Goodbye, Olivia

image of Olivia the White Farm Cat sitting on the stairs

The Monday before Thanksgiving, we took Olivia to the vet. She had lost some weight, which isn't unusual for a nearly 15-year-old cat, but it was almost exactly a year since her cancer surgery. She was coughing. And the tone of her purr had changed, just enough that no one else might have noticed, but I did.

The vet examined her and took her away for an x-ray. When he came back into the room, he first pulled up her chest x-ray from before her surgery last year, and showed us her lungs — healthy black voids. Then he pulled up the x-ray he'd just taken. Her lungs were almost completely solidly white with cancer.

I think he showed us the films because he couldn't quite believe it himself — that this frisky, energetic, bright-eyed cat in front of us was so ill. It was difficult for us to believe, too. She was still eating like a horse, as she always had. She was still grooming herself, still playful, still social. She could still breathe.

I commented to the vet that he seemed surprised by how advanced the cancer was, given her behavior. He said he was very surprised. He told us we had a month, if that.

image of Olivia lying between my legs

I knew that Olivia would tell us when she was ready. Not like anyone else would. She wouldn't give up eating, or start to hide. She would keep being the indubitable tank that she had always been, and one day she would just find her own way to tell me it was time.

And so she did.

We took her back to the vet late Friday. We started the year losing Matilda, and we ended it losing Olivia. It's nearly more than I can bear.

I told Iain that I don't know why they call it heartbreak; it should be called bodysmash, because every part of me aches with grief.

image of Olivia looking content as I pet her head

Everyone who had the fortune to know Olivia (and the misfortune of trying to eat a meal around her!) knows she was an absolute force of nature. She was the most tenacious being I've ever known. Determined, resilient, smart, comical, and fiercely sweet.

She literally came flying into our lives at 60mph and was an indomitable presence for just shy of 15 years. Her personality was as big as her appetite. Our house feels empty without her.

Olivia was a juggernaut of intense cuteness and abundant love, who showered us with affectionate head-bumps and kisses, and who followed me around the house all day, wherever I went. If I had the temerity to close a door behind me, her big white paw would come sliding under the door, petitioning for admittance. She just wanted to be involved, always. We'd play fetch for hours at a time, her favorite fetching toy being a ball of tinfoil, which I'd later find tucked deep into the toe of one of my shoes.

I'm honestly not sure if her heart or her stomach was bigger, so I'm going to call it a tie.

She was as food-driven as any beastie has ever been: The day we found out the cancer had returned, we had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, and she jumped up and took a bite directly out of my meatball the moment I set down my plate on the table.

Food stolen by Olivia over her lifetime included: A taco, most of a flounder sandwich, an entire cheeseburger, meatballs, cheese, pasta, bread, and literally anything else left unattended for a nanosecond by human, dog, or cat.

She also routinely dunked her filthy litter paws into any glass of water, coffee, or tea that wasn't being watched like a hawk, then would create a colossal mess drinking whatever was left.

When we came home from Livsy's final visit to the vet, it didn't register with Sophie right away that her sister wasn't here anymore. It was only after she failed to show up for dinner that Sophs realized what was happening. She let out a howl like we have never heard — a mournful wail that sounded exactly like I felt.

image of Olivia standing at the top of the stairs, looking at me

Livs drove us absolutely bonkers with her infamous food aggression, but it was probably the fact that she kept her appetite which gave her as much quality of life as she had so far into her disease. Her tenacity was always her worst and best quality, and even when she would make me cross with her relentlessness, I admired the hell out of her for it. She inspired me.

I haven't eaten a meal or had a drink at home for 14 years that I didn't have to spend defending it from Livs. And as much as it annoyed me, it taught me patience. I wish full-heartedly that she were here, strolling across my keyboard trying to get at my glass of water right now.

Someone who didn't know her might think she was greedy, but, for all her naughty thievery, when she caught a mouse, she brought it to me.

image of Olivia with her eyes closed, grinning

Her last day was a good one. She had breakfast, second breakfast, third breakfast, snacks, more snacks, and hours of cuddles. She had enough left to still enjoy all of it, before it was time to go.

I loved Ms. Olivia Twist mightily, and I will miss her so, so much. I feel desperately sad, and I feel profusely lucky to have known her for as long as I did.

My life is better because she was in it. I hope I returned the favor.

[Note: I will be taking the rest of the day off, and I will return tomorrow.]

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