Gillespie died Friday while I was away. He was 17.
He was about 9 months old when I got him in the summer of 2000. Thelonious had died suddenly a few months earlier, and though Queenie probably liked being an only cat, I liked having two. Sarah had a colleague whose daughter was giving away kittens, and though you’re always reluctant to take a new animal into your life, I couldn’t resist the shy, sweet feline Sarah had suggested — a “barn cat” whose whole experience in life was probably dodging cows. I imagine him as an awkward wallflower, letting his siblings pursue mice while he stood back, too kind to take part.
Why reluctant? Because you know they’ll find a way into your heart, and you also know full well you’ll almost certainly outlive them and there’s nothing you can do about it. So you love them and wag your finger at them and feed them and play with them and love them, and they join you in bed and wake you up at 5 a.m. because they’re hungry and bat the Cat Dancer and, it appears, love you back.
Queenie wasn’t happy when I brought Gillespie home and I’m not sure she ever really warmed up to him. But Sarah and I did. He was so good-hearted. He was the one who playfully swatted our noses to wake us up. He was the one who would crawl into your lap. He was neurotic — hiding from visitors and, for a time, biting at his fur after being challenged by a feline we took in for a few days — but if he came out to greet you, he was all trust.
He gave up pieces of himself to time. Oscar slashed his tail not long after they first met, and Gillespie wouldn’t stop picking at the cut. We finally had to have half of the tail amputated. I thought it was never going to heal; more than once we had to take him back to the vet to have his tail re-wrapped with gauze because, even with a cone of shame, he wouldn’t leave it alone.
Later, his teeth started decaying, and he had to have several pulled. Then, like many older cats, he developed kidney failure and I started giving him weekly fluids.
Still, he seemed to gain confidence in his later years. After Queenie died in 2014, he and Oscar became great pals, like brothers.
But he always remained the same old Gillespie: sweet, affectionate, a little shy, a little skittish.
Last month he suddenly lost his appetite. His weight dropped alarmingly. The diagnosis was a liver problem — certainly a growth, perhaps cancer. On Sunday I had to go out of town for a week to train for a new job. Concerned about his health, I decided to board him at the vet, knowing he’d get the best care there. When I got back on the 19th, I’d pick him up and figure out what to do next.
Unfortunately, he never improved, despite medications and fluids and all the love the wonderful staff could give.
At midday the vet called; he was in bad shape. They were going to give him a form of morphine in hopes of easing his pain. Friday night the vet called back. His breathing was labored, she said. He might not survive the night, and it was going to be an agonizing death.
So I gave her permission to set his soul free.
I’m so sorry, Gillespie. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you at the end. You, my sweet, furry friend, were always there for me.
September 1999-March 17, 2017.
Thanks to the doctors, nurses and staff at Clairmont Animal Hospital for their thoughtfulness and sensitivity. I couldn’t have asked for more supportive veterinarians.