  I ran to one side of the house coaxing her to follow.  She eventually figured out how to get down, clambering onto the fence near where I was standing.  I laughed thinking how tiny she was, that perhaps she'd been caught in an updraft!

Both cats had had most of their teeth removed before we adopted them.  They only had 3 canine teeth each.  One day I arrived home to see the only lower jaw tooth sticking out at right angles from Bella's mouth.  I screamed and dashed to the phone.  The vet suggested that as long as she wasn't in pain it would just probably fall out.  But if I was worried I could bring her up.  Later in the evening I noticed nature had taken it's course and she was completely toothless on that jaw.  She also eventually lost one of the top canines too, leaving her with only one mighty tooth left.  This garnered her the nickname Nibbler (from Futurama).  Her eyes were so large and she remained very kitten like in her appearance.  Her pupils were always dilated giving her the look of a manga cartoon character.

In 2009 I split from my partner.  What I worried about most was the cats.  While we sorted out what would happen I moved into the spare room and slept on a single inflatable mattress.  The cats loved this.  I was at ground level and they somehow managed to squeeze in under the covers of the narrow bed and curl up with me.  These things never go smoothly but I wanted to take the girls with me when I left.  I know this caused great pain.  I still feel terrible about that.

The girls moved with me into a flat.  They then met Peter.  Although not allergic to cats he proceeded to sneeze and have watery eyes for weeks.  There was a lot of antihistamine consumption going on.  Everything was new for them.  A new person, new home and new window views.  This was the beginning of their lives as indoor cats.  As I wrote Uni assignments and stared out the window at the west brunswick skyline, both Bella and Fin would curl up in an old cat bed I had bought Scully.  She never cared for it, but the girls enjoyed lounging while I wrote.  A couple of years later Peter and I bought our home - a townhouse.  They moved again, with more new views and windows made for sun baking.

Cats like being held in different ways.  Fin is only comfortable if you hold her like you're burping a baby.  Bella however, allowed me to cradle her in my arms.  This allowed me to kiss her on the head or belly (what we call playing the hairy harmonica) as I walked around.  She was such a smoocher that if she heard kisses she would come running, protesting that she was not being adored.  In the mornings she would jump up on the bed, walk towards your face meowing and proceed to rub her face (including the one mighty tooth) on your nose.  Other times I awoke to find her asleep on me, laid out along my hip and midriff.  If I made kissing sounds she would walk towards me letting me kiss her on the top of her head endlessly.  She would also happily put her head against mine.  We would put our foreheads together and sit connected quietly for a minute.  I used to say it was our 'mind meld' moment.  So many times I looked at her, contemplating how she was my heart in cat form.

What she lacked in size she made up for in personality.  Chatty, comic, loving, affectionate.  She was always my baby, but in recent times I became a little jealous of her adoration of Peter.  She would happily curl up on his tummy and rub her head on his spectacle frames.  I felt I had been forsaken.  In the mornings, as she was beginning to get a little slower I would scoop her up in my arms and carry her upstairs.  We often joked that she was the Queen of Sheba, and we were her happy and loving servants.

As both Bella and Fin were getting older we fretted at the thought of one of them dying and the other being left alone.  They had spent their whole lives together.  We made the decision to introduce a third cat to the house.  The internet suggested a kitten would be best as it was less threatening than a full grown cat.  When buying pet food we always went and played with the adoption kittens.  They were from the Second Chance Animal Rescue. But one day was different.  I had that same heart pounding feeling when I saw a kitten called Callie.  Peter fell in love with her too. After much council wrangling for permits, we brought her home.  We followed the suggestions we had researched but it was still a bumpy introduction.  Eventually something wonderful happened.  Fin found her inner kitten.  She would run around and play with Callie, they would gently touch noses and seemed happy to hang out together.  The ride was not so smooth with Bella.  As Callie quickly grew she dwarfed Bella before she turned one.  She wanted to play and would pounce on Bella.  From anywhere in the house you could hear Bella's hiss or angry howl. But eventually Callie calmed down.  She would approach Bella and gently sniff her, occasionally trying to lick her.  We reached a tolerance between the two of them.  Thank goodness.

Bella would periodically have stomach problems.  I was convinced this was related to her being the runt of the litter.  In March this year she stopped eating, withdrew. and was unsteady on her feet.  After countless tests, X-rays and scans we were relieved to hear it wasn't cancer, but a stomach inflammation.  We were sent home with tons of meds for her.  They also suggested buying tuna and a roast chicken to help entice her to eat.  So the squeamish vegan forked roast chicken into her bowl.  I lay on the kitchen floor, gently stroking her and wept as she ate.

In my 20s I got three tattoos.  They have faded badly and I am in the process of getting coverups.  My first was on my ankle.  I wanted a cat design and the tattooist used Fin's colourings as inspiration.  In April I organised for another coverup.  This time Bella would be my muse.  After 4 hours and much pain I have her as part of me.  It felt right.  She was someone I loved with all my heart.

Thanks Crispy Lennox for this wonderful tattoo

A couple of weeks ago I began my holidays.  I had worked really long hours and was thrilled to finally have a break.  On saturday night Bella was curled up on my lap.  As I was stroking her under the chin I felt a lump.  I don't know how we hadn't noticed earlier but it was hidden in her fur.  A trip to the vet on the following Monday made me worry as I heard the words lymphoma from the vets mouth.  But tests would need to be done to confirm this.  An anxious night and little sleep from either Peter or I.  The vet eventually rang saying the results didn't show signs of cancer, but all her tests indicated that something was going on with her.  More meds and a plan, as we were about to go on holiday for 6 days.

I watched Bella eat dinner that night, emitting her full body purr.  I still don't know how she ate and purred so loudly at the same time, or how such a loud sound came out of such a tiny body.  Anxiously we dropped her, Fin and Callie at the cattery.  Six days later we were back cradling them all, smothering them with kisses.  About to run out of meds I took Bella back to the vet on my last day of holidays, Wednesday  She suggested 3 options - more tests to get an official diagnosis and a course forward, try steroids as they would act as a pain killer and slow any tumour growth, or put her down.  I wasn't quite ready to hear those words and began to cry.  I picked the middle road of option 2.  I returned to work on Thursday.  Bella was swapping between meds and we gave her pain killers to help the transition.  As I left work on Friday I rang Peter.  I asked how Bella was and he said 'she's breaking my heart'.  Driving home I pictured having to put her down, but we would spend the weekend together and smother her with kisses and give her good food.  But when I got home I could see how unwell she was.  Laboured breathing, and trouble getting comfortable. Peter and I looked at each other and knew.  As the vet had closed we would have one last night with her.  But as the night progressed her pain increased and it was too much.  We rang the 24 hour emergency clinic and dashed at 9pm talking quietly and trying to comfort Bella all the way.  They wrapped her in a pink towel and let me hold her on my lap.  We stroked her and told her we loved her as the injection was given.  In less than 30 seconds she was gone and out of pain.

She was placed with care back in her cat cage.  We got into the car, Bella on Peter's lap and we both let out uncontrollable sobs. I couldn't believe she was gone.  We took her home as we didn't want to leave her somewhere she didn't know.  Cold, clinical, unfamiliar.  That may sound stupid but we wanted her with us.  I placed her in the study.  I opened the cage and stoked the soft fur just below her velvety ears.  She was still warm.

In the morning we organised for her to be cremated.  She was collected by Caroline who was respectful and gentle. We cried as she took Bella away.  The cremation will be on Monday and she will stay with Bella at all times, light a candle and return the ashes to us.  Urban living means we have nowhere to bury her, but we can take her ashes with us wherever we go.  Somehow this is comforting.  The little furry piece of my heart gets to stay with me.

I still expect to hear her meow somewhere in the house, or feel her walk up the bed towards me.  I still burst into tears if my mind lingers on the loss of her.  My friend Felicity shared something on Facebook yesterday.  A quote saying 'Grief, I've learned, is really just love.  It's all the love you want to give but cannot.  All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest.  Grief is just love with no place to go.' Any animal lover knows this pain.  It's the deal with loving your pet.  I read an internet comment recently where a woman said she could no longer have cats as the pain of their loss was too much.  I find this so sad and as heartbreaking and devastating as the last few days has been I would not have missed Bella being part of my life for anything.  The pain is worth it.  But it hurts like hell right now.  There is something missing from our home.

This post is my attempt to document my time with Bella.  Little stories and memories of which there are hundreds more I could add.  It's also to salute the amazing little soul she was, filled with love and purrs and personality.  I miss you Bella but am glad that you are no longer in pain.  My heart in cat form.


Since writing this post I have remembered more things about Bella.  I just want to capture these little moments with her together in one place. So please indulge me...

Caroline returned Bella's ashes to us on the Monday after Bella died. She gave us a candle and had picked roses from a garden to hand to us.  We talked, she met Fin and Callie and we thanked her for her care and support during what was a simply awful time.  She was warm and lovely and said she hoped to not see us again for quite some time, looking at Fin and smiling.

Later that evening there was a knock at the door.  It was a bunch of flowers sent from our vet.  They had known Bella for 12 years as we had adopted both Bella and Fin from them.  I spoke to Bec (pictured at the top of this post) and she said she had cried when she heard the news. Bella had a way of capturing people's hearts.

I arrived at work on tuesday to find a posey of flowers on my desk from colleagues - who are clearly also lovely friends.  I got many hugs and looks of understanding at work.  It's nice to be surrounded by so many animal lovers.

In the weeks since, Peter and I looked through photos we had of Bella.  In this digital age you have lots of images but nothing is printed out.  So we picked a dozen of our favourite shots and had them printed.  It felt like our attempt to put Bella back in our home.  The tin with her ashes sits on a  bookshelf surrounded by these photos. It's nice to see her face out of the corner of my eye.

I've also remembered so many other little details about her. How regardless of whatever time of year, when you dug your face into her fur she always smelt the same.  The sweet smell of damp hay. I never understood it, but it was such a delightful scent.  I would fill my lungs with this smell and smile.

She was tiny, but a force of nature.  So determined. She would meow loudly while waiting for food, and purr equally as loudly.  Fin would sit back and let Bella do the hard yards. Fin's meows were so faint we laughed calling them 'silent meows', where her mouth opened but nothing could be heard.  Occasionally Bella would awake in the middle on the night, letting out these yearning, questioning and exceptionally loud cries.  I used to think she'd awoken to find herself alone while everyone else was in bed.  We'd call out in response 'we're over here Bell' and her paws could be heard travelling in our direction, followed by purrs upon finding us.  Since Bella has gone Fin is getting some volume behind her voice.  It's been interesting to see this change.

Bella's forcefulness garnered her the nickname the 'furry bulldozer'.  If she wanted to be somewhere or wanted something there was little that would stand in her way.  I would wake up during the night to find her in bed under the covers with me.  She must have pushed herself in, sliding down the gap between my back and the mattress.  Finding some way to push her face under the covers and crawl down the bed.  There were times when I feared she would suffocate as her head was way down under the covers.  Panicked I would check her breathing.  She was a sleepy, warm rag doll but happy in her toasty cocoon.  She would curl into the small of my back and I'd smile and go back to sleep with her beside me.


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