Festus came from a litter that included two sisters, both of whom still live with me. They'll be 18 this summer. Watching his fading away in the last months has made me very aware that my girls won't be living forever.
Emma, the alpha cat of the universe, is very bonded to me. Her sister, Cooper, is nearly feral despite living in an identical environment.
They're both really healthy. Except for not jumping as well, a loss of interest in hunting mice, and an increased preference for warm laps they don't seem like old cats. Cooper's gotten friendlier. Emma's grown increasingly vocal in her demands for attention. But I know we're on borrowed time.
Eighteen is often the age that kids leave the nest, for the first time anyway. So much happens in the lifetime of those two decades. As a parent (of real children or furry ones) you know going in that you only get a certain amount of time together. Their presence and growth become the hallmarks that form the boundaries for life's changes.
We had just moved into our current home the spring before that litter was born - a move to the country for peace and quiet, dreams of chickens and horses and a garden. All these years later we have lots of peace and quiet. No chickens. No horses. Only flowers.
I still believed that having an abundance of pets (and people in my life for that matter) would reduce the pain of loss when they died or left. A belief that had 19 cats and kittens swarming our home for a short time. I discovered the pain of loss cannot be avoided and also that my husband, who rarely objects to anything I want, has limits.
I hadn't yet met my daughter, whom I gave up for adoption when I was 18. She came into my life two years after our move, has been moving in and out of it ever since.
I hadn't yet met Pat, the counselor who helped me save my life. We met a year after my daughter appeared and is still my greatest teacher.
I was less than a year sober. And have since moved beyond sobriety into recovery into healing - from survival into thriving.
I thought I had it all figured out at 40: a loving, respectable, steadfast husband; a respectable secure career; a life designed to be safe, simple, and yes - immanently respectable. The box of respectability became too confining. I've since discovered that the element of respectability works well with a spirit of adventure. Safety and security are illusion. Change happens no matter how high the walls.
Emma disappeared one summer for over a week. I was sure she was gone, and just as I was about to fall hard into the arms of grief, she marched up the driveway yowling and thin. For a long time after that I lived in fear of another disappearance. Every time we'd go on vacation a part of me held my breath in anticipation of her possible disappearance while we were gone. I was so full of the fear of losing her there was little room for loving her or appreciating her fully.
That's been her biggest gift to me. She's lived long enough that I finally know without doubt I'm going to lose her. Every day with her is a gift of grace that will not be repeated tomorrow. She may still be here tomorrow, and next week, and maybe even next year and the one after that. She's already outlived the statistics that say a housecat's life expectancy is between 9 and 15 fifteen years. There are a number of cats who have lived into their thirties. So there's no predicting.
But each day is its own unique time with her. Because I know that, I make sure each day that I appreciate what is (even when I've had it with her using my lampshade as a scratching post). When she does join Festus wherever cat souls travel to, I will be left knowing I loved her as completely as I could.
Knowing that I'm on borrowed time with her reminds me constantly that all time is borrowed, to be used and experienced as fully as possible in its moment. There's no way to save it or protect it or use it as protection against an uncertain future. For now her purring presence in my arms as I write this is enough.
Top photo, Cooper. Bottom photo, Emma.