Pets are a gift. They love us unconditionally. They keep us company. They offer comfort and protection. And when we are having trouble accepting our empty nest, they fill the void that the kids left behind and give us back the chaos, activity and the spontaneity that was once part of raising kids.
“When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator.” Erma Bombeck
As a child I always knew that when I grew up and had a home of my own I would have pets. Every backyard needs a dog and every front porch needs a cat. I did not take into consideration that I would marry a man that had severe pet allergies.
It’s not that I didn’t believe him, I did witness his reactions when we stayed too long at a home where pets lived. I just had a hard time believing that it was really allergies that upset him. I just thought he used his allergies as an excuse to leave early. He’s a big guy and he’s trying to convince me that a kitten can bring him to his knees. I just couldn’t wrap my head around that. Okay, don’t judge me quite yet, in my defense I was allergy ignorant and he didn’t exhibit typical allergy symptoms; watery eyes, sneezing things like that, he complained of sinus pressure, headache and a tightness in his chest.
So, we lived many years without pets.
We had kids instead.
I convinced him that every child should experience the love and companionship that pets have to offer, he gave in as long as the pets stayed outside. Can you blame him really? We searched and found a puppy, and what a perfect outside dog he was. He was a Chow-Chow, his thick coat kept him warm in the winter and every May the groomer removed that heavy coat to keep him cool all summer long. He was perfect for our family. He was a good dog. He was my walking partner for 14 years and he lived a happy life. We had other pets during this time but none quite like Bear.
When my daughter brought home a kitten her junior year of high school, I warned her that it couldn’t be in the house because of her dad’s allergies, and that living outside meant a low survival rate. She said she would take care of it so I conceded. Little did I know that taking care of her meant sneaking her into the house when my husband was out of town.
At about the same time we acquired my son’s high-strung puppy. The puppy loved this new little kitten, almost to death sometimes. I couldn’t keep them apart. They loved each other. I loved this kitten too, and when my husband was out of town I would sneak her into the house. He always knew, as soon as his chest started to tighten up.
I have always had one standard name for cats, Kitty, so that is what I call her, that is not her name, it’s just what I call her. Her name is Rue. It really doesn’t matter what you name a cat they never come when called. Rue is one of those extra small cats. She is extroverted and talkative. She doesn’t really meow, it’s more like a squawk, like she’s yelling at us. When we are outside she follows us around squawking the whole time. We have coffee on the front porch every morning and she is right there with us, yelling about something. She is friendly and full of personality.
She lived in the backyard with our puppy for almost two years until we sold that house and moved into a rental property where we lived temporarily before leaving the area. I warned my daughter that cats don’t always move well and to prepare herself because Rue may not stay in the new house very long.
We kept her in the garage for a day or two, and snuck her into the house when my husband wasn’t home then bravely let her go. She stayed.
We lived there for a year until leaving the area altogether. When we got to the new house, another rental, I warned my daughter again that she might not stay. We did the garage thing and snuck her in the house when my husband wasn’t looking, then one day we braved it and let her go. She stayed.
We moved one more time, I gave the same warning and we played the same game and we let her out and she still stayed. That was almost 4 years ago. I don’t even sneak her in the house any more, I just open the door and in she comes.
There have been a lot of changes in just 4 years. My second child left for college, we sold one home, moved across the state, my daughter started college and moved out, we bought another home, my oldest son got married and now my daughter is engaged to be married.
I have to admit that this empty nest thing is for the birds!
Now that the kids are gone and my husband spends time traveling for business, I spend a lot of time alone, well not alone but with the puppy that was my son’s and the cat that belonged to my daughter. I have taken up ownership of both and I call them mine. My dog lives in my backyard and is my favorite running/walking companion. My cat keeps me company while I drink my coffee and squawks at me continually while she follows me around. Both animals have permanent residence in my garage but Rue spends more and more time in the house, my husband has either developed an immunity after all this time or he just double’s up on his allergy pills and has realized he’s fighting a losing battle.
These two animals have settled into a routine. It doesn’t matter what goes on during the day they always return to the garage every night to sleep.
This past week we suffered a loss. On July 3rd Rue left the house. I didn’t think too much about it because she always comes back.
The next day, July 4th, we didn’t see her, but again I didn’t think too much about it because she always comes back in the evening to her garage bed.
Our new home is outside of the city limits, in a neighborhood. Rules are a little different here because we don’t have city codes to live by so I was not prepared for what happened on the night of July 4th. The neighborhood came alive. Front yards, back yards, it didn’t matter, there were people everywhere, cars lined the streets, golf carts drove up and down, music played, then the fireworks started. I have never experienced anything quite like it. Every few minutes the sky lit up with fireworks, the explosions were loud and ground shaking. It didn’t matter what direction you looked, on every corner down every street as far as you could see people were setting off fireworks. We were completely surrounded with patriotic celebration and joy. This went on well past midnight.
As my family set off our own little firework display I realized that Rue had not come home, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that she wasn’t going to come home. The sound of the explosions, the people, the music and the cars, all mean tragedy for an extroverted, miniature cat exposed to the world.
I went to bed with a heavy heart. The next morning, I had my coffee on the front porch alone. I called for her but she was nowhere to be found. As the day went on my heart broke. The fireworks, the explosions and the people were all too much. After 4 years and 4 houses I knew she was gone. I was heartbroken and distraught.
I don’t know if I was mourning this loss more than our other pets because she was an exceptional cat or if I’m tired of loss or because I’m just older and more emotional. I think it may be a direct result of my empty nest.
We all suffer loss. My stories are no different than anyone else. My husband lost his father and his grandmother while our children were still babies. I lost 5 family members in an 8-year time span, including my mother and grandmother. My children have been growing and leaving home and I think I’ve already made reference to the fact that I am not handling this empty nest very well. When I realized Rue wasn’t coming home I did not want to handle another loss or another change. I immediately fell into a mourning time and found it hard to talk about her. It sounds silly to say out loud because I know that she is just a cat and we have lost pets before. The point is our hearts love what we love, mourn what we lose and hold on to whatever we can.
On the morning of July 6th, I stepped onto my front porch to have my coffee. My husband kept me company as I sipped my first cup, when he offered a refill I didn’t resist. As he stepped inside and closed the door I heard the all too familiar squawk, my little miniature Kitty came bounding around the front of the house, yelling at me about this or that.
She came back.
She is now a house cat!