Day 129 of 365
How does one honor a queen with words? If I could write music for her, I would. All I have are words. I am such a peasant, but I have had the good fortune of knowing a queen. And, over time, she became one of my dearest friends.
I am allergic to cats, so I didn’t have a cat in my life until we adopted our kitty, Sophie, in 2011. I had always wanted one, and Ron, my husband, had always been a cat person. I think he missed having kitties around. I assessed my experiences with cat allergies, and I seemed to do better with cats with lighter fur and longer hair. One Friday night, we stopped by the Humane Society “just to see what they had,” in case they had a kitty with light fur or long hair. The had one single adoptable kitty in the whole place.
It was there that I met a kitty so beautiful I almost couldn’t believe it. Her eyes were large and green and outlined in thick black lines. She looked regal. And, in her cage, she was snuggling a soft blanket.
“Well, she likes soft stuff, just like I do,” I told Ron.
But we had to do an allergy test. The worker at the Humane Society opened the cage, and I gave Sophie some good, long pets—only her name wasn’t Sophie at that time. It was “Ginger.” Sophie’s fur was long and black and white. Ginger didn’t seem right for her, but that’s what it said on the card on her cage.
We went home that Friday night and waited for some potential allergic reaction. It never came. I thought about her all weekend, longed for her, panicked at the thought that someone might get to her first. That Monday was President’s Day, so I had to wait until Tuesday. I called as soon as they opened that morning, and after teaching that day, Ron picked me up from work and took me straight to the Humane Society.
After a short interview, that kitty was ours, and I was so thankful. Ron asked me what we should name her, and I knew immediately it was “Sophie.” Truly, Sophie seemed to accept and appreciate this name right away.
Sadly, she did not accept or appreciate me right away. I didn’t know how to pet or hold–or not hold–a cat. I didn’t know how to read all of her communication. I didn’t know that the belly was a trap. She showed me her belly, just like a dog, but I was not supposed to scratch the belly. Ron, the cat person, offered instruction, and it helped. He adored Sophie too and was so great with cats, but he held back to let me try to bond with her.
My allergies also flared up. I struggled to breathe sometimes, and my eyes were a constant mess. I started taking some over-the-counter allergy meds, and they helped in the immediate. Over time, I didn’t need them anymore. Interestingly, either due to the meds or due to my allergies, I completely lost my sense of smell in the first year we had Sophie. To this day, my sense of smell has never returned. It’s great for cleaning the chicken coop, but it’s a heartbreaker that I can’t smell fresh bread or vanilla or flowers.
Still, it was worth it. Sophie and I began to figure each other out. We both had trust issues, it turned out. Sophie was three to five years old when we adopted her and had already had a rough life. She had been found on the streets, covered in fleas, and due to allergies, she had lost much of her fur on her back legs and all near her tail, which wasn’t quite all the way grown back when we first got her (it would later fill in beautifully). She held herself back from me, and I, a little bit scared of those claws, held myself back from her.
But, oh my goodness, she was regal. She held herself in just this certain way, with such dignity, so reserved and sometimes in full judgement of your simple human brain. Ron, who had had quite a few cats in his life, said that Sophie was indeed royalty, that she was unique in his experience. What an honor to get to live with a queen.
And she loved my fluffy robes I would wear in our Maine winters. We had this in common. We loved soft and fluffy, and we bonded over this. I would sit on the sofa and call for her. Over time, she got to the point where she just couldn’t help herself. She would sit in my lap, snuggled into my robe, and knead and purr.
Sophie’s purr was magical. It was deep and soothing. In my life now, I have met many cats. I have yet to hear a purr as deep and powerful as Sophie’s. We healed each other. I gave her the adoration and soft robe she required, and she purred for me, healing my brokenness.
I will never forget the first night I felt safe enough to put my face into her face. In the first year, if I got too close to her face, she would hiss at me, so I just gave up. But, late one night, after about three years together, Sophie came up behind me to get into my lap for a nightly snuggle in my robe. For some reason, on this night, I just felt this urge to try to connect more deeply with her. I slowly leaned my forehead into her forehead, and, miraculously, she leaned in right back. We held this position for minutes, just taking it in. It felt like we were both saying, “I trust you.” It was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had with an animal–and I’ve had some amazing experiences.
When a queen lets you get that close to them, you feel honored.
We went along, so well, for years. We became so close, such good friends. She ruled our household with grace, and she fell into this absolute trust of me. I could touch her feet, her ears, and even her belly somtimes. She was my kitty teacher. Through Sophie, I learned what all the tail movements meant, the howls, the yowls, and I learned that cats love to get involved with both crochet and quilting projects. I also learned about how kitties love to “help” with puzzles.
Then, about three years ago, she started losing weight. I took her to the vet, and after some tests, the vet told me Sophie probably did not have long. “Maybe a year,” he said. “Maybe.”
But I gave her the thyroid medications every day. And when her kidneys started to fail from the side effects of the thyroid medication, I bought the special cat food and did all the tricks to get her to eat that special cat food. I fed her six to ten times a day every day. Then, in late 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, I found a lump on her throat. The vet told me it would be a risky surgery for her because of her overall health problems but that the lump was blocking her windpipe; there was no choice but to operate.
In the weeks leading up to the surgery, Sophie was especially clingy to me. She slept on my head and was with me at every opportunity. The day she had the surgery, in December of 2020, I was a wreck. I knew she might die in surgery, but I prayed to the universe “just one more year,” I begged.
Sophie lived, but after the surgery, she was changed. The surgery damaged her vocal cords, and she lost her purr. She wouldn’t snuggle me like she used to. For a while, I thought she was just holding a grudge against me for the surgery. She was a fantastic grudge holder. Unfortunately, it was no grudge. She would try to snuggle me, but snuggling me led to purring, and the purring disturbed her damaged vocal cords, and then she would cough, and then should leave. She was frustrated. I was heartbroken.
Still, there were good parts of our new existence. We had a woodstove installed during the pandemic, and she loved that woodstove more than I can express. A woodstove warms your bones in the Maine winter like nothing else I have experienced, and Sophie appreciated this. She would sleep in front of the woodstove, under the woodstove, beside the woodstove, and behind the woodstove. When our new kitties, Betty and Bella, came, they wanted to be in Sophie’s spots beside the woodstove, but the queen would not allow it. And she usually stayed near me throughout the day. And she would still involve herself in all quilting and crochet projects.
Then, September came, and she took a turn. She got very sick. The vet said it was time to prepare for the end. He looked me in my eyes and was a little teary, and said, “You did well. She made it far longer than I thought she would. You did well.” Still, as I do, I tried to remain hopeful, and I didn’t really want to entertain the possibility of the end. I wanted her to at least make it to woodstove season. She loved it so.
It was not to be. Today, we took Sophie for her last vet trip. At about 12:45 this afternoon, my Sophie, my queen, left me. As she went to sleep, I put my forehead to her forehead. I wanted her to remember that night—and me.
We decided to bury her on our property—not next to Gus—he hated Sophie, I think because she was his competition for my heart. Ron dug a grave for her next to my Poe. Ron actually worked as a gravedigger with his grandfather when Ron was young, and he digs graves properly. When he was finished, he came to the house and told me and our son that it was time to bury her. I picked up her little box from the vet, and somehow, we naturally formed a funeral procession. Ron and I both noticed this formation. We walked, single file, in mourning, from one side of our property to the other. Somehow, it seemed proper for Sophie to have a formal procession.
Now, I get to figure out how to get on with my life without her. Because she had so many health struggles the last few years, my life is going to be so much easier. I will no longer have to feed her ten times a day or pick her up to her special spot for drinking from the sink every time I turn around. There are no more meds, no more helping her fight the mats in her beautiful, long fur that came at the end, as she got too sick to care for herself.
But I have lost one of the most magnificent beings I have ever known. I would give just about anything to be able to serve her again.