I remember the week I had two unrelated counseling clients schedule emergency sessions to process their pain at the loss of their cats. They instinctively knew I would provide a safe place for them to grieve. At the time, my precious Baby, (my black calico cat) was close to 17 years old and had recently undergone eye removal surgery that was to buy her, unknown to me at the time, only 8 more months of life.
My parents had rushed over to join me at the vet’s office to pray for her before surgery. Baby was a beloved family member. I cherished every moment afterwards, as I had every moment before. I knew the departure was approaching, and I wasn’t ready to let go yet. She had been with me through most of my adult life. Now, it was my turn to unselfishly be there for her.
People mention the “pet of a lifetime.” Baby was that for me. Several years later I find myself crying out of the blue missing her. She was my unexpected gift from God when I returned to grad school to complete my Master’s in counseling degree. My fiancé at the time was allergic to cats, my roommate disliked cats, and my apartment at the time didn’t allow pets. Baby outlasted the fiancé, the roommate, and the apartment. It wasn’t even a close contest. I followed my heart when destiny walked in on four paws.
Baby was my co-pilot driving back and forth to school 16+ hours in a small hatchback Geo. Whether caught in a blizzard or sleeping at a rest stop because all the hotels were full, Baby sat on my lap purring. She greeted me at the front door cheerfully every time I came home. She attentively found her place seemingly wherever I needed to focus; on a laptop, book, drums, study or work papers.
After Baby died peacefully at home, I chose to express my grief for Baby by taking my love for Baby and multiplying it. The love I had for her was more than one pet could hold. I became a cat foster, eventually becoming an affectionately coined phrase, “foster failure,” with half a dozen adoptees. It was at that point I remembered a piece of advice I often give about not making big changes the first year after a significant loss! Too late, six furry changes later…
Most recently, I adopted a dog for the first time. When I got Sammy home, I noticed he had Baby’s tail! A black calico tail that seemed mismatched with the rest of his fawn-colored, three-legged, rescued, retired racing Greyhound body. He shares her gentleness, expressive eyes, and same “happy tail” wiggle.
The gift of pets reflects life's sacredness like no other way I know. Baby is the great love of my life and will live on in my heart forever.
Michelle Patterson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Founder of Heart Peace Counseling Center, LLC., in Deland, Florida. Michelle has co-authored and edited a devotional book series called Hearts Unshaken to provide faith-based guidance for people facing challenges in their lives. When she's not working, she's usually at the beach or at home with her six foster cats and three-legged rescue dog Sammy.