Nine lives not quite enough

Last month I shared with you the news that one of our cats, Dorset, had joined her ancestors in that great cat condo in the sky. Thirteen days after that small eulogy ran, her feline sister, Dalvay, joined her.
After I wrote about Dorset, my family and I were overwhelmed by the condolences we received online, in the mail, and (in some cases) from the florist. So before I share another word, I want to thank all of you for your friendship and kindness, and assure you that I understand the world is a busy place and you needn’t feel an obligation to drop any of us another note.
For a few days, I even wondered about the rightness of eulogizing Dalvay, unsure whether this column could (or should) bear the weight of two pet deaths in so short a time. But given my wife’s desperate love for Dalvay, it would have been unfair both to her and the animal that she cherished not to write about the cat. About both Dalvay and my wife: They were inseparable. My wife is an artist, and Dalvay would sit at her feet when she would hand-color her photographs during the day, and nestle against her chest and shoulder when she would eat dessert after dinner. The animal actually had her own infant-sized Snugli carrier.
She was a tortoiseshell feline with a white chin who absolutely revered my wife. We found her at an inn on Prince Edward Island in 1993 that was named (now here’s a surprise) the Dalvay. She was a kitten who ate scraps from the hotel kitchen and pipped rather than purred. The purrs would come later, when she was brought to Vermont. She was, without question, the sweetest cat my wife and I have ever come across.
And while Dorset died in my lap, Dalvay died in my wife’s. This time it was cancer. Our veterinarian had operated on Dalvay three times in the last four years, but determined last October that the cancer was now inoperable and she had one to three months. She lasted four and a half, remaining characteristically cheerful until the last three days of her life, despite tumors that might have been larger than she was. Dalvay was a petite little girl, and at the end, her tumors were massive, ungainly saddle bags that protruded from just above her hind legs. Undoubtedly there were others we couldn’t see.
When I left on a book tour the second week in February, I knew Dalvay had a short time remaining. But I harbored the hope that it would be possible for me to fly home from whatever city I was in when it was time, so my wife and daughter wouldn’t have to euthanize Dalvay without me and so I could say goodbye to the white-chinned girl myself. Alas, it wasn’t possible. On a Saturday morning my cell phone rang the moment I turned it on after landing in Cleveland. It was my wife, sobbing, because Dalvay suddenly couldn’t use her hind legs and it looked to my wife as if the cat was actually crying as she lay in a corner of the room in which she had been sleeping. The soonest I could get home would have been at 8:30 that night, and this would have meant we would have had to wait until Sunday to euthanize Dalvay. And we decided that wasn’t fair to her.
Consequently, once again our veterinarian, Julie Moenter, came to our house. Dalvay spent two more hours watching a video of birds and squirrels on television while sitting in my wife’s lap, our daughter beside the two of them. Then Julie arrived, and Dalvay moved on. I was in a bookstore in Cleveland, aware as I spoke to the assembled readers that back home my cat was dying and my wife’s heart was breaking.
I will always feel remorse that I wasn’t there at the end. But Dalvay really was the most loving cat. My sense is that even if I haven’t quite forgiven myself for not being there when she died, she has.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on March 16, 2008.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

3 thoughts on “Nine lives not quite enough

  1. Deb Antoniades says:

    I am so very sorry about the loss of your two special cats. We lost our beloved Lab, Daisy, to cancer just one month ago. She was only seven years old. These animals of ours are such loving, beautiful beings and bring us such joy in their all too short lives. They will always be in our hearts…

  2. Barbara Mines says:

    My heart goes out to you and your family, especialy your wife on the loss of Dalvay. I put 2 of my cats to sleep within 2 years and it tears me apart, but the thought of losing 2 beloved creatures within 2 weeks –I just cant imagine. Both sisters were very lucky to have shared your lives.
    Thank you for sharing the memories of Dalvay in your column.
    Take care,

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