Lilly, our very sweet, very old kitty, passed away today. She was over twenty years old.
Like her brother, Tiger, who died in 2008, Lilly came to us when we lived in the McCoy Avenue house in Jackson, Mississippi.
Tiger had the bolder name, but it was Lilly who was all about adventure. Not long after she came to be with us, she disappeared without a trace. We drove the neighborhood, calling her name, but we simply couldn’t find her. Three days later, I woke up with a start, absolutely convinced Lilly had come home and jumped up on our bed in the middle of the night. Realizing that her homecoming had all been a dream — dropping instantly from joy to disappointment — was very hard.
The very next night, I woke up suddenly, once again certain that Lilly had jumped up in the bed. “She’s home! Lilly’s come home!”
Clyde stirred, still half-asleep. “You’re just dreaming again,” he sighed.
But this time, when I turned on the bedside lamp, it was true: Lilly was back, purring and rolling around on the comforter, as though she had never left us.
In addition to going on vacation when she pleased, Lilly did something I’d never seen another cat do: she played fetch. We discovered this when I dropped one of those clear plastic water bottle caps — you know, the ones they put over the nozzle-topped bottles — and Lily dashed into the room, retrieved it, and dropped it at my feet.
On impulse, I picked it up and threw it across the room; Lilly bounded after it, retrieved it, and dropped it at my feet. She looked up at me with those big, blue eyes. Her message was clear. Throw it again.
She loved this game so much, that we adopted the practice of calling for her by simply flicking a thumbnail against a plastic bottle top. Wherever she was, whatever she was doing, she would dash into room, ready to play. When we moved out of the McCoy house, we found Lilly’s secret stash behind the couch: several dozen bottled water caps, kept hidden, just in case.
Lilly’s best attribute, though, was patience. In situations that would have stressed other animals, Lilly simply could not be bothered.
When Chelsea joined the family — streaking through the house and stealing every single cat toy — Lilly simply could not be bothered. She wasn’t ever distant — she just didn’t mind being knocked around a bit by a high-energy puppy. And when Chelsea’s batteries finally ran low and nap time rolled around, Lilly wouldn’t hesitate to sneak up and — very gently — give Chelsea a bath, exactly as she would have one of her own kittens.
When Mom’s miniature collie came to stay with us a few weeks, Lilly simply could not be bothered. She walked right up, said hello, and took it all in stride. In fact, by day two, everyone was taking naps together:
The last two years with Lilly have been hard ones. Many times, we’ve believed she was just on the edge of dying … only to have her resurrect and go hopping through the house, playing on the balcony, and stealing Chelsea’s dog food:
It’s also true that, for the last two years, Lilly’s story has been very much entwined with Clyde’s. Lilly was always more Clyde’s cat than mine. She loved us both, but she adored Clyde. From her earliest years to her very last day, all Lilly ever really wanted was to be held by Clyde. She could spend hours doing nothing but gazing up into his eyes.
Over the last two years of her life, Clyde gave Lilly constant, full-time care. He kept her clean. As her control over bathroom habits failed, he washed her bedding daily and keeping a rotating cycle of fresh cat beds ready. When her hair wore away and her skin grew thin, he applied ointment to problem areas. In the last months, she developed a new habit: yowling for Clyde (not because anything was amiss, but just because she wanted to be held), and Clyde was always there, ready to swaddle her up and hold her close.
Clyde did most of this all by himself, daily, without fail. He’s been the model of real love, which, I’ve come to understand, is less about a loosey-goosey set of feelings and more about being willing to do whatever needs to be done. I was not as good a helper and partner as I could have been in these things, and that adds a great deal to the weight I feel in my heart today.
This weekend, Lilly stopped eating; not even her favorite treats stirred much interest. She became weaker on Sunday, and was just barely here this morning. When it was clear nothing else could be done, Clyde bundled her up, and we spent some time holding her. At the vet’s office, we stayed until the end — and even then, later, it was sweet Clyde who wondered aloud if there had been anything else, anything at all, he could have done to make things easier for her.
Goodbye, Lilly. Here’s a wish for warm beds, a reunion with Tiger, and all the bottle caps a cat could ever hope to chase.