“When a window closes, three doors open,” my mom said. She had grossly misquoted the famous adage, but I knew it was her deliberate attempt to be funny.
I had just lost an opportunity at work which was why my mom, being quite the closet comedian, was quick to reassure via humor. Little did I know that her little joke would turn out to be prophetic in a morbid, my-heart-is-too-broken-you-can’t-piece-it-back-together way.
Thrice the Grief
It was just hours ago when I received the news: my Auntie Paz, who cared for me when my parents were miles away working hard to give me a life better than theirs, died in her sleep. Three days before her death, Madame Erly, who aided my aging parents and my younger brother while I lived miles away from them, also passed away. In the same week, Auntie Paz’s only sister Lydia (my only godmother and the only I one I ever needed, having gone above and beyond her ninang duties), also passed away. Count that: three. Three doors in heaven have opened for three amazing women, leaving behind many broken hearts in their wake…including mine.
“Just a Cat”
That same week, I found out that a friend’s cat had crossed the rainbow bridge. His grieving human withdrew from her online life by deactivating her social media accounts out of utter heartbreak. No words can express the pain we feel when someone we love dies. “Well, maybe not for someone who loses a cat. It’s just a cat,” others might think.
But grief is grief. It is there to leave a very big, very real hole in one’s chest, be it because of a beloved human or a beloved feline—there’s just no two ways about it. Family is family. It is not defined by blood; we find family where it exists, even where there is neither consanguinity nor similarity in species.
Ves Pedraja knew firsthand what that meant. She knew what it meant to find family. Sadly, she also knew what it felt to lose family. Her cat, Figaro, earned his angel wings way too soon. Just like me, Ves was hoping to cope. “I tried so hard to save him. But I failed.’
Figaro was about two months old when Ves found him on her mom’s birthday. She was about to move out of her old home back then and a new rescue was a luxury she couldn’t afford. “But the minute I stepped out the gate, he came running to me as if he had known me his entire life. I figured he was my mom’s gift to me [because] I was really going through a [difficult] time. Figaro made it all bearable.”
Her mom, who would have been 80 that day, had been dead for ten years. Finding Figaro on her mom’s birthday was a welcome coincidence: an intervention more than an interruption. Finding Figaro was finding family. Whenever Ves asked Figaro to kiss her, he would lick her face.
Fond of playing fetch, he would drag his toys towards her, hoping she would play with him. Time passed but even as he grew up, Figaro remained a kitten at heart. This year, Figaro passed away before he could celebrate his third “rescueversary.” He was an angel on loan just passing by to bring love and comfort, never meant to stay long on earth.
In November 2016, Figaro became a picky eater, but adding his favorite kibble to his food usually solved the problem. Three months passed but Figaro’s eating had not improved. Ves brought him to the vet but his health had deteriorated: he had low platelet and red blood cell counts while his liver enzymes were more than twice the normal value. Perhaps the vet knew it was too late, which was why Figaro was eventually sent home with a few supplements. Ves, hoping she could alleviate Figaro’s pain, spent every waking hour—and almost forewent sleep altogether—to take care of him. Still, he continued to lose a lot of weight.
He was brought back to the clinic and this time, he stayed there. “[When] I visited him, as soon as he saw me, he started panting. And a tear fell from his eye. I told him it was okay and I loved him. And I understood. I said a prayer with him: ‘Stay with me, Lord, for the days are getting short and the night is coming.’ I knew it was time.”
It was midnight when Ves left the clinic. She knew the vet would do everything possible to help Figaro fight for his life. “I didn’t want him to suffer. [My vet and I agreed that] after two days, we would decide [if we would put him to sleep]. But Figaro decided for us.” About two hours after Ves left, Figaro breathed his last breath. He had earned his halo in heaven.
Ves went back to the clinic to say one last goodbye, confident she could do it calmly. She was wrong. “When I called him anak (child) for the last time, the scream that came out was so painful.” Unable to wrap her mind around losing Figaro, Ves couldn’t bring herself to leave. “I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t bear finding his toy mouse there and hoping he would be there, too.”
She had lost the cat she considered family. “His meows were so sweet. I still hear them in my dreams. Whenever I wake up, I start thinking it’s all just a bad dream, but no. He’s really gone.” Knowledge rarely brings respite where grief is too great.
For people like us, losing a cat is more than just losing a pet. It means losing family. However, Ves believes she will see Figaro again one day. She believes her mom will find Figaro and they will keep each other company.
Run free, Figaro. In case you meet Madame Erly, Auntie Paz, and Aunt Lydia in your afterlife adventures, I hope you entertain them thoroughly with your gentle purrs and playful headbutts. We wait patiently for our turn to lay eyes on that wonderful bridge that you have already crossed.
This story appeared as “Angel on Loan” in Animal Scene’s March 2017 issue.